Embracing outdoor learning at any time of year!

Ama Chaney & Zana Wood

Ama Chaney & Zana Wood co-directors of Grow to School CIC bring together skills in environmental science, food growing, participative art & writing to create an organisation that connects children with their learning through being outdoors.  

Grow partners with schools enabling them to deliver curriculum-led outdoor learning, food growing and cook and eat sessions in an efficient and sustainable way. Learning outdoors is proven to improve children’s engagement and behaviour, improving results as well as confidence and well-being.

Grow sessions complement classroom teaching and liven up curriculum subject areas in exciting and challenging ways. They involve no additional planning, provide active CPD and help children be more active participants in their learning and their environment.

Ama and Zana’s aim is give all children the opportunity to learn and grow inside through being outside.

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Website: www.Growtoschool.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Originally published on 14th September 2016 Originally published on 14th September 2016

“Brrr, it’s too cold, I’m not going out in that!”... “Yuk! It’s raining, I HATE getting wet, and my shoes aren’t waterproof.”… “I know they aren’t going to hurt me, but I’m scared of things that fly and buzz.”... “I don’t like getting dirty”. Familiar excuses they may be, but they rarely come from the mouths of children. Too often it is teachers who reluctantly drag themselves outside, feeling like fishes out of water and miles away from the comfort of the classroom.

Children, on the other hand, rarely need encouraging. Whatever the weather, they love it outside, have fun together outside and learn together outside, but they also go wild outside, are noisy outside and are messy outside.

And when it’s so cold outside and nice and warm inside, you know that they will be settled with their heads down and quietly working. At that moment the thought of shivering outside, hoarse with trying to control a crowd of excited children while hoping they are learning... well, it’s not exactly a tempting picture is it?

So how to manage those wet and cold days? As we walk into school on days like this people look at us with pity. Yet unless it is a heavy downpour, unlikely to let up all day, it really isn’t an issue. The truism that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes’ absolutely applies here, and with a little forethought there is rarely a bad day to be outside. But that is us; we are hardy, we are used to being outdoors whatever the weather, we are tough, dressed in thermals and waterproofs – many say we are mad.

So, top tip number one for getting a class outdoors: if you or your children are unsuitably dressed for the weather – don’t go out. It is as easy as that. If you are not convinced of the benefits of outdoor learning, being outside cold, wet and miserable is not going to convince you!

So choose a dry day - not too hot, and not too cold. Start by being a fair-weathered teacher. Anytime spent outside with the class is better than none at all, and with time you will appreciate the benefits.

Once rain is removed from our picture, what are we left with? Ah yes, a crowd of excited children. Not the quiet class you have worked so hard to achieve, but a raucous bunch of wild creatures that you hardly recognise. Yet the same methods inside do work outside. It is a simple case of re-establishing those boundaries when the physical boundaries of the classroom walls have disappeared. In fact by talking to them about this before you go out, and by reinforcing it as soon as you get out, you will have them all paying attention and quietly looking in your direction before you can say 3… 2…1.

Sometimes - if the background noise levels are high - it is necessary to have more visual aids, so if you only use verbal aids in class, start to introduce visual ones too. Clapping is great as it is both. Touching heads, shoulders etc also works, but if all else fails, five fingers in the air is easy and generally understood as you count down, with silence and all eager eyes on you by the count of one. Those wild, crazy little people outside want to be there, and by setting those boundaries in place, they all have the knowledge that if they do not pay attention they will no longer be there. Use this to your advantage and let the learning begin.

Now that you have a quiet class standing in front of you, waiting for the next instruction let the teaching begin. But what to teach? There is no need to have a plan that varies massively from one you would implement in class.

As a starting point, D&T topics are often the easiest. Rather than card and glue, the outdoors is a scrap store full of inspiration. Children are naturally inventive in play, and this can be harnessed in learning. A little research in class first to find how the Romans built roads, how the Egyptians constructed pyramids or how the Saxons developed their houses and villages is all that is needed. Then, keeping the class in working groups, let them take their knowledge outside and start inventing. A leaf can become a roof, sticks can construct frames, mud can become bricks or glue. There is little for teaching staff to do. Watch over, guide and marvel at how inventive children can be. Remember a camera to record the process and to document the finished creations.

As September welcomes in the new academic year, the weather still offers plenty of fair weathered teaching. Choose an activity, let the children prepare and on the next dry day get the class outside. The benefits are enormous, not least that the fresh air and sunshine lifts the mood, calms and relaxes our mind and allows us to concentrate and focus more easily. And that’s just the teachers!

How do you embrace the outdoors with your pupils? Share your stories below.

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