All posts by Miss Nicholson

What’s Next?

This has been the quickest year of teaching I’ve ever had and I can put that down to a jam packed year both in work and personal life. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my SCEL Teacher Leadership experience and whilst it has given me a focus specific to my enquiry, it has also opened up a lot of other opportunities for me and has given me the confidence to follow these up. I’ve also found it very useful to be part of a network and endevour to participate in more opportunities for professional discussion outwith my school setting. I feel I have only touched the surface in my development of Learning for Sustainability but have worked out how passionate I am about this being a core part of the curriculum going forward. I have challenged myself to evaluate my values, presumptions and methods of teaching and have discovered how refreshing it is to push myself out of my comfort zone. My next steps take me further along the Learning for Sustainability road and I hope to explore more about the integration of skill development and global citizenship through alternative methods of teaching including outdoor learning and play based activities especially further up the school. I want to challenge conventions and this programme has encouraged me to ask the question ‘why?’ more and sometimes ‘why not?’ gives you the nudge to try something a little different.

How this has impacted on my leadership learning

To me, teacher leadership means creating and leading change on a varying scale. This could be a small, personal change or development being investigated or could be a larger scale cluster/region research project and everywhere in between. Teacher leadership is not defined by what or who you are leading, but by the fact that you have seen a gap in a certain area and are taking initiative to do something about it. Coming into teaching at a time in which teacher leadership is a phrase that is used to mean the leadership of some kind of change, as opposed to leadership of people, has benefited me. I know colleagues who have found it more difficult to separate this idea but as more teachers become involved in undertaking teacher leadership opportunities and sharing their experiences I believe this will change. The teacher leadership programme has been a structured way to explore my questions and create new ones. I had an idea in my head of a broad area I wanted to investigate through my enquiry approach but I have broadened my interest and understanding in this area beyond where I thought I would due to the nature of an enquiring approach. As I discussed in my post about an enquiry approach, it is a cycle that continues and although this programme is coming to an end and I have some answers to my initial questions, I feel only at the start of what will be a continual cycle of question, investigate, develop, create more questions and so on…

Task 4D – What are the implications?

Implications for my practice –

This process has inspired me to think outside the box within my teaching. Seeing the skills that could be used and developed within ‘loose parts play’, without them being a focus, has made me realise that I need to provide more varied experiences in which an assortment of skills can be practised. This will lead into using more outdoor learning experiences but also looking outwith the school into the community to find programmes, specialists and links that can support these varied contexts for learning.

Implications for my school –

I am aware that I have had the privilege of this enquiry to help develop my understanding in this area and therefore I am at a different point in thinking from some members of staff. It has been great that members of staff at my school have since looked into LfS and in particular ‘loose parts play’ but we all come at it from different interests and experiences. We need to pull on these different perspectives to learn from each other. With regards to planning for developing and assessing skills, I think we need to utilise the early years staff who conduct most of their assessment through observation.

Implications on a wider scale –

I think a mind-shift is required for the full impact of ‘play’ and ‘loose parts play’ to reach it’s potential. At a recent professional learning event I discussed this idea and we commented that it seems to be acceptable to have ‘Muddy Mondays’ or ‘Outdoor Wednesdays’ at ELC or P1 but the acceptability of this from a pupil, parent and teacher perspective changes as pupils get older. Perhaps we need to think differently about how learning looks further up the school and use our younger stages as an example of the benefits of varied experiences.

Task 4C – What has happened?

My enquiring question –

In what way does the format of ‘loose parts play’ need to change to provide progression of creativity and problem solving skills at P1, P4, P7?

My learning –

The whole process has been a great learning experience and has developed my understanding of Learning for Sustainability as a whole, as well as my interest into how we develop and assess skills in schools. Specific learning related to my enquiry question has been that there is not one way of ‘playing’ for different stages at primary school. Pupils enjoyed a range of play experiences and each had their own benefits as well as joint benefits. I realised that I did not need to change the play dependent on the child but in fact, the child would access the play at the level appropriate to them. Taking this ownership away from the child creates a different activity. Set tasks and differentiated activities have their place in school, but by doing this to play experiences removes the benefits that ‘loose parts play’ has.


Pupil learning –

The pupils found that without realising, they were using broad learning vocabulary during their play e.g. ‘this is really heavy’, ‘if we push this harder, there will be more force behind it’, ‘let’s make this stronger by creating a bigger base’. They were also able to highlight more skills being used than I was able to spot when observing them. I believe that by making skills more visible to pupils, means that they will be more able to apply and use these skills in a range of contexts.


Colleague learning –

The staff who have been involved in my enquiry have been interested to see how it was managed. Staff agreed that this type of play has great benefits but were sceptical that it might become an add-on or a trend that quickly gets forgotten about. My challenge to staff has been to start using these materials as part of lessons when links can be made as well as giving their pupils the play experiences to become more confident and more familiar with the materials but not to use it as an additional lesson. These members of staff are beginning to collect more materials to add to our ‘loose parts’ as they notice links to learning that can be made. I acknowledge that we are at the start of a journey but hope the interest continues to increase and the scepticism decreases as time goes on.

Task 4B – Why I do it?

My idea came about from development work I am conducting into Learning for Sustainability. This started with involvement in British Council Connecting Classrooms University of Edinburgh Learning for Sustainability course in which my understanding of LfS changed. I realised how much LfS is at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence and is not an added extra or simply new method of teaching. I saw that LfS is more than saving the planet and links with social, economic and political issues as well as skills needed for learning, life and work. A reading I have found very useful was the Core Skills document from British Council which has helped me to make the links between LfS and sustainable skills. This is what made me look into how we can develop these skills in our school. In my setting, we frequently comment that our pupils need more resilience, that problem solving skills need work and that we need to provide more opportunities for play further up the school, and not just in the early years. With a focus on ‘loose parts play’ I conducted research into case studies using Education Scotland links and saw that each school has used their community and surroundings to develop this play in a unique way that will work in their setting. I have seen that doing this is the best way to get all staff and pupils on board and invested in the idea and that each school needs to devise their own experiences and cannot just replicate what is being done elsewhere. The case studies and ‘The Theory of Loose Parts’, ‘This Place is Like a Building Site’ and ‘Loose Parts Play – A toolkit’ were some of the readings that helped  to build a picture of the good practice that is occuring nationally and has enabled me to pull on the elements from these that work in my own setting to set up ‘loose parts play’.

Task 4A – What I did

I managed to stick to my plan relatively well. I still managed to work with 6 children at P1, P4 and P7 and explored 3 different types of ‘loose parts play’. We tried free play where the children were given no information and just told they were allowed to do whatever they wanted with the equipment. This was always the first experience with this type of play for pupils. We then tried guided play in which I made suggestions and gave support to move the pupils’ ideas along. This was always the second experience with ‘loose parts’. The third experience was a set task with a set amount of time. The pupils were asked to build a shelter for a hedgehog in a storm. I had an observation grid to note down each pupil and the elements of problem solving and creativity skills they used. This was the weakest part of my enquiry as it is so difficult to capture a skill and measure it. This is something that has left me with a lot of questions to follow up in the future. I conducted a semi-structured interview with each group of children afterwards to find out how they felt about that type of play. As the children experienced more of the play they could then start comparing it during the interview.

Task 3K – Where are you now?

As expected when I was considering what practitioner enquiry meant to me earlier on in this programme, at this stage, I find myself with more questions and wonderings than I started with. I began with the question, ‘In what way does the format of ‘loose parts play’ need to change to provide progression of creativity and problem solving skills at P1, P4, P7?’. I have trialled three different ways of organising ‘loose parts play’ and have been able to get the opportunity to discuss this with the children involved. The three different organisation methods were complete free play, guided play from a class teacher and a set challenge/task. My prediction had been that the younger children would respond better to the free play as this fitted with their style of curriculum more, that the guided play would suit the middle school and set tasks would be preferred by the upper school. My findings were interesting and the results of the analysis of these findings has got my challenging my whole perspective of the delivery/use of ‘loose parts play’. The P7 pupils enjoyed the guided play most but thought that they probably learnt the most from the set task. I now question whether this feedback was because of their set idea of what learning looks like and whether they think it needs to have a correct end result to be learning. The P1 group found the free play very challenging and needed more guidance and help. The preferred the task when it had a clear outcome from the teacher leading it. However, I wonder whether this was because of the loose parts they were given and whether these lend themselves more to engineering/design play rather than role play that the pupils are more familiar with. The P4 group loved all the types of play but preferred guided and task play more than free play. I am still to look more in depth at the specific comments made by the pupils and also the observation sheets that I used to track the skill development opportunities during the play. The immediate action I have taken from these results is to hold of launching the ‘loose parts play’ into playgrounds at play time and instead am working with teachers to use guided tasks and set tasks during class time as a way of introducing this style of play to the children.

Update 3

Excited that I have finally got out and used the Loose Parts with the children! Have had various sessions with the P1, P4 and P7 pupils with free play, guided play and set tasks. My hypothesis was that free play would suit the P1s better, guided play would be better for the P4s and the P7s would need set tasks for them to achieve best. Although yet to analyse my observations and interview responses fully, I know that this hypothesis has not been proven correct. I have also learnt that getting the children involved in the planning process of how we can use Loose Parts in the school has been really helpful for developing ideas. They have agreed with me on some ideas but have developed or changed others to suit their needs or likes and dislikes more. I found the discussion with children so valuable for where I am in this journey and look forward to sharing the results.

Update 2

At the point of my last update I was gathering resources to use as Loose Parts. We are now at the point where donations have been coming in to school and I have worked with our Sustainable Squad who are supporting this project to split the resources between our storage sheds within different playgrounds. To help with consistency of my enquiry, we have given the same Loose Parts to all areas however, I expect this to change as we discover what were better resources for certain stages. I have put together my observation sheet and semi-structured interview questions. Both are pictured below. I used elements of creativity and problem solving skills to help break down these skills further to support the observation notes. I don’t want my notes to be restricted by these elements though so will also make general notes and observations so my results are forced into categories. Although we still need more resources, we have enough for me to start my observation and groups so I am looking forward to seeing how the children explore the Loose Parts.


Semi-Structured Interview Questions

Free Play

What did you like about that?

What did you have to think about when you were doing that?

Was anything tricky?

How did you deal with the things that were tricky?

Guided Play

What did you like about that?

What did you have to think about when you were doing that?

Was anything tricky?

How did you deal with the things that were tricky?

Tasked Play

What did you like about that?

What did you have to think about when you were doing that?

Was anything tricky?

How did you deal with the things that were tricky?


Which task did you enjoy best and why?

What would you like to do more of?

Which one do you think you could learn the most from?