Learning Through Landscapes
As I mentioned in a previous post, before Christmas I applied for a Schools Nature Grant which we were lucky enough to secure. In addition to receiving equipment for our school garden, as part of the funding a member of the Learning through Landscapes team also came deliver training. On Friday 16th February Gordon MacLean visited Barra and we spent the afternoon exploring ways to use the outdoors creatively in my teaching practice. Learning through Landscapes is a UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. Below is a short clip from the most popular man in my class right now … Sir David Attenborough, one of the charity’s patrons, who explains so brilliantly the importance of school grounds and encouraging children to spend time in nature.
“That which ought and can best be taught inside the classroom should there be taught, and that which can best be learned through experience dealing directly with native materials and real life situations outside school should there be learned.”
Outside the Classroom, The Educational Forum (1941)
The two hours went past in a flash as we discussed the wide range of biodiversity on Barra, he shared with me his essential outdoor resource kit which was incredibly helpful and we chatted about his experiences working in forest settings. We also looked at the Scottish Play Project and Polli:Nation.
I mentioned in my very first blog how passionate I am about the role of play in education. Loose Parts is something which I have been aware of for some time but have not yet fully explored … and this is going to change very soon!
Over two years ago now I introduced what my class and I have called “Active Start” into our morning routine. Routine, as those of you with little ones will know, is so important for children as it really helps them feel settled and secure. In our class we have a lovely start to our morning … we come together to update our daily calendar (the pupils did such a fantastic job of learning their days of the week, months of the year, seasons and weather in English that we are now doing it in Gaelic … I had to up the challenge!!). We then do our Feelings Chart … this was something we introduced during our Health Week last June and my class love it. It is a very simple table where different feelings have different colours and pupils have to pick which colour most closely matches how they feel that particular morning. For example happy is yellow, purple is excited, sad is blue etc. I have tried to keep it relatively simple, we started off with six colours however this has now evolved into eight as the pupils themselves requested colours for feeling unwell (dark blue) and calm which they chose to be pink. The feelings chart has been a revelation with us for a number of reasons. Firstly it allows the children time to really tune into themselves and understand the different emotions they experience. It also provides an excellent opportunity for listening and talking – they have to listen to others which helps them develop empathy and understanding as well as developing their own confidence in sharing things about themselves with their peers. I have found it to be enormously beneficial to me too as before we start any lessons I am aware of how everyone is and I can tailor my teaching more effectively to provide support if someone has come in feeling a bit sad, tired or maybe (as we have had a lot of recently) feeling really rubbish with the cold/sore throats etc. At their request I too now have a box at the bottom of the chart where I have to share with them how I am feeling each day … they let me away with nothing this bunch!! Once we have completed our chart, it’s on to Active Start.
Active Start very simply is an opportunity for free play. I have lots of resources in my class for the children to play with including dressing up costumes, a doll’s house, toy animals & dinosaurs, cars & trucks, lots of board games, a very inviting library corner, a tonne of arty materials, a sensory play table, the list goes on … However, as I discussed with Gordon, I have noticed over extensive observations of these sessions the things that the children are most drawn to are not the shiny looking fancy plastic toys … it’s the things that allow them to express themselves more and be creative. For example, when I first decided to have dressing up things in the class I received huge piles of princess dresses and pirate gear from kind parents who cleared out old Halloween costumes and while initially a few of the children played with these, the novelty quickly wore off. However, I then bought some coloured fabric of different colours and textures and this is what they were, and still are, drawn to most. They love using their imaginations to decide what they’re going to be … the other day we had a flying zebra unicorn while at the same time, another child had taken a large fluffy piece and was using it as a blanket, reading a story and pretending a calculator was a mobile phone! The construction toys are always popular too … our Parent Council purchased large starter kits of lego for the class last year and I recently added to the construction collection with Octons. I had never seen them until I took my son to the Science Centre last October and he spent hours playing with them!
Now I know that perhaps some people reading may be thinking … this is taking up a lot of time … but it actually doesn’t! It provides the children with such a warm, welcoming start to their morning, they are listened to, they have a chance to develop their communication & social skills through playing with friends, they also – crucially as teachers are super busy through the school day – have the time to speak to me quietly on their own if they wish. By not throwing them into lessons straight away they are so much more productive once they are on task. Further evidence to back up its success is that the attendance in my class is very high and parents love it too so it’s a win-win all round!
After my training, I am now looking more at ways to develop and embed the Loose Parts pedagogy in our Active Starts sessions! I have been busy this week listening to some podcasts from Loose Parts Nature Play which have helped me deepen my understanding of the theory behind the practice and I just know that this is going to go down a storm with my creative class! As a result of this Learning through Landscapes training I am also planning on introducing den building to the playground and intend looking at ways we can make our school garden an inter-generational community project! Maybe it’s an extra 500 hours I need in the day!!
I feel like I need an extra 12 hours in each day right now to try and get through all the reading I want to do but I will get there! I have included a few links and some interesting video clips at the end of the post that Gordon shared with me that some of you may also find informative.
There is nothing better than finishing up a training course bursting with new ideas to try out and this is exactly how I felt leaving school last Friday! It was so inspiring to talk with someone who shares my enthusiasm for teaching children in this way and I can’t thank Gordon enough for his time.
A link to a useful guide from Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar about how we can minimise our impact on the nature
Please check out the Learning through Landscapes websites ... parents the section for you is well worth a look, packed full of outdoor play activities including some "Eggsellent Easter Ideas"