Author Archives: CreativeSTAR

A Play Strategy for Scotland – It includes schools!

We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people; in their homes, nurseries, schools and communities.

Yesterday the Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision was officially launched.  This is the first part of the Play Strategy – the action part of it will be published in the autumn.

When you think of your own children, or perhaps children you teach or work with in some capacity, consider the opportunities they have in their daily lives for free play – particularly outdoors.

To begin with, do they have enough time in their lives to play? I don’t mean undertake football training, or sing in a choir or attend dance classes or any other structured activity. It’s about free play – time for a child to choose when, how, where and with whom they play. Is there time for free play for children who may have to help their parent with work or care for them in some way? How about children you know who have additional needs? What about young people studying for exams?

Do the children in your street feel able to play outside safely, in their local area? Are there suitable places for play? By this I don’t mean simply play parks but green space or well-designed, child friendly urban areas? Are teenagers welcomed or is their presence everywhere and anywhere frowned upon? Have you ever asked a child or young person you know what they think and how they feel about this?

What about the school and the quality of play provision? Do the routines around break and lunch time provide enough time for play? Do children get to play if they haven’t been behaving well or if they haven’t finished their classwork? Are the school grounds accessible all year round in all weathers and beyond the school day? Are they interesting, well-designed places to be with open-ended features and resources? Is play facilitated by staff who know, understand and support children’s right to play?

Ghandi is often quoted as saying “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” This may be a fair point, but the first indicator has to be how a nation values and treats its children.

This play strategy matters. It is an acknowledgement that there needs to be more happening in our homes, schools and communities to ensure all children and young people of all ages have the right, the time, the space and the places to play.

  • What do you think?
  • What action do you want to see the Scottish Government take?

Let me know. There’s still time to have a say, make a difference. Tell me your thoughts – from within or beyond Scotland. I’m part of the play strategy working group putting together the forthcoming actions to support the vision statement.  I’m genuinely interested to know

(Reposted from I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here! blog! It’s about to undergo a big merge and morph so I won’t add a link)

10 Reasons Why Teachers Like Learning Outdoors in Scotland

This post is based upon a presentation given by Julie Wilson, National Development Officer Outdoor Learning at Education Scotland that was given to Dalkeith High School and associated primary schools on a Valentine’s Day In-set. Definitely a day to fall in love with learning outdoors!

The reasons are Julie’s, based upon comments she has received from teachers, children and young people over the last ten years. The photos are just some of my own to illustrate her ideas. They are Scottish teachers and Early Years practitioners, taken in all seasons and weathers!

Reason 1
We are happier and more hopeful when outdoors especially when in contact with wildspace and nature.

Reason 2
We are more focussed, more attentive and more engaged for longer outdoors.

Reason 3
We are more adventurous, adaptive, flexible and reflexive outdoors.

Reason 4
We are better connected to places and people outdoors with a stronger sense of identity and purpose.

Reason 5
We learn better in the real world, in real life contexts, where we can make meaningful sense of our experiences.

Reason 6
We are more curious, ask questions, build stronger cognitive pathways and use higher order thinking strategies more readily outside.

Thank you Alistair Seaman for sharing this photo from Grounds for Learning NatNet 2012 event.

Reason 7
We are more relational outdoors and our learning is more collaborative and shared.

Thank you Inverallochy School for sharing this wonderful photo!

Reason 8
We are more inclusive outdoors, deploying different learning styles and drawing on different ways of knowing.

Reason 9
We are regenerating our practice in learning and teaching through our journeys outdoors.

Reason 10
We are genuinely cultivating new ways of doing things outdoors.

What do you think? Do these reasons resonate with you? I thought Julie hit the nail on the head quite nicely. Certainly my own experience backs these statements up. Being outdoors benefits me, as a teacher, as well as the children with whom I work.

Julie has set up the Getting Outside blog which documents some of the events and activities around learning outdoors that are going on in Scotland.  To be honest, there’s so much happening – lots of pilots, experiments and projects of one sort and another that it is hard to keep track of it all. All-in-all, I’m privileged to be part of this and working in Scotland where there is national recognition and support for learning outdoors.

(This post is cross posted on I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!)

Lessons in life principles from the Okanagan people

Cross posted in part from I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!

The Okanagan people know that their total community has to be engaged in order to achieve their sustainable lifestyle. This is true of any community. Dis-engagement leads to breakdown of support and trust, and a negative spiral can begin which can be hard to reverse. Thinking of a school community in terms of its engagement may be a good indicator of the sustainability and true success of a school’s vision, values, principles and actions.

The Okanagan people have life principles which underpin the decision-making processes within their communities…

Firstly each individual may be gifted but their full human potential is only actualised through their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well-being. These four aspects of well-being rely on external things.

The Getting It Right For Every Child programme in the Scottish education system puts the eight well-being indicators at the core of any plan that is constructed or reviewed. They are used to summarise the child or young person’s needs that will be addressed. It is very much emphasising that external support can make a positive difference to a child. What an interesting parallel to the first life principle.

Second, each person is part of a family, regarded as the powerful life blood of cultural transference which ensures the well-being of each generation.

The positive local and school cultures need to be nurtured, recognised and celebrated. Each person has a vital role to play. This is often most noticeable when there is a vacancy such as the need for a janitor or long-term teacher. Perhaps this is a key question to ask all those who are part of a school, both in the short and long-term. What part do they envisage playing within the whole school community? What legacy do they hope to leave? When do we ask this of children, young people, families and staff? If we did, what would the answers be?

Third, the family system is the foundation of the community which is regarded as a living network. This spreads its life force overs centuries and across physical space, acquiring collective knowledge. This helps secure the well-being of all.

Thinking of a family system, and immediately the learning community of Teacher Tom‘s Woodland Park Cooperative Pre-school and other such establishments spring to mind. The warmest schools are those where parents are fully involved and their input is truly valued. They are establishments that leavers return to, either as volunteers, staff or as parents. A positive cycle of belonging is in place. Puget Sound Community School also embrace a community and family ethic (and also happens to be based in Seattle). The I Ur och Skur schools of Sweden also expect a high degree of parental involvement with many volunteering to support the school during and outwith school hours.

At the moment I’m not so sure within Scottish education that we think about our role within a long term context that is needed to ensure a living network that is sustained, nourished and manages to grow within our ever-changing society. I still feel that at a societal level, schools have yet to fully embrace the true potential of parental involvement.

Finally the community is regarded as a living process that interacts with the land. Much of the Okanagan belief system celebrates life and regarding the plants, fish, birds and animals as relatives who share their lives with the human community. It’s about the inter-connectedness that exists and our responsibility to every living thing that we are connected to.

Such a holistic view of any human community seems an alien concept within our society which is so isolated and disconnected from the natural world to which we belong. Yet there is now reams of evidence that suggests that direct, frequent contact with the natural world is vital for our health and well-being. Whilst we continue to keep ourselves apart and fail to consider the environmental impact of our actions then arguably we are failing our children and setting them up to fail in the future too.

This was exemplified years ago when I attended a meeting as a headteacher to look at sustainable development within schools. The subject of school buildings came round and I suggested that perhaps if the group and the local authority were truly serious about sustainable development then the construction of new schools would be based upon the principles of earthships and other eco friendly dwellings. It was the equivalent of admitting that I was a member of a far-out religious sect. My suggestion was treated with suspicion and ridicule.

There is always debate about the effectiveness of school systems. Perhaps the trick is to look beyond the traditional boundaries of education and consider approaches based on learning to live healthily, well and lightly on the land.