One year ago I spent two mornings working with a small group of teachers at St Geradine’s Primary School in Lossiemouth. The Depute Head, Fiona Stevenson, who was leading the outdoor learning improvements, contacted me in August to let me know how the school was getting on. She and one of the class teachers, Laura McGurke wrote the report below for their local authority newsletter. I hope you will find it useful and interesting.
Outdoor Learning at St Geradine Primary School
By Fiona Stevenson and Laura McGurk
St Geradine School in Lossiemouth was delighted to receive £3000 from the Innovation Fund to support our work in developing outdoor learning in 2014-15.
Our aims were:
- To develop outdoor learning within and across our school in order that it is embedded within the curriculum and sustainable for the future, with a view to being able to share/roll out developments to other interested primary schools within Moray
- To provide learners with a wide range of fun, meaningful and challenging experiences:
- Pupils will have opportunities for challenge and enjoyment through outdoor learning experiences
- Pupils’ learning and development will be supported and enhanced through meaningful play opportunities
- Pupils will develop their skills (e.g. problem solving, team working etc.) and personal attributes (e.g. resilience)
A working group comprising one of our DHTs, P2 teacher and P6/7 teacher consulted with Juliet Robertson from Creative STAR Learning to plan and lead the development.
Through a series of staff meetings we have achieved our aims by:
- Staff evaluating where we are and where we needed to go using Building your Curriculum Outside and In and the GTCS Standards for Registration, focussing on Learning for Sustainability.
- Exploring the book Dirty Teaching by Juliet Robertson.
- Experiencing different shelters for use outside.
- Reading research from Curriculum for Excellence Outdoor Learning document and Outdoor Learning: Practical Guidance for Teachers and Practitioners in Scotland.
- Identifying stewardship roles for each class to undertake.
Creating outdoor learning folders
- These included risk benefit assessments personalised for Lossiemouth and our school grounds, helpful guides on planning trips to the forest, beach and quarry, ideas for activities in Numeracy, Literacy and Inter-disciplinary Learning (IDL), the Countryside Code, the Highway Code and local maps.
- Ordering resources to support the stewardship roles, literacy and numeracy.
- Creating class backpacks with essential equipment for off-site visits in the local area.
- Beginning to plan for developing our school grounds to enhance learning experiences.
- Staff (from St Gerardine and the wider ASG schools) involvement in a series of twilight sessions looking at our local area and the opportunities within it for outdoor learning, learning experiences in numeracy and literacy and how to use the beach as a learning context.
The impact on learners:
- Improved health & wellbeing (fitness, fresh air, emotional & mental health etc.)
- Children state they feel better working outside as there is more space available and lots of fresh air.
- P7 parents have commented on the increase of outdoor play at home as a result of ‘Wolf Brother’ sessions outdoors.
- Nursery parents strongly believe our outdoor provision is very good.
- Classes walk from the school to the forest, quarry and beach areas.
Quotes from learners:
‘I enjoy outdoors because it’s very peaceful’ Claudia P7 Pupil
It’s a way to encourage children to spend more time outdoors which is extremely enjoyable.’ P7 pupil
‘I enjoy outdoor learning because of the outdoor atmosphere, especially when it’s slightly breezy and the birds are tweeting. It all feels very peaceful and relaxing.’ Aimee P7
‘I like the coolness and I also like the hotness and I like the games we play.’ Lewis P2
‘I think I learn more when I’m outside.’ Evie P2
‘I like running outside because it’s good for my bones.’ Ava P2
‘It was cold. We run outside to keep warm.’ Niall Nursery
- Connections being made in their learning from curricular areas to the real world and within real contexts; seeing the relevance of their learning; making sense of their learning; interdisciplinary learning experiences.
- All classes have planned outdoor sessions for this term. P1 are using the local community and school grounds to support literacy and maths (line and shape, information handling, shape, measurement and number in context). They gathered information to write reports and identified landmarks within Lossiemouth; P2 are visiting the forest weekly to support all areas of the curriculum; P2-3 classes have used learning walks around Lossiemouth within an IDL on ‘Footprints from the past’; P4-5 classes are using the school grounds to support literacy and numeracy and have visited the beach to work on science and poetry writing; P5-7 are using ‘Wolf Brother’ novel as a stimulus to work outside using the forest, quarry and school grounds.
- SFL staff are using the outdoors to support work in literacy and numeracy.
- Nursery classes are outdoors every day for focussed and free play.
- All classes have undertaken a stewardship role with their classes which should promote feeling of responsibility for our school grounds for all e.g. litter, birds, wildlife, willow, garden, composting.
Quotes from learners:
‘I enjoy all of outdoor learning because I enjoy going outside and going to the woods and quarry’ Olivia P7
‘I enjoy outdoor learning because you can engage with nature.’ Mollie P7
‘We planted golden flowers. We sprinkled the seeds in the soil.’ Grace Nursery
‘I put the soil on the seeds. I watered them with water and a watering can. We were raking to put the air in.’ Archie Nursery
- Opportunities for creative and critical thinking, challenge and enquiry
- P2 using small world toys and a fairy tree stimulus to create stories in the local woods.
- P5-7 using natural dyes to create artwork.
- Learners at all stages using natural materials to create artwork and to support literacy and numeracy.
- Learners frequently talking and reflecting about their learning outside.
Quotes from learners:
‘My favourite part of outdoor learning was doing the arty stuff.’ Sally P7
‘I enjoy doing all the different jobs because some are hard.’ Georgina P7
‘I like outdoor learning because we get to hear sounds.’ Aaliyah P2
‘I was putting sticks in a pile. I was pretending it was a fire.’ Aiden Nursery
‘I collected shells and wood and ice and pine cones and old leaves off trees. We sorted it all out into piles.’ Aiden Nursery
- Stimulating and varied learning experiences, a different learning environment, more relaxed learning environment
- Use of school grounds, beaches, forest and quarry.
- Homework tasks which are outdoor based have been more successfully completed by more learners.
- Parents are aware and are enthusiastic about the increased variety of experiences outdoors.
- Learners are more openly talking about these experiences with their families.
Quotes from learners:
‘I really enjoy outdoor learning because it gives me a chance to learn about nature.’ Claire P7
‘I like working outside because it’s easier to learn and I like the activities we do.’ Bella P7
‘I liked how you can learn things and do them at home.’ Bethan P7
‘I really enjoy outdoor learning because I like going out to different places and to see different things’ Fern P7
‘I enjoy doing maths outside.’ Oliver P2
- Opportunities for personal achievement
- Enrolment in John Muir Award scheme
- Enrolement in Woodland Trust Green Schools Award
- Achievement of 3rd Green Flag within Eco Schools
- Time allocated for personal reflection.
- Motivation through experiential learning
- Staff have reported learners being more engaged and enthused with learning outdoors.
- Parents have reported increased use of outdoors at home.
- Opportunities for risk benefit management; decision making skills.
- Learners are actively involved in considering possible risks when working outdoors.
- All classes have established rules and responsibilities and are developing confidence in their routines.
Impact on staff:
- Every class within the school has engaged with outdoor learning and staff now feel more confident and equipped to take their classes outdoors.
- Staff have embraced the challenge of working outdoors and are creating challenging and enjoyable experiences for our pupils.
- Staff feel supported with the Risk Benefit Assessments, class backpacks and bank of resources and have enjoyed reading Dirty Teaching
- The teachers who have been leading the development have enjoyed the opportunity to develop something they have a keen interest in and are delighted with the clear impact it has had on staff and learners. They now have a better understanding of the process of development work and how to integrate outdoor learning into all curricular areas.
Developments for the future:
- To further embed the use of the outdoors in our practice.
- To continue to develop routines for going outside so that learners are more confident and independent.
- Develop our school grounds in partnership with our school and local community.
- Continue to build on the award schemes we have begun.
- Continue to build a bank of resources and accommodation for these.
We would be happy to share our experiences and resource pack with any interested schools.
I hope this guest blog post gives you a flavour of what can be kickstarted with a little support from myself. I believe strongly in the capacity of schools and teachers to develop their own outdoor practice. I save time re-inventing the wheel or getting stuck on irrelevant matters – keeping the focus on the learning experiences and outcomes for children. I also bring a wealth of knowledge and experience which can help staff think more strategically about embedding outdoor learning into the life of the school. If your school is interested in working with me, please get in touch.