May 7, 2021
Today’s blog post is written by Laura Walton, a Primary Teacher who works in Year 2! Laura has been a Planning Hub subscriber and Online Trainee with us for a little while now and has had many great successes with outdoor learning, so we invited her to share them with us in a guest blog post. Read on to find out how our lovely member has developed the outdoor space her class uses, the types of lessons she takes outdoors and the impact it is having on her children . . .
I was over the moon when I was approached by Hollie and Jenny to write a guest blog about my own outdoor learning journey! I have followed Alfresco Learning on social media for some time, and have enjoyed watching their business grow and evolve along with my own practice.
I began teaching 5 years ago, and in that time I have made it my mission to incorporate outdoor learning into my timetable and curriculum. Growing up on a farm, I took for granted all of the time I got to spend in nature. I worked in London whilst training at the beginning of my teaching career and soon realised many children had not had the same opportunities to spend time outdoors as myself and I wanted that to change.
I began by researching the benefits behind outdoor learning.
The positive impact it has on the children was clear to see in both their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as their academic learning and progress. So I approached my SLT armed with my research to back up my appeal to take more of my lessons outdoors! I was overjoyed with the positive response and encouragement I received. I was even given a small budget to improve our outdoor area.
Having worked closely with my partner teacher, together we spent the money on small seat mats for the children, compost and bulbs, a mud kitchen and a gorgeous wooden arch. We also spent time collecting freebies from local garden centres and scouring facebook marketplace.
Tyres have really helped to bring the area to life and have defined key areas throughout the space. Our wonderful caretaker also built us a bug home from pallets and we have weeded and wood chipped the raised beds.
In school I held discussions with the children about the kinds of resources we would need for outdoor learning, then spent my weekends collecting natural loose parts whilst out on walks.
The children would excitedly return to school on a Monday morning with a bag full of natural resources to add to our growing collection too!
With a bit of training, the children have learnt to respect our natural loose parts, the way they would respect and care for the resources in class. We have built a bank of them and store them in clear boxes in our outdoor area, which we pack away at the end of each lesson.
I wanted to make sure the children were involved in clearing the area, weeding and having a creative input. They chose what they wanted in their areas, giving them ownership of their space. We have a dinosaur tyre, fairy land, safari, mud kitchen, sand tray, brick car track and much more.
The children have spent time adding to the bug home, planting bulbs and are always keeping the area spick and span! The areas we have created also offer continuous provision to all children, including SEND and children still working on the early years framework. The children also get the chance to play in this area during their break times. I often complete weeding and maintenance tasks during this time and the children love being involved.
In our school we are lucky enough to have a large playground with a grass verge and trees as well as a large playing field and we are able to use this space for our lessons outside.
I have completed several outdoor learning CPD courses and my favourite by far is the introductory series in the Alfresco Learning members area.
As a part of the training I was welcomed into their private community on Facebook, where I’ve gathered lots of ideas from a live call around evidencing outdoor learning.
Through all of this I have begun to refine my practice and often use the outdoor lessons as hooks for writing or to cover fluency in Maths. I find that if I get too concerned about having the work in books, it takes away the joy of the lesson. I’ve also found that the children are more likely to engage in class if they have had an outdoor lesson previously and can positively recall the learning in the following lesson. If the lesson lends itself to photos of good evidence, I will often print them. I will make post-it note observations and write useful quotes from the children or we will have a follow up task at the beginning of the next lesson.
Being outside gives the children the opportunity to work on their gross motor skills, be active and get some fresh air. The following lesson in class is usually very productive after spending time outdoors. I have also noticed how the children benefit from being outside and using their ‘outdoor voices’ when working collaboratively in groups. I have had the pleasure of teaching several cohorts of children who are quite a loud bunch! Being outdoors means that I don’t have to ask them to bring the noise level down. They are just excited and enthusiastic about their learning and this is a joy to see.
Overall, spending time outside each day not only improves my own wellbeing but that of the children I teach.
The children always ask if we are learning outside, parents have commented on how much the children love these lessons and I enjoy teaching them.
Thank you Laura for sharing your experiences of outdoor learning with your class! We hope Laura’s story of how she has developed her outdoor space and provided hands-on, active learning opportunities for Year 2 has you feeling inspired to head out of your own classroom door!! If you would like to become a member like Laura we have a range of services available to support you on your outdoor learning journey.