This post is written by Ed Drewitt. Ed is a freelance naturalist and broadcaster and has been taking schools into the outdoors for over 12 years.
Ah, spring is finally here and as the snowdrops give way to the daffodils and the spring leaves, the added warmth from the sunshine provides an ideal opportunity to take your class outside.
You may find the task of simply exploring the trees, leaves, flowers and birdlife a little daunting. What are they? How can we identify them? Is there anything else the children can do to explore the outdoors? But if I asked you whether you know what a spider is, what a ladybird looks like or to describe a daffodil, without assuming too much, it is quite likely you will know the answer.
Our curiosity to know what something is seems to be very human. Once we know what something is a whole world opens up enabling us to find out more about it, study it and tell others about it. However, not knowing what something is doesn’t mean we can’t still explore and admire it.
In the UK we put an awful lot of emphasis on simply wanting to know what something is. And if we don’t know what it is we feel we need to bring in an ‘expert’, someone who has that knowledge. This spring I urge you to simply explore the outdoors together with your class and not worry about this. If you don’t know what anything is, or know just a few things, embrace this and use books, online ID guides and an online community such as Twitter or the Open University’s iSpot (www.ispotnature.org) to upload a photo, to find out what something is.
The most important thing really is enabling the children to explore and find things for themselves – whether or not what they are looking at can be identified. It is ok to not know what something is, encourage the children to find out.
Using simple techniques such as sweep nets (http://www.nhbs.com/title/176497/beginners-sweep-net), tree shaking (onto a white sheet), pond dipping, and collecting leaves, seeds and common flowers, can all help children work in teams, become more curious learners, collect data, and group things, even if they don’t know exactly what the creature or plant is called. With a few simple resources the step of identifying common plants such as an oak tree and animals such as ladybirds can be relatively easy.
So, I urge you this spring to take your class out and simply enjoy exploring without feeling you have to be an expert in the outdoors. Perhaps go for a walk to look at a nearby green space – last autumn I took a group of teachers out from their school, across a zebra crossing and into a green space that most had never been to, despite it being 100 yards from the school fence! By simply taking them out of their comfort zone, showing them the space and getting them to try out some sweep netting, many, perhaps all, suddenly realised just how easy it would be to bring their classes across.
With spring just around the corner you’ll find that exploring your school playground, field or nearby green space is very easy and it not only develops the children’s curiosity and creativity, but also makes everyone feel good, feel more relaxed and become more focused learners in the classroom.