Category Archives: Outdoor Learning

Realising the Ambition During Covid-19 at Cairngorm ELC

In the second in our series of practice sharing blogs during Covid-19 restrictions, Beth Rodgers from Cairngorm ELC provides us with fascinating insights into how she and her team prepared for the return of children:

Uncertain and unprecedented times call for creative measures and allows us the opportunity to be brave and take a leap of faith out of our comfort zone.

As Charles Darwin once said:

‘It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’

This has been the thought process for our team throughout the closure period. Key questions we asked ourselves were:

1. How can we adapt to the current situation and enhance the service we offer, whilst ensuring the safety of all of children by following national guidance?

2. What training opportunities can we access, albeit it in a different format than before to ensure that professional learning remains at the heart of our practice?

3. What spaces could be developed to enhance and maximise the experiences for our children?

4. How can we ensure that the wellbeing of our children, through nurturing and positive interactions remains at the heart of all we do?

5. How do we ensure that we take parents with us on our journey of change?

Think Spaces

Outdoors, outdoors and more outdoors. With the correct clothing and resources no weather is ‘bad’ weather. Embrace the elements… puddle jumping on wet days, dancing in the wind on windy days and staff embracing their inner child!

We were lucky enough to access some great outdoor training for staff prior to re-opening, which was supported by Education Scotland’s ‘Enhancing Professional Learning in STEM’ and this allowed staff to build confidence and prepare for a predominantly outdoor service.

We created a whole new outdoor space, utilising as many natural resources as possible, whilst really thinking about open ended materials which allow for lots of opportunities to be creative. Big piles of sticks, log, cones etc. have seen our children build dens, create their own role play areas, obstacle courses and many, many more. Spaces to relax and rest can be achieved outdoors – our Bell tent has been a revelation!

We have embraced our local environment, and walks and local exploration feature heavily in the daily life of Cairngorm Early Learning.

Think Interactions

Scary times and change are hard enough as an adult, but put yourself in the shoes of your children. Don’t underestimate the impact of cuddles and reassurance and that sense of belonging and safety that comes hand in hand. Think carefully about your groupings. Who do the children know well already? Are your key workers systems in place? Is there a safe space for children to feel relaxed and comforted? (Yes, even a tent outdoors can achieve this!)

Settling back in sessions have been a must for us and allowing children (and parents and carers) the time to take these at their own pace has been of paramount importance. Whether this means a child has one session or ten, you must look at each child individually and work from there.

We have updated our Care Plans to recognise the huge impact that COVID-19 has had on their lives and are utilising the Leuven Scale to track wellbeing over the weeks and months ahead, ensuring that we are responding to individual needs.

Think creatively about your communication with parents/carers. Are they still getting the information they need on a daily basis to make them feel secure in their child’s care? Never forget that this is a scary time for parents too and this needs the same level of thought and planning. We decided to buy in online software for parental communication and journals, ensuring that despite the reduction in face to face interactions with parents and a move away from a literal ‘open door’ policy, parents feel no less informed or part of their children’s experiences.

Using child friendly prompts about hygiene and the social distancing measures have also ensured that none of our messages have been threatening or scary. Being child friendly has been key.

Think Experiences

Little and often has been our mantra when it comes to resourcing and changing them regularly to support cleaning and hygiene practices.

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A sand tray/tuff spot with a thin layer of sand and interesting mark making materials or small world toys can be just as exciting a tonne of the stuff. This has allowed us it to change it for each cohort with as little waste as possible. Water taken from a water butt with a tap for play, as and when required, and then disposed of has also helped ensure that hygiene measures are followed.

Ensure you have a comprehensive rota system for cleaning. We have found that a basin of sterilised water close by throughout the day allows us to pop resources into it immediately again use ready for a thorough clean at the end of the session. Clear guidance for staff regarding this has also been crucial.

Most important of all, be kind to each other.

Most important of all, be kind to each other. This experience has affected everyone; staff, children and families alike. Be patient with each other, support each other and remind yourselves that you have one of the most important and privileged roles out there. Be that source of comfort and love to your children and the rest will fall into place from there.

Opportunities for local fèis groups from Spòrs Gàidhlig,


Spòrs Gàidhlig, with support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Fèisean nan Gàidheal, are offering exciting activities to local fèis groups through Fèis-spòrs.  

Fèis-spòrs is a new initiative delivered in partnership with Fèisean nan Gàidheal. They will come to you during your normal fèis dates and deliver activities with professional instructors and equipment. Local Fèis participants can access exciting outdoor activities using Gaelic.

Spòrs Gàidhlig, are also offering an new Fèis-spòrs camp which will combine the best of music tuition and drama with an exciting programme of outdoor activities.  You can book online by visiting the website at 

For more information, please call Spòrs Gàidhlig on  01463 234138 or email

Grants to support learning on the First World War

Do your plans for the curriculum include developing children and young people’s knowledge, skills and understanding of the First World War? Do you intend to do some intergenerational work to promote children and young people’s Gaelic language skills?  Has your tracking of children and young people’s skills in technology shown a gap for which an opportunity to create a film would be useful?

A grant of £250 is available, as part of the Scottish Government’s five-year World War 1 Commemorative Programme, to mark the centenary of the First World War. It aims to help children and young people develop their understanding of the causes of the First World War and impact on people’s lives.

More information is available at:,0,0,0,0


Social Bite calls for Scotland’s young people to join movement against homelessness with first ever ‘Wee Sleep Out’ initiative

Social Bite has  launched the Wee Sleep Out; a national awareness raising and fundraising campaign to get the young people of Scotland involved in the charity’s mission to end homelessness.
Wee Sleep Out is calling on all teachers, youth leaders, parents and guardians to challenge young people between 8 and 16 years old to get out of their beds, and their comfort zones by organising their very own Wee Sleep Outs on 9 November, as part of Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018.
From back gardens to school grounds, living room floors to community halls, each Wee Sleep Out is putting young people in the driving seat and giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills and talent. By leading on the development and delivery of their own sleep outs children and young people use their creativity and enterprising skills to help end homelessness. 

Calling all teachers, youth leaders, parents/guardians and 8-16 yr/olds. Find out how you can be part of the movement to #EndHomelessness this November 9th at

There will be no sign-up fee, and no minimum fundraising target to make this initiative accessible to all – Social Bite would of course be delighted if young people fundraise as much as they can to contribute to their nationwide movement to end homelessness.
Money raised from the Wee Sleep Out events will go towards Social Bite’s wider Sleep in the Park total, which includes supporting Social Bite’s major Housing First initiative, which is expected to take 800 rough sleepers off the streets by 2020.
A number of young people who organise their own Wee Sleep Outs will also have the opportunity to play a starring role across Sleep in the Park events on 8 December, sharing their personal experiences of delivering their own Wee Sleep Out to participants.
Alice Thomson, co-founder of Social Bite and organiser of the Wee Sleep Out, said: “The success of Sleep in the Park last year was overwhelming. To bring 8,000 people together and raise £4 million in the process was incredible, and this year we want the young people of Scotland to join us.
“There’s been a real appetite from the young people of Scotland looking to get involved, and a number of them got in touch after Sleep in the Park, offering their support. We even had Cody McManus, aged 9, brave the Beast from the East and sleep out in an Igloo in his back garden – raising £1,000 for the cause.
“We’re proud to launch the Wee Sleep Out during Scotland’s Year of Young People and give the young people of Scotland a voice. We want people of all ages to get involved with Social Bite’s mission to eradicate homelessness, and we’re inviting young people across the country to get creative and take the lead by organising their own Wee Sleep Out this year.”
Olivia Ferguson, a 16-year-old student at Kelso High School, took part in Sleep in the Park last year and contacted Alice after the event, keen to do something involving other young people. She said: “This a great opportunity for young people to come together to help end homelessness.

“Last year my family and I took part in the Sleep in the Park, which was a very humbling experience. I didn’t want my support to end there, so I got in touch with Alice and suggested an event in the Borders, and I can wait to organise a Wee Sleep Out.”

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said:
“The Year of Young People 2018 provides us with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate, showcase and most importantly empower young people to make a difference.”
“We are delighted to be supporting Social Bite’s Wee Sleep Out as part of Scotland’s current themed year. It provides a fantastic opportunity for young people across Scotland to lead the way in the delivery and development of events in their communities and at home to raise awareness of an important issue. 2018 is the time to give young people the power to create change and celebrate their spirit of creativity and innovation – we can’t wait to hear all the ways in which they plan to take part in the Wee Sleep Out.”
The Wee Sleep Out is now open for registration at
Join the conversation #WeeSleepOut #YOYP2018


LANTRA 2017 – Career Workshops and Skills Events

The latest event in a series of  workshops and events on career pathways and skills development in the land-base, aquaculture and environmental industries, will take place on Thursday, 14 December, Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld (10am – 3pm). (contact: 01738 310164 or

Two recent LANYRA career workshops run for SDS career staff, teachers, DYW regional groups etc. were held in Perth & Lanark. Here are the links to the presentations from industry speakers :

LANTRA’s website offers plenty of information on  exciting and rewarding jobs in this industry sector, especially for Modern Apprentices. Find out more by signing up for our quarterly newsletter or contacting us LANTRA directly.

And:  The new rural skills video has just been published and can be viewed on

Making Scotland a STEM Nation

STEM Education and Training Strategy for Scotland has now been published

A STEM (Sciences Technologies, Engineering and Mathematics) Education and Training Strategy was launched in the Scottish Parliament last week by Ms Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science. The Strategy, together with a STEM Evidence Base Report, is now available to download from:

A central focus on the strategy is to enable everyone to develop STEM skills for learning, for life and for work. It provides a new emphasis on career pathways within STEM sectors and to grow successful  partnerships between schools and employers through the Developing the Young Workforce Programme.  The strategy also includes a commitment to expand Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprenticeship Programmes to enable many to pursue jobs and careers in STEM through these pathways. This strong focus on skills and careers will further enhance national efforts to Develop the Young Workforce (DYW) and embed employment and career management skills in the curriculum through the Career Education Standard.

A wide variety and resources including exemplars around DYW and STEM can be accessed on the National Improvement Hub here.


Sleep in the Park: 1000 Free School Tickets!

This year Social Bite are bringing together 9,000 people in Princes Street Gardens, on the 9th of December, for the world’s largest ever Sleep-Out to try and end homelessness in Scotland for good. Participants will be joined by some of the world’s biggest artists to sleep in the cold for one night.
We have invited some amazing musicians to “busk” stripped back acoustics sets including Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit. We also have Rob Brydon hosting the event, Sir Bob Geldof sleeping out and John Cleese has agreed to come and read a bedtime story!

The website is:
You can see a little video about the event here:

 Sleep In The Park Launch Video.mp4

Please note:  This allocation is for young people 16 and over and they must be accompanied by an adult.

Opportunity for Your School

Ordinarily, in order to participate in the event people have to pay an initial donation of £50 and commit to raise at least £50 more. However, we have had a wealthy individual donate £50,000 to fund the participation of 1,000 School kids (aged 16 and over).

Therefore I am writing to see if you would like to take an allocation of free tickets for children over 16 at your school. The group would need to commit to raising a minimum of £50 or more per person in order to take part, but would not have to pay any initial £50 registration fee as this has been entirely funded. They would also have to be accompanied to the event by a teacher(s).

We are giving the school ticket allocations out on a first come first served basis and we expect the demand to be high and the 1,000 available to be taken quickly. Therefore could you let me know if you would like an allocation of tickets? If so please let me know the number of tickets you would like for your school?

Josh Littlejohn MBE

Social Bite


t: 0131 220 8206


Let’s head to Creag Meagaidh


Tell us about the benefits of pioneering conservation work on Creag Meagaidh?

From the 1700s heavy grazing by sheep and deer on what is now the reserve ground meant few trees could survive and much of the wildlife that depended on them was lost. However, in 1986 Creag Meagaidh became a National Nature Reserve and this signalled a new era. Grazing pressure was reduced and lost plant and animal communities were gradually restored. Now wildlife abounds here. From the golden eagles, dotterel and ptarmigan of the high tops, to the black grouse, small pearl-bordered fritillaries and dragonflies of the lower slopes there is much to see and enjoy. Look more closely and you might glimpse rare alpine speedwells, saxifrages and hawkweeds as well as a host of native trees.



What are the autumn highlights I could enjoy?

Although any time is good for a visit, autumn takes some beating.

This is a reserve where birch woodland gives way to open moorland, and in autumn the russet hues of heather and deer grass add colour to any walk. This zone, where woodland meets moor, is the favourite place for the beautiful black grouse. Numbers of black grouse here have been increasing as their habitat expands and you can see them roosting in birch trees.

In autumn the rowan trees will be laden with berries – look out for migrant thrushes such as fieldfares and redwing, as well as our locally breeding ring ouzels. These migrants will be filling up before heading for the mountains of North Africa to spend the winter.


Is that the roar of a stag I can hear?

Sure is ! During the autumn the stags challenge each other for the right to mate with the hinds, and their bellowing roars over open hillsides are one of the most exciting sounds of the Scottish autumn. Red deer are the most common deer on Creag Meagaidh and keeping the numbers in balance with woodland regeneration is the main management we need to carry out. In the summer the deer tend to graze the higher ground on the Reserve, while in the winter they come down to the woods and low ground for shelter.


Okay, my boots are going on. How easily can I get around the reserve ?

Waymarked trails make it easy to explore Creag Meagaidh.

The Alderwood Trail is suitable for all abilities. Situated next to the car park and about 1.1km or 0.7miles long this is a superb place to see alder trees and owls, redpolls and siskins are resident here. Allow 30 minutes.

The Allt Dubh Trail takes you to the edge of the hill land where you can glimpse great views of the reserve. There is a poem by Sorley MacLean carved into stones by the path. Surfaces are good but there are some steep steps and slopes and stout footwear is essential. 1.8 km or 1.1 miles long, please allow about one hour.

The An Sidehean Trail is1km or 0.6 miles long, and skirts the fields you can see from the car park. Watch for black grouse and woodcock along the way. You may see Highland cattle too as we plough and farm these fields, keeping the environment close to what it would have been like when people farmed this land.



Social Housing & Green Infrastructure

Ivan Clark, of our Plan and Placemaking team, explains how high quality green spaces provide opportunities for nature to thrive and for people to connect with nature close to where they live.

Ivan 1

An example of an ‘Isolated’ single function open space

There are still many places in Scotland, often associated with areas of disadvantage, where existing greenspace is of poor quality, or is not fulfilling its potential in terms of the number of benefits it could provide.

To address this, we have recently appointed Main Street Consulting to explore the possible barriers to better practice in terms of delivering good green infrastructure as part of social housing projects. We’ll be working closely with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and some of their members to try to identify how we might do things differently.

Ivan 3

A good example of a multifunctional greenspace in Sheffield, South Yorkshire

The Steering Group for the project includes representatives from Scottish Government, the Central Scotland Green Network Trust, the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership and Architecture and Design Scotland.

Main Street Consulting will be engaging with a range of stakeholders over the coming months through an online survey and interactive workshops.


Ivan 4

Retro-fit raingarden, Sheffield

If you live in social housing or you’re involved in delivering or managing social housing and would like to contribute to the research, we would like to hear from you. For further details. Please contact 

Find out more in the following links:

SNH webpage on Green Networks & Green Infrastructure.

Green Infrastructure: Design and Place-making sets out how well designed green infrastructure can contribute to better places.

Neighbourhoods Green , a partnership initiative in England which highlights the importance of open space for residents of social housing”

Let’s head to … Knockan Crag

Interpretive writing carved on to rocks at Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

What’s the big draw about Knockan Crag?

Until the 1900s, geologists assumed, quite reasonably, that layers of rock were laid down progressively, with younger rocks on top of older rocks. But there was a conundrum at Knockan. Here one billion-year-old sedimentary rock formed sat directly on top of much younger sedimentary rocks.


A temperature inversion at Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

So how do we explain this?

Plate tectonic movements of the Earth’s crust is the basis for the explanation of this odd arrangement. It is now understood that, 425 million years ago, the landmass containing Scotland collided with another landmass that included England and the rest of Britain. The collision buckled and fractured the rocks of the north-west Highlands pushing, or thrusting, them tens of kilometres westwards over the younger rocks below.

These massive Earth movements of the so-called ‘Moine Thrust’ were first documented at Knockan. Today, geologists from all round the world visit to see where this geological process was first recognised.


Rock sculpture beside the trail at Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

What’s on offer if geology isn’t your thing?

As well as its geological importance, Knockan Crag is home to a wide range of plants and wildlife. Rock ledges on the Crag provide nesting places for birds such as kestrels and ravens, and the heathland and the sheltered grassy slopes beneath provide valuable grazing for red deer.


Geological interpretation at the rock room, Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Okay, I’m sold on this. How do I get there?

Knockan Crag NNR lies about 21 km (13 miles) north of Ullapool on the A835. Want to ditch the car? No problem, buses between Ullapool and Lochinver or Durness stop at the Reserve entrance on request. The reserve is open all year. There are toilets, a picnic area, car park and trails for different abilities.

Knockan Crag

Can you tell me a little about the trails you have at Knockan Crag?

Sure, all of our trails start from the car park; either climb the steps or follow the all-abilities trail to the Knockan Wall. From here there is a wide, generally at path suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs to the Rock Room. From the Rock Room there are three options for walking around Knockan Crag NNR.

Crag Top Trail will take you past the Moine Thrust and along the top of Knockan Crag for superb views of the Assynt mountains. The route has some steep climbs, but it’s a good path and clearly marked. Allow about 1 hour.

Thrust Trail takes you to the place all the fuss is about — the Moine Thrust — where you can bridge 500 million years with your bare hands. From here you can return to the car park or continue on the Crag Top Trail. The route is clearly marked, with a short climb up steps to the Thrust itself. Allow 30 minutes.

Quarry Trail is an easier option and this takes you part of the way to the Thrust, then doubles back before the path starts climbing. Allow 20 minutes.