I have seven Green Flag parks to run Outdoor Learning in, each has their own personality and lends itself to different areas of learning, but all make brilliant outdoor classrooms.
We have modernised the Outdoor Learning provision to meet current teaching needs and help staff justify bringing children to a park. Transport costs, a Health and Safety conscious society along with a generation of younger teachers who themselves have not had the opportunity to play free could all contribute to a decline in Outdoor Learning.
We now match our themed days to those commonly taught in Early Years Foundation Stage, Key stages 1 and 2. We started with Dinosaurs as there are huge opportunities for numeracy in this topic and followed this up with a Pirates Challenge which is perfect for team building and often used as a transition day for children moving from Infant to Junior schools. Then we took the step to link our days to classic books that are used in schools and we are fortunate to have permission from Magic Light Pictures, the licence holders for the Gruffalo, to run themed days. Other titles owned include A Very Hungry Caterpillar and most recently Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom and Charlotte’s Web.
The most important question we ask ourselves is ….can this be taught indoors? If the answer is yes, should we be offering it? We aim for each activity to be resource free, so that it can be replicated back in school. Resource free also means that it is spontaneous, requires little planning and no budget! Not everything can be carried out completely resource free and to fill the gaps we use and promote the local scrap stores.
My role is still to promote and raise the profile of the Country Parks through education. I still believe in all the same values and aims as my experienced colleagues whom have managed land for many years and educated scores of young people in environmental education, but times have changed and we need to change with them. We have chosen to step in and help and support children, teachers and parents on how to use the environment to play and learn in. Sometimes, whatever our age, we just need to be given permission to play and that’s exactly what we do. It’s ok to climb trees, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk the plank of a fallen log and puddle stomping is actively encouraged! Children are great at assessing their own risk, just ask any child what would happen if… and you will get an answer, sometimes more graphic than you expected! By providing an accelerating experience that provides memories that last a life time, adding a little bit of risk and a dose of adventure we hope to ensure the safety of our green open spaces for future generations and do our bit to reconnect children to nature along the way.