The Great Outdoors for Teaching across the Curriculum

This week’s blog comes to us from Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks from Going Wild www.goingwild.net. Look out for their  latest book, “The Beach Book, loads of things to do at lakes, rivers and the seaside”, which will be published at the beginning of June, in time for the summer holidays. Find out how to win a copy by visiting their website.

Like me, I’m sure, you’ll of lots of memories of your school days, some good, some not so good. Looking back, I spent hours in front of books cramming for exams; got a good set of O and A levels, but I really can’t remember anything I actually learnt! The really interesting thing is there are a couple of exceptions to my memory loss.

One hot summer, our English teacher had no choice but leave the stuffy classroom, and re-locate outside, under an apple tree in the school grounds.  Here we sat in the dappled shade, lying amongst the long grass, listening to the bees buzzing, and reading our English text Cider with Rosie. To this day, probably 35 years later, I can even smell the moment, the story came alive and I can remember every chapter.

Streatly Wild Wood-2

We also had a radical physics teacher, who would venture outside finding examples of physics principles occurring in the natural world.  I have vivid memories of wading in the local stream, throwing rocks into the water, and looking at wave patterns, whilst listening to Bob Dylan!  To this day, wave formations and the lyrics of Bob Dylan are some of the only facts from my entire schooling I can still remember!

The real lesson is that things make more sense when they are put in context.  Taking learning outside the classroom not only makes things much more relevant to the individual, but they mean more if they are fun. Fortunately today, teaching outdoors is becoming widely accepted as a good way to go if you can manage it.  But we are still along way from all teachers considering it as essential.  Very often there are practical barriers, but more often it comes down to a teachers confidence and lack of creative ideas.  We believe that whatever you are trying to teach, there is a fun way to do it outside.

As authors of a series of 8 books of fun things to do outdoors, we have tried to tackle this problem and give ideas for activities for every environment, season or habitat.  Autumn’s leaves might inspire ephemeral art, a pile of conkers a maths lesson or nature’s sounds a music lesson.

We also believe you don’t have to go far to enjoy learning outdoors.  Recently, we worked with a class in an inner city school in Walthamstow.  Too wet and cold to go anywhere exciting, we ended up on an uninspiring patch of green a-joining the school.  Here, the children made mini-worlds in shoeboxes using natural materials.  They created habitats, complete with predator and prey, and learnt about ecosystems. They then made up stories about tiny explorers who went on expeditions in their imaginary world.  We received loads of thank you letters saying it had been the best day ever!  Their teacher said since that day, mini worlds had been popping up in the playground after break times, all made from a few sticks, the odd leaf and a bit of dirt!

Streatly Wild Wood

Not long ago, we were also invited to create a fun nature trail on a small bit of community woodland.  The idea was to teach children from local families and schools about the wildlife living on their doorstep.  So, instead of your standard nature trail, we tried something a bit different. If you fancy going on a hunt for secret codes, discovering a world of fearsome facts and want to have a go at some crazy challenges (all tied into KS1 and KS2 national curriculum) then take a visit to Streatly Wild Wood.

Hopefully you’ll agree with us; almost everything in the curriculum can be taught outside, and if taught in a fun way, there is much more chance of it making sense and the children actually remembering it!

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