This week’s blog comes to us straight from a school. Becky Baldwin, from Castle Manor Academy in Suffolk recently discovered this blog and decided that she would like to write for us and her experiences of embedding outdoor learning in a school. Becky is the Outdoor learning and community engagement coordinator as well as Teacher of Art, DT, Eco schools and DofE coordinator – so we are delighted that she found the time to become our latest guest blogger.
Last night was our open evening for prospective parents at Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill, Suffolk.
At 8pm the evening was drawing to a close but we still had parents and children engaged in Outdoor learning tasks. New recruits to my Eco Team were enthusiastically helping children to make bird feeders from recycled Plastic bottles. A horticulture student was showing the school rabbits to a small child and telling them that we also had chickens and sheep. A member of the Eco Committee greeted parents at the classroom door, sharing apples from our orchard and inviting them to a community litter pick .
The door to outside was open, but nobody mentions the cold or seems in a rush to go home. They are drawn outside into the kitchen garden to see what’s going on in the dark.
Duke of Edinburgh students are pitching up a tent. Our head boy is showing a special needs student how to pull the guide ropes tight. He talks about how he has just completed his bronze expedition and how now he’d now like to do the silver award . He asks me if he can do the silver expedition by canoe. He found walking very challenging carrying his heavy kit but his group never got lost and met all check points on time.
There are spotlights especially plugged in for the evening so parents can see our butterfly and herb garden. Two teachers are in full Army uniform with year 9 girls from the Combined Cadet Force . They still have mosquito bites in an angry , red line across their forehead from their weekend at camp, they laugh about how silly they look and try not to scratch. The girls huddle in a basha they have built between two pear trees .They make up songs about their Lieutenant being bossy. Their Lieutenant is a year 9 student who in the classroom he sometimes struggles .Tonight he’s proud to be in command, a strong leader taking his role seriously…he boils a hot brew from their CCF army rations on a burner he’s dug into the ground.
And at that moment when I looked around and reflect on the evening I couldn’t have been prouder of our students. How confident and resilient they are demonstrating the skills they have learnt through outdoor learning opportunities. I think of how much as a school we have developed outdoor learning and how much it is valued.
I think about how tonight compares my first open evening three years ago . The night where I bought the first two pets into our school, two goldfish called Banksy and Pablo. How I was asked by a teacher if ‘that was allowed?’ and thought maybe I should have asked first before just assuming it would be ok.
I reflect on how our gardening club started with two students and me. How we’ve grown into an Eco team which now has 72 students in it. How we’ve won County awards recognising the impact we’ve had on school gardening and Eco Schools. I think of the friends and contacts we’ve made in the community along the way and the new projects were currently working on.
And as I drive off at 8.45pm I don’t feel tired or begrudge being at school for over twelve hours. Instead I hope that the prospective parents see past the tired building and that they see the opportunities available at our school. That they’ve met for themselves the teachers dedicated to making a difference to their children’s life’s. That they remember what they saw in my classroom and in the garden. That they saw a school that cares and is brave enough to embrace the benefits that come with ‘getting out of the classroom.’ And I think how lucky I am to have the best teaching job.