Outdoor play in Early Years

For my second week back at nursery, I was asked to spend my afternoon outdoors. This request was met by my delight at the chance to have a look into some more learning in the outdoor particularly as this is an age that I have had no experience working outdoors with.

In the nursery there are no set lessons or plans for the children and they are free to play how they want, it was a chance to see what the children would do with their outdoor free play opportunities. Due to the fact that parents in this contemporary society are trying to protect their children as best as possible, this unfortunately means that children are not getting the opportunities to “exercise their bodies or to encounter the excitement and challenges of the outdoors. As a consequence an increasing number of children have weight problems. Current figures suggest that 22.9 per cent of four- and five-year-olds are either overweight or obese” (Dowling, 2010, p.172-3).

Whilst I was outside with the other practitioner, Mrs H, we got chatting about the limitations of outdoor play in the primary setting. Mrs H and myself discussed the fact that the children whilst in nursery had the choice to play outdoors in all weather conditions and the nursery practitioners had no choice but to be outdoors as well in all conditions. The only thing the children were told on this particular day was that they had to have a jacket on to play outside. However, on the other side of a fence, life for the children in the primary school was much different. Children were running round in the cold without jackets on but the minute the slightest bit of rain came on, the children were ushered indoors for the last ten minutes of lunch break. This is very common primary schools. It is almost as if teachers are worried of children getting cold whereas from what I can remember as a child as well as from the experience I had today, children tend to want to be outside regardless of the weather conditions. It was really important for me to see the difference between the nurseries practice and the primary stage practice.

This made me reflect on the idea of learning in the outdoors and the fact that the majority of teachers, regardless of this being a vital part of the CfE, only viewing outdoor education as a one of lesson when the weather is nice.  However, as the nursery children proved to me – they do not care what the weather is like, as long as they are having fun, enjoying themselves and getting to play, they are more than happy to be outdoors in the rain. Robertson (2014) stated weather as one of the common reasons that teachers worry about before they start outdoor learning. This should not be a worry for teachers as on my Learning from Life placement with Adventure Aberdeen there was not a single session we considered cancelling due to the weather – the students were just equipped by the centre with appropriate clothing for the activity and weather. Therefore, when teachers are planning for an outdoor education lesson, they should advise parents in advance that the class will be going outdoors and that children will need the appropriate clothing for this and remind them we are in Scotland. Teachers also need a degree of flexibility when planning for learning outdoors as Robertson (2014) suggests as the weather may not allow for one activity but this does not mean the lesson should be cancelled but simply adapted to fit with the weather

With weather, I have experienced both extremes whilst at camp and whilst on placement. As already stated on placement, the children were out in all weather conditions from sunny days in the sea to snow sand sledging. However, at camp, the as soon as it rained – in a little bit – the children’s activities were changed from normal schedule to rainy day schedule. This meant that the children were kept indoors even when it was just drizzling. You could tell from the children that this was frustrating for them as they looked forward to the activities they had selected and these were often cancelled, normally these days were back to back. In my views, if Scandinavians countries can have children out in all weathers and this clearly has an impact on their children’s wellbeing and education then we should follow the lead of Adventure Aberdeen and the Scandinavian countries and try to get our children out in all weather conditions.  In contrast to the nursery and the primary setting this is two extremes on the scale although it rather remarkably shows the same point – a little bit of rain can totally hinder the joy the children are having outdoors.

Children, in my view, should, like in the nursery, have the opportunity to have their voice heard and make decisions for themselves as to whether or not during their free play time they would like to stay outdoors in any weather, as long as they have appropriate clothing for the weather on, or if they would prefer to go inside. I understand that this is not always possible as the children need to be supervised and this would be stretching the playground assistance, there could possibly be solutions, for example the children who want to play indoors go to the games hall instead of their classrooms.

Reference

Dowling, M (2010) Young Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development 3rd Edn. London: Sage Publications

Robertson, J. (2014) Dirty Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Outdoors Wales: Independent Thinking Press

The Issues with the Outdoors

Reflect on what you have read. What challenges may there be when beginning outdoor learning with a class? How would you plan and prepare for this?

Evidence – Write a reflection on the positive aspects and challenges of outdoor learning. Plan an outdoor learning lesson with a focus on Health & Wellbeing. Where will you go? What experiences/activities will you organise to ensure the Health and Wellbeing outcomes are met?

Taking a class outdoors for learning as I realised on my Learning from Placement there can be numerous risks. There were lengthy risk assessment documents for every potential risk that could happen on every activity they provided. However, whilst on placement, not once did we have any incidents during the 6 week period I was there.  This is due to the fact that the correct measures were in place because of the risk assessments.

In the beginning stages of taking a class outdoors and away from the school grounds, my biggest fear is losing a child. I am aware that if I build relationships with all my pupils and have the ability to trust them, then this should not be an issue. Setting the correct boundaries with the children and not allowing them totally freedom at first to make sure they are all able to come back when asked or stop where told to do means that I will still have control over the situation whilst allowing the children to have that freedom outdoors.

I believe thoroughly in the power of play and the effects being outdoors can have on children, especially since being on my placement in second year. I think that the outdoors generally has the ability to give children the sense of responsibility, freedom, independence, challenges, builds resilience and defines personalities. It has a huge impact on health and wellbeing in children as Stirling council, in particularly St. Ninians Primary, has proved with their daily mile challenge. Getting their children outdoors every day for their day mile has reduced obesity levels to the point where no child in St. Ninians is obese.

Although teaching outdoors come with its own set of risks. These cannot stop children from going outdoors. In a time when playing outside is quickly deteriorating due to fears of risks and of people: in my opinion, teachers and schools are in a position to educate. They should be taking children outdoors for their health and wellbeing and to educate children as well as parents on safe places to be outdoors and what the children can learn from being outdoors. When I take my class outdoors, I feel I have a basic knowledge already on places in Aberdeen that I could go or organisations that I could contact for resources or help. However, there will still be risks – which will always be there but through risk assessment and risk management, working with my children to build responsible citizens then these can be a part of learning.

When I was reading through chapter 11 of Dirty Teacher, there were issues such as weather, poisonous plants and wasps which are all valid issues but issues that can be overcome none the less. When I was working with Adventure Aberdeen, we never cancelled a session due to the weather – even in the snow in May. When I plan on doing an outdoor session with my class I will be advising parents in advance that we will be going outdoors and that children will need the appropriate clothing for this and remind them we are in Scotland – hopefully if its summer to send them with both a rain jacket and sunscreen but if we are in winter to make sure they will be well wrapped up. At Adventure Aberdeen, there were multiple times we were supposed to do activities that were water based activities but due to the weather these plans had to change, much to the disappointment of some children. However, the session was never completely cancelled – as Juliet suggested in chapter 11 – we changed the session to fit with the weather and it changed to a session where the children would always be active, such as cycling.

With weather, I have experienced both extremes whilst at camp and whilst on placement. As already stated on placement, the children were out in all weather conditions from sunny days in the sea to snow sand sledging. However, at camp, the as soon as it rained – in a little bit – the children’s activities were changed from normal schedule to rainy day schedule. This meant that the children were kept indoors even when it was just drizzling. You could tell from the children that this was frustrating for them as they looked forward to the activities they had selected and these were often cancelled, normally these days were back to back. In my views, if Scandinavians countries can have children out in all weathers and this clearly has an impact on their children’s wellbeing and education then we should follow the lead of Adventure Aberdeen and the Scandinavian countries and try to get our children out in all weather conditions.

Another issues that Juliet raised was poison plants. Poison plants or endangered plants were constantly surrounding children when I was out on placement. However, in the woods, if any plants were endangered or poisonous, the had a red stick next to them. This drew attention to them which could have made children go over and touch them but instead the inquisitive children wanted to know why there was a red stick in the forest and what it meant. This is an idea that can be taken into the local area or the playground to bring attention to the plants but can also be explained before to the children before we leave the classroom that if they see the red stick then it means not to touch the plant because it can be dangerous.

A final idea that Juliet suggested was to do with the animals we find out in nature such as wasps and spiders. Juliet’s idea of a wasp drill I think is a brilliant idea as children can tend to panic when a wasp comes near them. This idea can mean that it would significantly reduce the risk of children being hurt by a wasp. This would also lead into different lessons such as instruction written on helping other children to minimise their risk of being hurt and they find a wasp, which is already died, to investigate wasps further. The idea of creating a spider web with wool was something I thought was a way to explore spiders and it could be a topic of discussion for why spiders make webs. However, if I was doing this with children and we were looking at the outdoors, I would take them outdoors for this. I would have my class outdoors with ropes getting them to create a web using the ropes and the trees in a forest, making sure the web was tight and had little holes. I would then get the groups to discuss why they thought the spiders web needed to be tight and compact. This means that we can use the outdoors for learning interdisciplinary: taking art through the creating the web; using the web we have created to learn and discuss spiders; then use the outdoors to try and find some spider as well as discussing if we should or shouldn’t touch them; but also discussing what other animals we can find in the forest.

My Adventures Are Finished…

End of Placement Reflection

I can’t honestly believe I have finished my placement. I am thoroughly gutted my time at Adventure Aberdeen has come to an end. This placement has been a huge eye opener for myself.

Although over the past six weeks have been full on and there have been tears sometimes from the amount of energy I have used and the lack of sleep I have had, I would not swap this experience: this placement has definitely changed me personally and professionally for the better.blog5

Personally and professionally, this placement has definitely given me a wider view on outdoor education. With outdoor education growing into a much bigger part of teaching through the Curriculum for Excellence as well as it being something you need to be able to do to remain register on the General Teaching Council Scotland, I am glad I have had this opportunity to experience outdoor education. I have been able to go on amazing outdoor education sessions which I can definitely take into my own pedagogy including bikeability, scavenger hunts, wilderness skills, mountain biking (Go MTB scheme) to name a few. I have also been given the opportunity to challenge myself, try new things and overcome fears which I could easily be asked to do with a child/group as a teacher such as coasteering, surfing, canoeing, gorge walking, rock climbing and abseiling. All of these activities I couldn’t do without a qualified tutor but is now something I would definitely not say no to doing.

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Professionally, I used to think that outdoor education in the rain was not a good idea especially with small children. I compared it with Sweden and did wonder how they managed in. Now after placement, outdoor education is a year round option in my opinion. Yes it can be cold but it snowed every day for my fifth week at Adventure Aberdeen and we never cancelled any of the sessions. Yes there were changes to the plan but we were still taking children outdoors. However, I now know that you just have to be prepared and not be afraid to change the lesson then we can always take education outdoors.

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Flexibility around sessions/lessons is a huge thing I have taken away. In first year, I tried to stick to my lesson plan to the word most of the time. However, around 95 percent of the time with Adventure Aberdeen some part of the plan changed. However, there wasn’t a bad session I was out on but if the tutors were not flexible there would have been which is a key lesson I will take away.

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(It might have been snowing but we were still outdoors and smiling!)

 

 

I have read and realised through hands on experience just how much children get from outdoor education. You may be teaching about one thing but the outdoor is so free that there are a number of different things a child can and will take away from the session and the tutors do not always realise how much depth and breadth a child can take from their sessions educationally and personally.IMG_0410 (2)

The biggest thing I have taken away, personally and professionally, from my placement is the thoughts I have been having around my future career. Although I know I want to work with children to make a difference for children. I am not so sure I know if I want that to be in a classroom. I am not naïve, I know this isn’t always a hands on, adventurous job: it has its own challenges and its own stresses. However, I also know that I have had a phenomenal time this last six weeks and I did not want to leave. I am now looking into doing a postgraduate degree in outdoor education after I finish my degree and do my probationary year, whilst also gaining some outdoor education qualifications in the meantime. I am not saying I would never teach, I do thoroughly also enjoy teaching in a classroom but this maybe something I still decide to do. But right now, teaching is looking like something I would come back to later after I have the chance to experience some more outdoor education. I now personally and professionally thoroughly have a massive love for outdoor education and the outdoors.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed this placement and I am very grateful for all of the opportunities I have had through the learning for life module and Adventure Aberdeen. These six weeks have been phenomenal and I have done things I will never forget.blog

First Week Reflections

This first week has been so full on. I don’t think I have ever had so much hands on experience. I have learnt masses of knowledge and ideas that I can take into my practice.

Before I started placement, I had thought I would only need to do a write up once a week. However, due to how much I have learnt this week, I have had to do a daily write up on what I am learning.

In the first week, I have felt like I am already a part of the team at Adventure Aberdeen and I feel like I have been accepted into a massive family. I was very nervous on the Sunday night beforehand. This week, I have learnt just how relaxed the organisation is, compared to a staff room, there is no cliché or groups – everyone is very welcoming and friendly to everyone. There is a good sense of humour within the organisation and I am very much enjoying being a part of this team.

This week, I learnt that the main portion of the organisation work is based on inclusion work. Due to the fact, the children the organisation work with can present very challenging behaviour and the tutors are not trained educators, they have not spent time reading up on behaviour management the same way we do for our degree but what they do have is experience and the way they handle the challenging behaviour is a massive aspect of what I have learnt this week. There are many different ways that they have handle some challenging behaviour that work very effectively these are a key point from this week that I will remember for my future practice in classrooms.

Throughout the week, I have had the chance to do a variety of different activities including: abseiling, mounting biking, a nightline trail and hill walking with a scavenger hunt. All of these activities have each given me so much knowledge about different things I could use for teaching in my future to include outdoor education in my practice. Although the tutors do not have lesson plans, I have been looking at these activities and linking them to the Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes when possible through the week.  Even though, I am also spending a lot of time preparing kit, putting kit away and in the store – I feel this is like the equivalent to lesson planning when it comes to teaching in a classroom. I forget how much work I did for teaching a lesson before and after the lesson, planning and reflecting on first year placement. I am extremely grateful for the experience I am having so far and I am looking forward to continuing this next week.

Next week, I am going to Cromdale to experience what it is like doing a residential trip which I am thoroughly looking forward to.

What is Cromdale?

During the 21st to the 24th of March, I am going to be going to Cromdale as part of my placement with Adventure Aberdeen. Therefore I thought I should do a post all about the wonder of Cromdale, one before and one after going there.

“Cromdale Outdoor Centre is Adventure Aberdeen’s residential base on Speyside. Converted from a Victorian village school and schoolhouse it is located in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. It is ideally located within easy reach of some of the most spectacular water and land based activity sites in Scotland. The base is perfect for all groups involved in outdoor activities or courses.

Cromdale is situated right in the heart of the Cairngorms, here you can experience the natural beauty of Speyside. From the outstanding waters and unusual wildlife to the towering mountains, this area is known for its breath-taking scenery. Step outside and be greeted by Scotland at its very best. Cromdale Centre is ideally based for a variety of outdoor activities and visits. Venues easily accessible from the centre include:

  • The River Spey (300m from the centre) – access and egress for kayaks, canoes and white water rafts
  • The Speyside Way (200m from the centre) – gentle and scenic walking and biking on waymarked trails.
  • The Cromdale Hills (500m from centre) – excellent and extensive hill walking country with superb views of the Cairngorms and Speyside.
  • Huntly’s Cave (7 miles) – superb rock climbing and abseiling venue.
  • Bridge of Brown Gorge (10 miles) – one of Scotland’s premier gorge walking locations.
  • The Lecht (21 miles) and Cairngorm Mountain (27 miles) – for fantastic ski-ing, downhill mountain biking and hill walking activities with ski-lift and funicular railway access.
  • A multitude of venues for glen or hill walks – Adventure Aberdeen can provide guides and/or instruction.
  • Official Forestry Commission Mountain Biking centres at Moray Monster Trails (20 miles) or Laggan Wolftrax (45 miles).
  • Extensive off-road cycling within the Spey and Cairngorms areas – Adventure Aberdeen can provide guides and/or instruction.
  • Aviemore and Carrbridge areas have many visitor attractions. The Aviemore tourist office or website can provide more details” (Adventure Aberdeen, no date, no page).

My reading has shown the importance for residential outdoor education as well as the importance of a residential trip in the Curriculum for Excellence so I am looking forward to heading to Cromdale to experience this for myself as part of the tutor team.

 

Reference

Adventure Aberdeen (no date) Residential Packages Available at: http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/AdventureAberdeen/Outdooreducation/adventure_residential_packages.asp (Accessed on 17/03/16)

History and Literacy Outdoors!

Outdoor Education – two words that make any lecture automatically more interesting to me.

For Will’s input when he said we were actually going outdoors today I was as excited as any primary school child! As soon as we were allowed outside, off we went skipping away like little primary two’s.

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We literally went off skipping in excitement…

 

 

 

 

As we only had twenty minutes before we had to be back into the input, we cou10ldn’t go particularly far or find particularly much. However, what I did find that we could discuss was road safety, road signs and markings such as yellow lines – discussing with the children what they thought they meant. I also thought of reading things like bus time tables as this is a skill that is probably going to be relevant to their lives and is also something no one ever taught me to do.

 

However, after the input I went off for a wonder by myself down to the riverside. I already knew about the poem stanza down at the riverside and this was originally my first thought when Will told us to find something to do with literacy in the outdoors.

I was thinking of this as an upper years outdoor education lesson for history and literacy which could meet all four of these curriculum areas (Scottish Government, 2009):

Literacy (Reading): I can make notes, organise them under suitable headings and use them to understand information, develop my thinking, explore problems and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate. LIT 2-15a (p.31)

Literacy (Writing): By considering the type of text I am creating, I can select ideas and relevant information, organise these in an appropriate way for my purpose and use suitable vocabulary for my audience. LIT 2-26a (p.36)

Health and Wellbeing: I am experiencing enjoyment and achievement on a daily basis by taking part in different kinds of energetic physical activities of my choosing, including sport and opportunities for outdoor learning, available at my place of learning and in the wider community. HWB 2-25a (p.86)

Social Studies (History): I can investigate a Scottish historical theme to discover how past events or the actions of individuals or groups have shaped Scottish so1ciety. SOC 2-03a (p.283)

My lesson idea was to take the children down to the riverside with a notebook, first allow them to take some time to write down some words to describe what they seen, smelt, felt etc. I would give them some time to have a read of the tourist signs to see what information they would take about the Tay Bridge. I would allow some time for the children to discuss why they think we need the Tay Bridge.

Some pictures of the information signs for the Tay Bridge

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My final part of the lesson would be for them to read the poem “The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay” by William McGonagall (no date) which reads (a small extract from the section of the poem at the riverside):

“Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!

I hope that God will protect all passengers

By night and by day

And that no accident will befall them while crossing

The Bridge of the Silvery Tay

For that would be most awful to be seen

Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green”

 

I would allow them to take notes from the poem stanza and give them time to discuss the poem. After going back to the classroom, I would have a copy of the poem for the children to read the full version if they wish.

Some pictures of the poem engraved at the River Tay.

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When we got back to the class I would take some time for a whole class discussion on what they are learnt from the trip: from what they could initially see, smell, feel; to the history of the Tay Bridge; to McGonagall’s poem.

Whilst we were out, I would take pictures of the experiences, videos of the children and what they are thinking. Then when I would get them to reflect on what they have learnt in any way they wish the write it for example in a poem, diary entry, a creative story.

If I was carrying this on for a topic of the history of Dundee, when we were on our outdoor trip, I would perhaps ask the children to take a carrier bag with them and collect things to make a picture of the Tay Bridge for cross-curricular links with art.

As the Magdalen Green is continual mentioned throughout the poem – I would take the children out to the Magdalen Green for them to explore this as it is also a crucial part of Dundonian history. Allow them to go round collecting facts, items etc. for another outdoor lesson on the history of Dundee.

When we were finished the topic on the Tay Road Bridge: I would take the children down with chalk, allow them to add to the information (that they are learnt over the topic) provided at the Riverside on the ground. Documenting this with photographs and videos for the children assessment. I would also allow them to do this down at pavement at Magdalen Green with the facts and information they have learnt about Magdalen and its link to the history of Dundee. They could use the photographs in a portfolio for their assessment.

I feel this overall would be a lot more engage and active learning for the children instead of sitting at a desk with textbooks learning about the history of Dundee. These activities also have a lot more cross-curricular links than sitting reading facts out of a textbook about history.

 

 

References:

McGonagall, W. (No Date) McGonagall Online: The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay Available at: http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/gems/the-railway-bridge-of-the-silvery-tay (Accessed: 02/12/15)

Scottish Government (2009) Curriculum for Excellence Edinburgh: Scottish Government Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/all_experiences_outcomes_tcm4-539562.pdf (Accessed: 02/12/15)