For young learners, going beyond the classroom to explore the sites where history was forged during WWI takes curricular learning to an elevated level, and brings the events of the past into sharp focus. Secondary teachers looking for a way to inspire pupils to a greater understanding of wartime in the context of local and global history should consider a school trip to Ypres, in the Belgian province of Flanders, where so many of the most significant battles of WWI unfolded.
In Flanders Fields Museum
The most important educational resource in the region is the outstanding In Flanders Fields Museum, which provides an extensive insight into the story of WWI in West Flanders. Dedicated to upholding the heritage of this monumental historical event and the memory of the more than 600,000 who fell, the museum is representative of not only the facts, but also the human experiences of war and its effect on contemporary society.
Preparation for a Visit
Visiting the sites where so many lives were lost can be a confrontational experience for young people, so it's important to prepare them for a school trip. The museum provides an excellent educational package for teachers to augment the prescribed curricular learning process, which outlines their educational approach and objectives. It includes maps of the Western Front, an easy-to-digest chronological timeline of events, commonly used terminology and practical information about navigating the museum.
The museum invites youngsters to participate in workshops that provide hands-on learning and the opportunity to gain a clear picture of the wartime experience. The workshops are a valuable technique to enhance classroom learning by immersion in memorable practical activities.
Home by Christmas is an hour-long workshop that uses personal testimonies, photographic images, war artefacts, poetry, literature and original posters to depict the real-life experience of the world's first industrial war and how it evolved.
Coming World Remember Me is a 90-minute workshop in which students can become a part of history themselves. Each participant is asked to create a statue representing one of the 600,000 soldiers and civilians who died in the war, whose names appear on the Names List of the Gone West cultural programme. The statues are part of the encompassing art installation titled Coming World Remember Me, which will be set up in the former "no mans land". Every student who makes a statue receives a commemorative dog tag and personalised certificate.
For young people, the most exciting and evocative part of an educational WWI school trip is the opportunity to tread the very ground where the battles from their history books took place. The museum offers several excursions to the battle sites of the Ypres Salient region, where pupils will learn about life on the front.
Ypres Salient North 1, 2 and 3 tours take in the route, archaeology, literature, propaganda, remembrance culture, cemeteries and battle sites of the northern Salient.
Ypres Salient East 1 and 2 tours take in the sites of the eastern region, including the famous Menin Gate, Hooge Crater Cemetery and Railway Wood. (East 2 tour is a cycling excursion, while East 1 is by coach.)
Ypres Salient South tour takes in the wartime landscape of the southern part of the Salient, including a walk around Hill 60, the infamous Caterpillar mine craters, and a visit to the Bedford House British cemetery.
A Multicultural War tour is a comprehensive excursion that focuses on the roles of the more than 50 ethnic groups, cultures and nationalities that served in the war in the region of Flanders Fields. Students will explore the relationships between this diversity of cultures, while touring sites like Hill 60, the Caterpillar, Menin Gate and the Saint-Charles de Potyze French military cemetery.
Bring History Alive on a School Trip to Ypres
For teachers planning a residential educational tour to the battlefields of Ypres, using the services of a dedicated school travel operator is the most effective way of ensuring a safe, engaging extra-curricular excursion to instil lifelong memories in young learners.
John Gardiner is the Managing Director of The School Travel Company, a tour operator specialising in school trip itineraries for school and youth groups to the UK, Europe and beyond. As a father and avid traveller, John is very passionate about providing students with valuable and engaging learning experiences outside of the classroom. By sharing his expert advice with teachers, he allows them to inspire their students and bring their studies to life.