Earlier this year, Education Scotland published the BtC:Outside and In. It’s a strategic document that outlines practical steps a school can take to embedding outdoor learning into its curriculum and overall approach to learning and teaching.
On page 2 there’s an illustration of a vision statement for outdoor learning which can be used when a schools asks “Where do I want to be?” in terms of ensuring that learning outdoors is a frequent and regular occurrence for every child. Knowing how busy senior management and teachers are, the aim of this series of blog posts is to look at each statement within this vision and expand upon this with some practical suggestions. So let’s begin…
Our school is a place where children have a right to work and play where it most suits their learning needs.
This statement is deceptively simple. Firstly it mentions the rights of children. This is something every school should check – whether or not their children actually have this right.
Many children enjoy learning outdoors and find that being physically more active or having more space gives them the opportunity to think, reflect and concentrate better. Thus, it’s important that teachers observe their pupils and work out who really benefits from outdoor activities. The next challenge is to decide how these children can have more chances to work outside.
A lovely example of a class teacher enabling this to happen occurred last year at the school where I work. A P1 teacher realised that her class would enjoy playing and learning outside. She reorganised her classroom so that when she was working with groups, her seat gave her a view of the inside class and the area just outside her classroom. In conjunction with the children she set up a system where children could help themselves to resources to use outside. The pupils knew they had to stay within the designated area and behave sensibly. If they didn’t then they lost the privilege of being outside during class time. When minor disputes arose outside, initially the children would come and tell their teacher. She gave them the choice of sorting it out independently or coming back inside the class. This quickly gave children greater responsibility over their choice about where to learn and play and to sort out gripes themselves.
I have also seen many teachers simply decide to undertake more activities outside with their whole class. I’ve also used classroom assistants to take children in groups outside for specific tasks. Years ago, when I first started teaching I had a very challenging P2 class in a tiny classroom, which was barely large enough to swing a hamster, let alone a cat. As well as increasing the amount of outdoor activities, the children who were able to demonstrate that they could complete tasks independently were given the choice as to whether they wanted to work outside the classroom or in. This had the knock-on effect of ensuring that being sent out of the class was a positive achievement and not a negative consequence of poor behaviour. It’s also an example of how remote supervision is doable with young children.
Secondly, some activities are better taught outside. For example, learning about farming is more effective if children get to visit a farm, talk to a farmer and have a chance to see what a working farm looks like. It’s even better if they get to grow their own crops, harvest them and make food from their produce. A good example can be seen in this case study about the Waldorf School in Prague. It’s great to see that increasing numbers of schools are looking after hens and other animals too. That’s real world learning which involves caring for animals, money management and even having to make life or death decisions.
I hope this post is helpful. Please let me know if you have done any thing to enable your children to work and play in a place that most suits their needs.
The next post in this series is “All children are able to experience and enjoy the special nature of being outdoors.”