The wonder of coal - Y3 Rocks and Soils

I’ve heard the phrase ‘fossil fuels’ all my life, but never stopped to really think about how these non-renewable energy sources were formed. How has it never occurred to me before this week that every lump of coal is millions of years old, as is the petrol in my car and the gas I use for my central heating?  And it makes me wonder how humans made decisions to treat a fossilised dinosaur as if it’s precious, but not a lump of coal that originated from plants in the geological past, millions of years ago!

Armed with a huge umbrella, today we walked over the road to Busk Meadow Park for Carmel to tell a story about the formation of coal.  Her description of how Shirecliffe’s local park was once ancient prehistoric boggy, marshy land where many trees lived and died, fell and eventually formed coal was perfect, because I think it’s been raining continuously since last week.  The children learnt about our relationship with trees, and how we breathe in what they breathe out and they breathe out what we breathe in…

A friend of mine whose grandfather was a miner was kind enough to lend me a large lump of coal that had been given to her son.  I’ve seen many lumps of coal before, but never really spent any time looking at them… this one looked like it had once been part of a tree.  Even though the rain stopped us being outside with the second class we visited, it was great for the children to be able to hear the story of the formation of coal and then to handle some.

Carmel holding the large lump of coal.... 

After sharing with their talking partners at the end of the story, the Y3’s thoughts and conclusions felt reflective and powerful:

“I think we should stop burning coal to get rid of the bad gases”

“I think Mother Earth will die if we don’t get rid of coal.  We need to find a new energy source.”

“I think Mother Earth could be crying with all the factories.  We need to make it a law to stop them.”

“I think we need to stop cutting trees down so we can get oxygen.  And we need more flowers!”

Personally, I think we should listen to them.

This is the third blog in a series written by Sophie Hunter about the work done in Watercliffe Meadow Primary School in Shirecliffe.

Further information

Carmel Page is a fantastic Storyteller, Community Artist and Creative Mentor. Read all about her work and get in touch here.


This work is part of 'Culture on the Doorstep - Sheffield Curriculum Adventures.' Read all about it.

Across South Yorkshire, 4 Local Cultural Partnerships are exploring how place-based learning, within the context of a 15-minute neighbourhood, can build the cultural capital of children and young people. Create Sheffield, Evoke Kirklees, Leeds CEP and Spark Wakefield are running 4 simultaneous pilot programmes in our communities from September 2022 - December 2023. These initiatives are supported by IVE, the ACE Bridge organisation for Yorkshire and the Humber. In Sheffield, the pilot is also supported by Sheffield Museums and Sheffield Hallam University.