With all the snow that’s fallen on Scotland so far this winter, I’ve found myself jumping from one side of the fence to another over outdoor matters. I’ve had queries from schools and teachers who’ve received complaints from parents because they’ve allowed children outside when it’s cold and snowy. And I’ve also had conversations with highly frustrated parents whose children have not been allowed out to play or work by school staff.
It would appear that some adults have fixed mindsets over this matter, regardless of their role or status. The question, thus arises, whether this has to be the case or is change possible? Can we move to a more flexible mindset that allows for a little tolerance and understanding of the issues involved?
We cannot change the way others think and feel. But there are things we can do to help others see things from a different perspective. We can role model. We can be advocates. We can be Very Helpful People.
This post is for any parent or carer who is in the situation where they wish to support their school in taking learning and play outdoors. I do not have answers but some of the suggestions below may help.
If you already do a lot outdoors with your child, then you have a great deal to offer the school in terms of supporting outdoor activities. You will have a good understanding of the things your child learns when he or she is outside. Your child will be used to being outdoors and you will have a very good idea of the sorts of things that a child of the same age enjoys. You will also know about the local outdoor places that the school may visit and use.
Find other parents who share your beliefs and desire to see more learning happen outside. Having a friend for a bit of mutual support can help especially at the start.
Schools are very busy places. Be kind and helpful. Work hard at gaining the trust and respect of staff. If your child attends a large school then make sure staff know you for all the right reasons. If they know and trust you, then they are more likely to listen to you. If you have time, then get your Disclosure check (or your country’s equivalent) and volunteer to assist with outdoor activities such as trips off-site or outdoor play in pre-school.
At parent’s night when you meet your child’s teacher, ask about the outdoor activities that are being covered in all curriculum areas and what benefits they have observed when doing this. This may put some teacher’s on the spot so be prepared. Tell them about this website and other ones you’ve come across that have lots of ideas and suggestions.
Whenever there is a survey or questionnaire to be completed, then do this and ensure that you include reference to the benefits of taking learning and play outdoors. If there are policies being created or amended, then add a reminder saying that they have omitted the benefits of being outside – or thank them if they have remembered to do this.
If you have the time or are able to give the commitment, then join official groups that exist to support the school. In Scotland, these are Parent Councils. Many schools have an Eco School Committee which needs an interested parent or two.
Some schools also have a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that is responsible for social activities and fund raisers. Offer to run outdoor fundraisers such as:
- Football tournaments
- Treasure Hunts
- Nature Days
- School picnics
Find out which other parents are willing and able to help you out here. Asking directly is often more effective than a general call-out.
Offer to organise a Bags to School event. This is a textile recycling scheme. However, ask parents to put outdoor clothing and footwear for the school to keep in separate bags. This means that the school starts to have spare clothing for children who get wet or messy outside.
Offer to create outdoor dressing up boxes for the younger classes. This is a big box of funky outdoor gear and material which can be used for role play outdoors. Include high visibility vests, a police hat, army camouflage clothes, coveralls, etc. If you are able to organise the occasional wash for these items too then this can encourage use. It’s best to use real items scrounged from people who do different outdoor jobs.
Donate children’s reading books to the school that have an outdoor theme. Have a look at the suggestions on these and other Amazon Listmanias which include:
- Early Years Plants and Gardening Stories
- Rock on! Great Books about Rocks and Landscapes for Children
- Forest School Stories for the Early Years
- My Favourite Children’s Outdoor Books
- Weather and Seasons: Story and Information Books
If you have the time, write down some suggestions for outdoor activities that could be undertaken to accompany the book.
If you wish to give your child’s teacher a gift at Christmas or the end of the school year, then consider an item that can be used outside, e.g.:
- Outdoor clothing: a pair of gloves, thick socks, a hat or a scarf. Remember that berets have least negative impact on the hat hair front!
- Some bulbs, seeds or outdoor plants. One of the nicest presents I received was a home-grown chilli plant from a child
- A voucher to be spent in a local outdoor shop or an outdoor activity day such as canoeing, horse-riding, etc.
- A pair of reusable handwarmers
- A useful outdoor activity book. Have a look at this Listmania for ideas
Developing and improving a school’s playground or outdoor space takes time and is a long term approach. If you have time to apply for grants such as Awards for All to help this happen, then this is fantastic. A good tip here is suggest that the school joins Grounds for Learning or Learning Through Landscapes. Although it costs money to hire a school grounds professional via one of these school grounds charities, it is money well-spent. They can advise on consulting and involving children; using recycled materials, measures that improve the biodiversity of the grounds, organisation of resources and routines around using the outdoor space. They save schools time and money.
Finally if you have any ideas, suggestions or tactics which have worked, then please do share… we all need to support each other here!
Many thanks to Jeannie Mackenzie, a former Family Learning consultant and author for her advice when writing this post.
“Kids need the fresh air, the fun of exploring outside and the imaginative play it develops, so keep up the great work!”