Oxford shop is educating the fishkeepers of tomorrow

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The Goldfish Bowl in Oxford is so committed to ensuring the future of the fishkeeping hobby that the shop has been opening its doors to local schools for educational trips for over 20 years.

On a mission to educate and influence tomorrow’s fishkeeper, Barry Allday has welcomed over 50 school visits from Oxfordshire and beyond — one recent visit by local school Rose Hill Primary School saw 40 Year One children (aged 5-6) experience an hour’s educational tour of the shop, bringing their school curriculum topic ‘Under the Sea’ to life.

Hosted by Terry Burke, who has specific responsibility for the shop’s marine systems, the visit included a guided tour of the various species of fish, invertebrates and corals in stock, with an explanation of how different fish have different needs, such as feeding, water temperature and pH levels.

To keep the children engaged and interested in their surroundings, Terry regularly asked for questions from the children and presented them with the opportunity to feed the coldwater and marine fish, which was extremely popular and for most, the highlight of their visit.

Terry said, "Naturally, the majority of children think all fish are like ‘Nemo’ and ‘Dory’ but as soon as they see all the different colours, shapes and sizes of fish from around the world, their eyes are wide open. We know that children can get bored easily so by getting them involved in feeding, stories and demonstrations, the time goes quickly. They particularly liked our Siamese fighting fish, moray eels and sharks."

Owner Barry Allday added: “Our shop is part of the community so it makes sense to welcome what we believe to be the next generation of fishkeeper.  Not only do we conduct tours for schoolchildren but we have also had student groups from the Oxford Universities!

"After a school visit, we normally expect to see the children return at the weekends with their parents to share their recent experience — we also have special feeding times on both Saturdays and Sundays to encourage families to visit and learn more about fishkeeping. We pride ourselves on being a responsible aquatic retailer and do not sell livestock to those who are not fully aware of the need for maintaining water quality and keeping healthy fish."

Hannah Veal, Rose Hill Primary’s Y1 Form Teacher added: "Although a few of our children have been here before, the vast majority don’t have the opportunity to go out on trips so this is a really special occasion for them. This visit is so much more beneficial and memorable to the children than just looking at pictures in a book. When we get back to the classroom we will be writing about our visit, talking about what the children liked best and will be making some special fish collages. We are very grateful to The Goldfish Bowl for allowing the children through their doors and for keeping them interested which is no small feat."

Keith Davenport, Chief Executive of the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA), of which The Goldfish Bowl is a member, commented: "It’s encouraging to hear that one of our members is taking the initiative of creating awareness of their business through the local community. One positive outcome of this being The Goldfish Bowl is attracting new customers who would otherwise not have considered fishkeeping before."

With his experience of hosting school visits, The Goldfish Bowl's Terry Burke has some top tips to pass onto other retailers considering opening their doors to schools:

  • Only welcome schools if you have the capacity and staff to conduct a tour. Be pragmatic and honest: if you receive a request, simply advise the school the maximum number of children you can accommodate.
  • Pick a time that is quietest in your shop and will be of less disturbance to your customers – usually mid-morning works best for both shop and school.
  • Have a pre-tour briefing with the form teacher — explain how long the tour will be, what the children will see, and what you expect from the children, eg. To keep noise to a minimum, not to tap on tanks and to keep hands out of the water.
  • Young children have a short attention span, so move on quickly from display to display.
  • Make interesting stories around each display – where they live, what they like to eat, how big they will grow, are they friendly, etc.
  • Keep the children engaged — show the children how to feed fish so there is nothing to be afraid of and then give them an opportunity to feed the fish themselves.  
  • Re-enforce their core learning skills — show them your colour-coded tanks and ask them what ‘red’ means (danger). Children also love to count, so ask them to count how many fish in each tank.
  • Get the teachers involved as well — do quizzes throughout the tour to ensure that both the teaching staff and children have learned something!
  • End the tour with a summary of what was seen, key things to remember and ask the children what was their favourite fish.
  • If possible, present the children with literature that is often freely available from your suppliers, so they have something to take away with them.
  • Be mindful of health and safety — ensure that there are no wet floors!

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