This outdoor learning blog has been created for you, whether you are a pupil, parent, governor, teacher, or member of the local community interested to join in and share your thoughts, ideas, and responses to the wonderful learning happening at Therfield First School . This summer term we are introducing outdoor learning across the key stages, not as an ‘add-on’ to the curriculum, but as learning that starts from real-life experiences and situations that require meaningful responses that develop into cross-curricular learning.
Our aims include:
Deepening children’s knowledge and understanding of how the natural environment, and in particular, how plant life contributes to human life
Connecting children to their local area to inspire authentic learning experiences and responses to the environment about them
Providing opportunity for all to inform the curriculum content and environment outside the classroom
Becoming skilful and reflective in problem solving, developing key countryside citizenship skills
Developing further our knowledge of teaching and learning with the environment, further defining our role as educators in the outdoors.
In achieving these aims, we are fortunate to have on our doorstep Greys Farm, home to 500 acres of meadow, and listed as a charity called redlist revival, which is committed to ensuring the survival of ‘red listed’ species identified by the UK Government. We share in the ideal that children and their educators should become informed of approaches to outdoor school that sustain active community involvement, and approaches to living, benefitting the local natural environment, and improving our attitudes towards the world we live in.
The views that are expressed in this blog are those of individuals, and myself as a teacher at Therfield First School, and in no way express the views of my employer.
You are all welcome to engage in this summer term’s learning journey of discovery.
Gardeners have mixed feelings about slugs. Our response at Gardening Club:
‘You don’t kill creatures. We are Countryside Citizens’, piped up one Y3 girl. A collective decision to return the creature to its home in the meadow was taken after a brief outline of the slug issue was presented by myself. But we have to go along with the majority vote!
What would you do in that situation?
This topic came up again when we were mixing paint for outdoor art. It is a conversation that we need to continue and gardening means we can now begin to think of alternative ways of dealing humanely with those uninvited creatures…
Drawing and painting outdoors needs fewer rules, has to be about the natural world, and is made with natural materials, agreed Y3 and 4.
Viewing pictures of the Spanish Stone Age cave paintings in Altamira and the Argentinian ‘Caves of the Hands’ produced the response that cave people must ‘paint what they wished for’ and ‘made a sort of record of the days hunting’. We can’t really know. The stenciled hand prints were surprising because ‘you don’t expect this so long ago’. Did cave people think they were unique amongst creatures and wanted their memory preserved? These were some of our questions.
Ordinarily, drawing on a wall, a tree, or anywhere in school is not encouraged! On Monday clutching a chunk of charcoal with permission to draw something you wish for or want from the natural world materialised instant outdoor art. Yes, hand stencils were essential, and so were love hearts, wild animals and people (including one with a bow and arrow). We moved quickly between the paints and charcoal, some adding grass and leaves to the paint for texture. Did we paint what we actually saw or was it just permission to realise our own ideas? The challenge was not to use words. Can this make the work more expressive especially as it is meant to be viewed and understood by a group, perhaps like in the original cave art? Take a look for yourself.
Observing the oldest to the youngest child in a mixed age class means identifying a wider age range, broader interests, and at the start of the school year, different class experiences of learning. We are all (teachers included) making adjustments as soon as we enter our new year group. I view a mixed aged range as an opportunity to develop interesting exchanges and the oldest children do by no means dominate the conversation. Using Y1s recent experience of playful learning adds liveliness to the Y2s organisational abilities in terms of structuring story, developing characterisation, and even solving maths challenges. It’s a playful web of interaction that perhaps shows more clearly the journey each child takes as they develop their personality and interests.
Outdoor learning this first term will help bring different children together, make new friends, develop interests and so on. Being outdoors when the weather starts to be less inviting can be a challenge for some – that is until you realise the freedom gained from wearing outdoor clothes, Wellington boots and just ‘having a go’!
Growth mindset is a learning theory used in our school, and its originator, Carol Dweck, has recently raised concerns that educators believe the theory is only about ‘being positive’ about learning. She describes the lack of opportunity for tackling the challenges of learning, the highlighted differences, the moments when you think ‘he’s better than me at this’ and give up. Dweck believes it is important to recognise our fixed mindsets along with the growth mindsets. We have both, and both are fine to have – we just need to invest time tackling the roots of the fixed ideas we hold.
I hold this new thought as Y1s and Y2s tread outdoors again… some found touching wet grass tricky initally, others rolled in it! Why the difference? Possibly prior experiences. To encourage a moment when we could all be part of a class sharing a rain-soaked field, we found a small natural item to share in a circle. Different items told a variety of stories and everyone wanted to listen. Being outdoors permits this as there is rarely a wrong answer as we share an experience. What we are doing is creating for ourselves a personal challenge that has no obvious outcome other than to encourage playful learning and a level playing field to encourage friendship and learning together. Fixed or fluid mindsets are for you to discern…
End of August beginning September means wildflowers wane, seeds scatter, and a tangle of weeds begins to wind itself eagerly across the remaining plants. This was how we found the meadow first week back at school. Beans, carrots, chives, parsley, were all ready to harvest. Not to mention a tangle of sage amidst the overflowing pots of summer flowers. Nothing like a clear up to get the gardening interest going again, and what better than the nine Y3s and 4s who volunteered (and turned up) for the lunchtime Gardening Club!
Some pictures of the action:
We found kale, cornflower, parsley, ragwort, amongst other wildflowers wedged into the meadow area. Apples fallen from the tree had also to be collected.
Meadows, as we know attract wildlife. No birds, hedgehogs, or pollinating insects this time, except for a giant slug found deep inside a plant…
As gardeners know the autumn is the time for clearing and organising for the next season. This does not mean that the action stops. Life continues as small creatures and insects look for places to hibernate. Over-clearing actually reduces winter homes for ladybirds, moths, bees and other pollinators, so creating a little wild-patch that is manageable is our goal.
Well done to all the energetic gardeners involved! The work will continue…
‘Too many schools have forgotten that fun is crucially important’ wrote Colin Harris in The Times Educational Supplement this month.
I was interested in this article because Harris is a celebrated Head teacher with an excellent track record of achieving excellence in schools. He often writes for the TES and what he says tends to match the work we produce at Outdoor School. He wrote that too often creativity stops at Reception class and everyone gets too bogged down with data later on… ‘but data’, exclaims Harris, ‘does not produce imagination, creativity and FUN!’
Our Year 3s and 4s stepped into the Stone Age on Monday afternoon. The rain came on time, the mud was face smearing perfect, and a tree provided shelter while we constructed our small world Stone Age homes. Using sticks, leaves, grass and mud, we shared techniques for making a base and holding the structure together. A lot of trail and error, gusts of wind, raindrops and muddy hands made the moment truly primitive…
Indoors, after washing away the mud excess from ourselves, we settled into making a tool for painting with. Talking about this the week before, everyone had decided we must find a creature with hair for the brush to work properly and a stick for the handle. But which one? Bison, wolves and boar were out of the question! Fortunately, animal hair came courtesy of friendly horses with tails needing a trim!
‘Quite exciting being a Stone Age boy’ said one tired, mud splattered, horsehair and glue covered twenty-first century child yesterday. I think we all agreed!
‘Imagination is more important than information’ said children’s poet Roger McGough in a recent interview to celebrate being 80! He added, ‘children are natural poets and then they have all the poetry ironed out of them…’
I am going to hold this thought as we explore and become inspired by the autumnal landscape in words, thoughts and activity. Welcome back!
The latest edition of our local paper the Royston Crow (20.07.17) contains a super spread on this term’s wonderful outdoor learning at Therfield First School including the presentation at Greys. In case you do not receive a copy or can’t get hold of one in town, please click on the link to the article below.