Introducing the next generation to the treasures of churches

Some years ago a churchwarden in one of our prettiest villages with a flourishing school and lots of visitors approached me as a fellow member of NADFAS to see if we could design something which was both attractive and informative for children and accompanying parents, teachers and tourists.

After looking at hundreds of church quizzes and talking to lots of teachers and church people, we eventually produced a simple illustrated question and answer sheet.

Once we had tried out the trail with a small group of friendly children and adults we made a CD which we gave to the church so that the supply could always be replenished at minimum cost. This initial success was followed by a period of development under the aegis of NADFAS with three trial trails made in Wiltshire and Dorset, slowly drawing in other knowledgeable helpers and learning the best way to do the job. Subsequent requirements included design of templates for a house-style, and also learning and listing the basic requirements of a successful trail, not all of them immediately obvious.

Early on it was clear that although some answers and explanations are purely local very many are of widespread application. It was crucial to establish an accessible "Answerbank" to which scholars and experts in all fields were employed. This enables the answers to be consistent nationally and is constantly updated.

Gradually we built up a team of National Advisers.  Their work includes checking the trail and answers for accuracy and appropriateness for the age group and helping with its launch.

Several presentations have been held in various parts of the UK to spread the word among NADFAS members, usually leading to the establishment of small groups, supported by a local NADFAS Society, who will work on the preparation of one or more trails under the eye of their appointed adviser. The cost is minimal and the goodwill gained for the Society is great!

The National Churches Trust has been aware of Church Trails from the very beginning and a recent partnership has seen the preparation of trails in London, supported by NADFAS Greater London Area which also provided an excellent artist. The churches chosen welcomed the idea of a trail.

A successful trail is built round the plan of the church with some of the salient features marked or numbered. Simple questions aimed at children aged 8-12 are based on observation, drawing, or photographs. We try to introduce a variety of subjects: symbols, Royal Arms, heraldry, architecture, history, and iconography. Above all we try to make the trail fun – anything with skulls or gore is always a success! The answer sheet for the grown-up who is helping often serves to enlighten them as much as the child. It's a learning process for both and one of the joys of the trail-maker is listening to the exciting dialogue as the treasure-hunt unfolds.

We have learned much from working with St Martin-in-the-Fields including the importance of a "meditative" question. We don't aim to teach Christianity. Our trails must be acceptable to visitors of all faiths, or none.

Our aim is to explain what visitors can see – we set out to open their eyes.  Is all the hard work worth it? Yes: It’s all summed up by the vicar who told us "I have learned so much about my church from your Trail" and the child who said: "Miss, Miss, this is such fun! Can I bring my mum and dad?”

Frances Moule, NADFAS National Church Trail Team 

This text is taken from the National Churches Trust Annual Review 2012

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NADFAS Church Trails

A Church Trail is a question sheet that guides children around a church and encourages them to engage with the architecture, history and furnishings

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