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Primary Geography Handbook Extension Project: Maps and Stories 6-9

Maps and stories wooden train set

Changing Environments

This page extends the content of Primary Geography Handbook Chapter 21, ‘Citizenship, PSHE and primary geography’

‘…There is a strong connection between primary geography, its content, teaching and learning strategies, and all aspects of children’s lives and experiences. Not only is it difficult to separate them it is also undesirable, as real life does not come in compartmentalised boxes. Our lives intertwine with those of others, both through space (locally, nationally and globally) and through time (past, present and future).’

Jackson (2004) p.289

Getting started

This section focuses on three books by Jeannie Baker:

  • Where the Forest Meets the Sea (1987) Walker Books, 9780744513059
  • Window (2002) Walker Books, 9780744594867
  • Belonging (2004) Walker Books, 9780744592276

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These books deal with an ever changing environment and in the case of Belonging and Window, show the changes as seen by a child then an adult over a lifetime. These two book covers show the state of the view at the beginning and the end of the story on the front and back covers respectively. In the case of Window the changes are the usurpation of the countryside by urban features. In the case of Belonging the changes show the regeneration of an inner city area.

The pictures are made from collages but have a constant framework.

Using the covers, list the features such as buildings, roads, gardens/yards, concrete/trees which would seem to be permanent. Then look at the view from your own classroom window – or a window at which you can regularly go and view changes, through a day, through a season, through a year.

Time is an important sequence in both books. In Window it is shown by a baby changing into an infant then a child then upwards into adulthood, whilst the view from the window changes from a village into a town and then a city.

In Belonging the time is shown by greetings cards on the window sill and the view steadily becomes greener over time.

In Where the Forest Meets the Sea a young boy explores the prehistoric landscape of a rainforest in Queensland while the pictures show half hidden ghostly images of previous inhabitants. The book speculates on what might have changed in the future when the boy returns and how modernisation might impact on this pristine landscape.

In all three books, the concept of environments changing over time prompts us to observe our surroundings closely and actively examine how and why change is happening. While the starting point might be to observe and recognise change in our localities, the continuation is to consider some answers to the following key questions:

  • How can we explain these changes (why are they happening)?
  • What is it to do with me (how do I fit in)?
  • What possible futures might there be?
  • What changes would we like to see (and how can we plan for them)?

Issues and Misconceptions

Several issues could be considered: conservation, sustainability, recycling, regeneration. Which element you take will depend upon issues in your own area but this is a case where local community needs and desires can be followed.

Misconceptions which should be avoided are for example: that material left over from one job is useless for any other job; that to smooth a path or make a firm place e.g. to stand a vehicle, does not require wholesale covering with a waterproof material.

There are good reasons for looking to see how conventional practices could be changed to becoming more user/environment friendly.

See Figure 2 on p.295 and Figure 6 on p.297.

A popular misconception from adults and children alike is that ‘it is nothing to do with me’ and helping pupils to make that link between their everyday lives and their changing environment is essential. A good way to start thinking about how we are and can be involved is to examine the simple choices we make on a daily basis – emphasising the power of choice that we can exercise.

Using and Making Maps

1. Each view can be treated as a template for creating interpretations of the scene outside.

Create a base map which shows the lines – paths, roads, stream/river, fences, hedges. This can then be used to locate 3D representations of the other features which can be seen – plants, trees, hedges, woods, houses, poles, church, shops, offices – whatever comes into the scene.

For example the first picture shows a woman standing at the window, holding a baby, looking out at a rural landscape populated with with birds and plants, with wooded hills beyond. On the succeeding pages the view changes as the baby grows up, the fields disappear, the houses increase – with all the other bits of geography required by a village, a town and then a city. The trees and birds are gradually replaced by houses, roads and supermarkets.

The fact that the pictures are made from collages will help the model making and suggest ideas for the children’s own interpretation.

2. The next stage is to change the model to a 2D map. This could be done using a mapping package such as Local Studies which is based upon Microsoft Paint and has pictorial and conventional symbol keys. (Or just use a basic program such as Microsoft Paint to create your own symbols from the available shapes).

The linear features again can be drawn in and the 3D features shown with either pictorial symbols or conventional symbols. These can dragged and dropped into the appropriate places.

3. Finally sequence the maps and label appropriately.


The same type of sequence can be used with Belonging but here the emphasis is on returning the built up environment to a green environment – but retaining the main features of urban living.

1. An interesting starting point would be the interview with Jeannie Baker (Note: this page is now defunct) where she describes how she came upon the idea for her book. It essentially shows how a community can create its own environment for the better.

This central idea can be extended to encompass making better places in school, the neighbourhood, the locality and so on. This is the ethos behind the Sustainable Schools Framework and could make a good starter exercise for initiating improvements in the school and neighbourhood environments.

2. Then take the first double page and use as a class exercise.

a. Scan into a Word program, use on the IWB and annotate to establish with the whole class which features are going to be difficult to change – these are the permanent features. These can be used to create a base map in Local Studies.

b. In groups supply each group with a set of three double page spreads in sequence. For example Group A: double pages 2, 3 & 4, Group B: double pages 5, 6, & 7.

For each set they have to establish:

  • The time lapse between each view – this is usually from the objects on the window sill
  • The changes between each spread for the buildings
  • The changes between each spread for the signs
  • The changes in the people, activities and vehicle types
  • The changes in animals and plants – note particularly the bush in the neighbour’s garden

c. As a class decide:

  • What the overall time lapse is from the first, concrete landscape to the final green landscape
  • How the changes affect people’s lifestyles
  • What other changes might have taken place, for example in the kind of people attracted to the area
  • Whether patterns of transport use have changed

Draw a new map, with the same basic template to show the changes using appropriate symbols – these could be symbols originating from the class and then compared with conventional symbols.

Fieldwork opportunities

Visit other important buildings in the neighbourhood and look at a familiar place from a different viewpoint e.g. the multi-storey car park, the church tower, the top of a large block of flats or offices. Take photographs at all levels and compare with an aerial view.

Visit another school in a different environment e.g. suburban, village or rural school and compare the views from the windows there with ones in your own school.

Take photographs which can be compared with aerial views and used to annotate map extracts (preferably OS Explorer, but published pictorial maps of the areas visited are useful for developing models for comparison).

Older pupils could visit a contrasting settlement and determine the features which make these places distinct but similar to their own settlement. This should be backed up with map reading at the OS Explorer map (1:25,000) level and the development of a sight-seeing route in these places.

Older pupils could also collect information from/for a link school in a distant locality showing the newest and oldest features of their place. This could be connected with historical maps (see your local history library or websites such as Old Maps and Olde Maps) showing how their part of town/suburb has changed over the last century.

Primary framework opportunities


Investigating how localities are changing and trying to understand how we fit in and what we can do to affect this change gives a real context to learning through ‘living geography’. There are exciting opportunities for role play, purposeful talk and persuasive writing.

Activity Ideas

  • Consider how you could evaluate your local environment and use this evaluation to make a plan for positive change. You might wish to focus on:
    • School Grounds
    • The neighbourhood immediately adjacent to the school
    • The local area within which links could be made with the community
  • Homework: ask pupils to choose a view through a window at home and either photograph or draw it then use these images to build up a pictorial map of the locality. Use these starting images to ‘envision’ the changes pupils and local people would like to see. Use local expertise – perhaps parents/governors/local businesses might be involved?
  • Create ‘stained glass window’ panels using perspex to record views at a moment in time and display in school.

  • Use views through classroom windows and pupil-led evaluations to design features for the school grounds and plan how this can be done. Examples include growing beds, multicultural gardens, sustainable shelters, seating and wildlife areas.
  • Make links with the local allotment association, ask a DIY superstore to donate plants and/or tools or approach smaller local businesses.
  • Link locality work with Eco-school and Sustainable Schools frameworks.

Children’s Voices
Encourage pupils’ own observational recording of the chosen locality and build in opportunities for them to both evaluate what they see and to offer ideas for a range of possible futures. Pupils could for example take photographs of places they value or wish to change. Some useful prompts may include:

  • What can you see?
  • What do you like/dislike? And why?
  • What would you change? And why?
  • How could you do this?
  • Who could help?

Note: neither book looks at quick change but change over a lifetime (see Ch 21 Fig 6)


There are lots of opportunities to use ICT when investigating locality change – indeed it would be hard to do this kind of work effectively without ICT support. The internet is a great source for mapping tools such as Google Earth, Streetmap and Bing Maps. You can also use search engines to research local landmarks and buildings. You might want to use hand held GIS tools when out and about, use digital cameras or video for recording activities or even to record sounds. Ideas might include:

  • Use of a mapping/image program to make models and maps of the views
  • Research case studies of schools which have managed change
  • Annotation of visual images with geographical vocabulary
  • Development of a bank of data for use by other classes via the school intranet e.g. mapping symbols and base maps.

Assessment for Learning

This will usually be by outcome, contribution to debates and initiatives in deciding what should be done a) in school, b) in the locality, c) in a distant place.

It is important to find out what pupils know about their locality and surroundings at the outset and check misconceptions.

  • How well do pupils use appropriate geographical vocabulary? If pupils do not have the relevant vocabulary at their disposal such as a bank of feature names and/or descriptive adjectives then it will be hard for them to evaluate a locality.
  • How well do pupils draw on their geographical imaginations e.g. envisioning the possibilities in the world around them?
  • Can pupils find and identify locality features/their school/where they live on a given map?

Answering these kinds of questions at the outset will help to focus the areas of learning that will most benefit your pupils.


Using Window each stage of change should be supported by looking through the classroom or other suitable window and making a collage/model of what is seen – but in this case using the local map as the base map. Start a display with this same map in the centre and use it as a focus for showing photographs of the map features around the edge with strings to the relevant places on the map.

The beautiful images and the way in which they are put together in these Jeannie Baker books is a great source of inspiration.

Additional Resources

Jeannie Baker – visit her website for further information on her books, artwork and films.

Changing Places – the Changing Places project in Castleford encouraged pupils to become involved in the regeneration of their communities. This KS1&2 resource adapts a QCA unit to prompt pupils to think about the proposed changes for their local area using Window as a starting point.

Mapping – the OS website’s Mapzone section.

Learning through Landscapes – the UK School Grounds Charity helps schools and early years settings to make the most of their outdoor spaces for play and learning.

SEEN Initiative – SEEN is a Chester-based initiative which specialises in involving children in local regeneration projects.

Ashen Awards – the Ashden Trust (now the Aurora Trust) encourages and supports schools through awards and free resources to make positive changes in their environment linked to sustainable energy use.

Case study – Stifford Primary School did a focused week on the global village and incorporated sustainability into longer term plans.

Also see:

Where the Forest meets the Sea
Jeannie Baker, Walker Books
A young boy visits an unspoilt island with his father and explores its landscape. A book that celebrates the natural beauty of rainforests and speculates about past history and future man made interventions.

Dinosaurs and all that rubbish
Michael Foreman, Puffin
A cautionary tale of what happens when man has exhausted the resources of Earth and set out to colonise distant stars.

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