Literacy Trails in Outdoor Spaces

23 June 2012 · 4 comments

in Literacy Outdoors

Trails are interesting things. Children like them and they are often associated with taking learning outdoors. Many teachers experience them the hard way. We set up a trail that takes a couple of hours to put together the night before and half an hour to set up in the morning. Then we watch children complete them in a matter of minutes.

Generally if I’m setting up a trail then it’s a special event for a number of classes to complete. You can find an example of a rope trail, a Harry Potter Hunt and most recently an Easter Egg trail on this blog. I’ve even done a fake blood trail as a trick on my son – which failed as he knew better!

Surprisingly, perhaps, I’ve never blogged about orienteering which lends itself to many variations and activities at all levels. I like the idea of orienteering between key activity stations. This lends itself particularly well to induction sessions at residential settings and helping children to acclimatise to a new place, routines and structures. It was also used as a creative approach to this Outdoor Learning Event in the Cairngorms National Park last year.

So, we learn from our mistakes. Children like and enjoy making up their own trails. It is a very satisfying process. These can be simple affairs such as following breadcrumbs, as in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. It can be using ropes. Mobile technology such by using GPS and setting up geocaches or through the use of QR codes has added a new flavour into the trail mix. As a child, I used to love creating trails using signs created from natural materials such as knotted grass.

In an urban setting, such as this vacant car park, a little chalk, a bit of paper and a dollop of creativity are a good combination. On this literacy course, the participants worked in pairs to create a variety of trails.

What works really well is that this encourages everyone to focus on the close up detail of the landscape in which they are working. Suddenly cracks, crevices, lines and weeds open up a world of possibilities for trail creation. Suddenly it’s the process and not the outcome that is the focus. Trail makers do not always highlight the end of their trail as the crux. Often it’s a clue in the middle or a quirk that provides an unexpected dimension. For example, who would have though that flakes of concrete store instructions so well…

he chalk can be used for written or pictorial clues or as a trail to follow in itself…

And the final ending place can be something important such as a big feature or small as a pile of pebbles with a surprise or message underneath…

Wherever you teach, the place has possibilities for trails of all sorts. It’s about creating awe and wonder and tapping into children’s innate curiosity. What ones have you and your classes created?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Bedard June 23, 2012 at 13:06

Juliet, I have never used trails, but your post made me think that they are a great metaphor for life. We are all making trails and leaving clues for others to follow. If the clues are well done, following is easy. Of course, there will always be room for those who follow to break off and make their own trails. Sorry for the ramblings, but your post did get me thinking. Thanks.


Juliet Robertson June 23, 2012 at 13:49

What an apt metaphor! Thanks for your comment, Tom

I’m currently planning for a trail-blazing journey through the Cairngorms! I think trails in all senses of the word are full of untapped potential for the education sector.


Lesley June 24, 2012 at 06:56

trails were my favourite thing about girl guides…that and camping. i am going to find a way to incorporate them in our outdoor learning next school year!


Juliet Robertson June 24, 2012 at 10:07

Oh Lesley

I think you’ll really enjoy this – I don’t know what age you teach but it fits naturally into literacy and social subjects.

Best wishes


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