Teaching in Nature

Teacher's review - Carnwath Primary in Cleghorn Glen NNR

1. We have a sense that the places have become differently meaningful for you and the children as first and repeat visits are made. Let us know about this first.

Personally I think this is about a sense of ownership for the place. It helps a bit that I never meet anyone else when I go to Cleghorn Glen – so it has started to feel like our special place. There was a definite feeling of excitement for the children who were re-visiting the woods and they commented as we went along on parts they remembered and things that had changed.

2. What would you say was the purpose for your visit(s) ? How did your plan work out in practice? Did new purposes emerge as you executed your plans and made subsequent visits? (Some of you have provided lesson plans too so thanks for those if you have em)

I have already given you my plans. All our topics are interdisciplinary so although the focus for South Lanarkshire was RME in practice we covered all subject areas.

3. What do different pupils say was valuable during after the events? What do YOU consider to be valuable having been out once / more than once?

They talk about their enjoyment of the visit – their enthusiasm is apparent and they liked being able to choose what they wanted to do. They are used to having this choice in the class so it's not something new but it was something I definitely wanted to build into our day having heard the research when we first met up in Perth stating that children valued the time to "set their own agenda". I think I built more of this "free- time" into each time slot we had because in a way I was fortunate enough to go 4 times (with our morning and afternoon visits). I think there is value in following the children's lead so although I did have a plan and things I wanted the children to learn (and I made sure those bits happened) I also saw the morning group's enthusiasm for "building dens" and included it as a suggestion for the afternoon children. All of the children got involved with this to a certain extent although a couple also wandered off a bit to do their own investigation into "mini-beasts". It was hugely enjoyable for them and very satisfying judging from their obvious pride at the finished article. Actually I was very engaged myself and would have happily spent more time perfecting that shelter. It made me want to re-visit again this time with a few marshmallows and a small fire!! (Not sure that is allowed!!)

I felt there was value in the enthusiasm the visits engendered in the children, their obvious interest in finding out about the wood and the animals which live there and the children's appreciation of this beautiful place. They talked about unexpected things –such as the sounds and peace of the place –I wasn't sure 5 year olds would value those things as much as they seemed to. I also noticed children co-operating well –including some who often find this difficult and clearly enjoying working together for a common goal. Actually one of the main benefits for me was just to enjoy the relaxed companionable walk to and from the place we ended up. It was nice to just spend time chatting to the children and felt a bit different from our normal relationship.

4. Can you name some outcomes for your class groups (of for individuals)? [These could be differently expressed to the Curriculum for Excellence listed outcomes!]

I have given you the outcomes in my plan which cover the whole topic – but for the actual visits themselves I guess they would be:

5. What structures, and approaches made the visit(s) possible or more challenging? (We are interested in all factors but some of you have mentioned training for health and safety, timetable, transport, costs, as well as school ethos and headteacher support for example)

I think one of the most helpful things for me was the chance to meet before the visits with other teachers who were also going to be having the responsibility for taking children into that environment and talking together about the risks, possibilities and solutions. I think I faced quite a few things that I thought would be difficulties, which in reality proved to be problems which could be overcome. I was concerned about taking a child with challenging behavioural difficulties to this environment and we got around that by asking his mother to come with us – and we had no problems with him on the day. I was worried about the parents' reaction to there being no toilet facilities, but they seemed unconcerned and we coped ok with this. We even managed to deal with no fuss with the child who had to do more than go for a wee!! I initially thought the place was unsuitable because of the steep gullies although I would have had no hesitation in taking my own children to Cleghorn Glen when they were that age. It does feel different when it is other people's children. Again though, the other teachers helped me to feel more confident about doing this and further visits on my own helped me to find places I would be able to use safely with such young children. The time for pre-visits is essential and an integral part of making the day a success.

My job-share partner and head-teacher were both extremely supportive and encouraging. This is something we are now actively trying to do more of as a school.

6. What teaching and learning strategies for connecting pupils, teachers, activities and environments together have worked best for you? Why do you think this?

Actually I have appreciated it all – the chance to reflect on and discuss the importance of children being "in nature" before we even embarked on the venture which definitely fed into what I planned to do with the children and subsequent opportunities to meet up with the others and talk about what we were doing. Being together in the place we planned to come to with our classes was very important because, as I have already said, without that group support I would have been reluctant to take the children to Cleghorn Glen. Not sure I am answering this question correctly – if that is not what you were asking just let me know!!

7. Does the process of going on outdoor visits to natural areas have any distinct phases or perhaps a 'lifecycle'?

How about "winter – spring – summer – autumn"? Is this just because I am thinking with my class about Harvest?

Winter – Nothing much seems to be happening but below the ground there is life waiting for the right time and environment to start growing. We meet up in the cold of winter to discuss possibilities, thrash out ideas, anticipate possibilities… followed by

Spring – there is definite growth appearing. Things are beginning to happen. We make some fixed plans – this is the area I am going to visit with my class – we will go to this spot travelling along this route and we will be primarily focussing on this aspect. There is some worry and uncertainty but I am hopeful as well.

Summer – the visit itself – the joy of being outdoors with the children – more possibilities than I had envisaged. Life all around us and the excitement of the children as they have freedom to explore and discover. Uncertainty gone as the visit seems a success.

Autumn – the reward is a fruitfulness of resources and experiences to use back in the classroom. Interest engendered and knowing it was a positive experience for some children who have little opportunity for this kind of encounter with nature although we live in a rural area. Leading to winter again….?

I know … I need to get out more!! (in all senses of the phrase)