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Woodbury Care Farm

What is Alternative Provision?

 

AP is education that is provided outside the school of which a child is registered for a short period of time or based at BCA. It includes the more traditional pupil referral unit (or PRU), or in this case, a working care farm based at Birchen Coppice Priamry Academy that specialises in animal assisted therapy (AAT). By spending a period of time at the farm, in close contact with the animals as part of a carefully planned programme of educational activities, the aim is that at the end of the intervention programme, the child can be re-integrated back into his or her mainstream school with improved behaviour and enhanced self-esteem, confidence, motivation and self-worth.

 

What is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?

 

AAT involves a specialist trained therapist – in this case our farm manager – working together with a child and an animal to deliver a bespoke programme of therapy to meet the needs of the child and to change their behaviours. We use a range of nurture facilities incorporating our domestic animals as part of the AAT and blend this expertly with the more traditional classroom activities typically included as part of the curriculum, such as digital technology (iPads), mathematics and English.

 

For some pupils, the classroom environment can be stressful and not helpful when meeting a child’s needs. At Woodbury Care Farm pupils are given the unique opportunity to be outdoors, working closely with animals taking part in a range of activities, either one-to-one or in small groups. These activities include grooming, feeding, handling and observing as well as groundwork and a range of other tasks specific to looking after the animals and farm in general.

 

Research shows that AAT makes a huge difference to young people’s lives and is a very powerful tool to promote teamwork, empathy, confidence-building and self-worth. Above all, it helps children to see beyond themselves and to have the confidence to learn to change their behaviours.

 

How does AAT make a difference?

 

There are a number of social, emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioural benefits of AAT as part of an integrated and holistic approach to meeting the needs of the child.

 

These might include:

 

  • Social skills: A positive relationship with an animal, such as a pony or donkey can be a powerful way of moving a child away from feeling isolated or withdrawn. Pupils who have developed a positive relationship with an animal find that their confidence and self-esteem increases so that they can try out their new social skills with adults and other children and thus develop closer relationships.

 

  • Positive identity: Over the course of time, both child and animal build up a real sense of identity with each other. As the child senses that the animal begins to ‘like’ them and does so through non-verbal communication, the child enjoys the notion of being accepted and indeed liked. This bond enhances their own sense of self-efficacy and self-concept as they come to terms with their identity.

 

  • Trust: This is often the first step of AAT as the child learns to trust an animal in a relationship that is entirely non-judgmental. A child who may previously feel rejected by peers now finds themselves unconditionally accepted by an animal and thus feels less isolated. Learning to trust an animal is a key social skill, particularly for those children who have been violated by trauma or difficult life experiences. Once they’ve learnt to do this with one of our animals, they can then apply it to their friends and peers back at school.

 

  • Mindfulness: Being in an intimate and close relationship with an animal can often reduce stress and anxiety levels and can have a tangible calming effect as the child learns to be in the ‘present’ and at one with themselves and nature. As a result, such experiences can impact significantly on mental health issues, emotional regulation and feelings of self-worth.

 

  • Self-esteem: Working on a farm requires commitment. The child soon learns that the animal becomes dependent on them, and as part of a larger team, together the children on the farm soon learn that they need to work collaboratively in order to ensure the animals are cared for. Children soon develop a real sense of responsibility, especially as they learn new skills that in turn lead to increased confidence, self-assurance and belief.

 

  • Communication: In order to learn to communicate with an animal – a large (and initially intimidating) one especially – children need to be patient, assertive, calm, non-judgmental and kind. These are all skills that may require the child to step out of their comfort zone. It is likely that the child will then apply these skills when interacting and socialising with adults and peers and learn new ways of opening up and communicating with the world.

 

  • Being with nature: Above all, AAT allows the child to be outdoors, at one with nature in a meaningful and purposeful way. They learn to see the outdoors from a new perspective and experience emotions and feelings not previously encountered, such as elation, freedom and joy. As well as the obvious physiological benefits of being outdoors, the emotional, psychological and cognitive benefits are highly significant and often life-changing.

 

Who are our animals?

 

All of our farm animals are carefully selected. In most cases they are rescue animals, or animals themselves that have previously been involved with AAT at a different setting. They are all ‘clicker’ trained so that they respond instantly to commands from staff. We understand that the health and safety of all our animals is of paramount importance which is why they are all registered, trained and safe to work with. Risk assessments are therefore in place for all our animals and activities.

 

We have a range of animals to support our therapy work. These include:

 

Our donkeys, Kate and Mazie

Our Shetland ponies, Thomas and Hardy

Our goats, Joey and Jupiter

Our hens, Mofit, Matilda and Molly

Our rabbits, Benjamin Gravy, Fluffy and Thumper

Our leg-barn chickens, Elsa and Ana

Our guinea pigs, Albert and Elvis 

Our pot-bellied pig,  George

Our Sheep, Boo and Nala

 

 

If you would like to visit our farm or request further information, please contact:

 

Charlotte Davis

Director of Families and Communities and Executive Headteacher

Victoria Academies Trust

 

Charlotte.davis@victrust.org