Category Archives: Outdoor Learning

Something out of nothing

I am often bowled over by an EYFS teacher’s ability to create something out of nothing. When so much in Early Years revolves around child interest, it can often be difficult to plan for the interests of all children. And even if you do it can be in vain, when a group of children totally into superheroes for example, completely reject the phenomenal new area of provision you have slaved over.

A rainy day outdoors last week with no cover and soggy resources led to a frustrated teacher, thinking, as ever, quite literally on her wet feet. The children showed a real interest in jumping in the puddles. Yay! Physical development. Good job as everything else was a tad limited.

The impacting teacher joins in, has fun, talks about the puddles, the weather, asks key questions. The innovating teacher sees something else. They think at a zillion miles an hour how they can extend this learning to something really rather special. The children started to jump from the puddles into a now dry tuff spot. Cue footprints! The innovating teacher will quell the instinct to yell “STOP! SLIPPERY!”. The teacher helped the children, with the use of Building Learning Power, to notice. What could they see in the footprints? There were stripes, zig zags, circles – patterns! We have maths! Woohoo!

Brain spirals again. Grab chalks! Go over the patterns with your chalk. Literacy! More physical development! The children give meaning to their marks. But now the tuff spot is also a wet mess with no visible footprints. The group head over to a ready set up mark making area outdoors under cover where there is an abundance of thick paper. The children jump up and down on the paper, repeating the process of retracing lines. “Can I take it home to show Mummy?” – PSED! They are proud.

The innovating teacher has, naturally, captured all this on her iPad. Assessment!

The opportunities to extend beyond this are ten fold. Learning walks looking for patterns, printing using other tools, sensory activities.

Its great to have a fabulous environment. But on occasion even that can let you down. And it is at that point that the innovating EYFS teacher has the ability to literally create something out of nothing. Which very often leads to the best learning outcomes!

Nursery to P1 transition process

“The current interpretation defines education transition as the change children make from one place, stage, style or subject over time. For children, educational transitions are characterised by the intense and accelerated developmental demands that they encounter as they move from one learning and teaching setting to another.” (Moyles, 2008, p229). Transition is an exciting time for families, with children moving into primary school, they move to being a “big” boy or girl. Families trust us with their most precious possessions, their children. We are gifted a great honour to look after their children, to help them and join their parents in watching them grow.

The Education Scotland document on transition states that “parent participation is vital” and “relationships are key”. It is this that we must remember when designing and implementing the transition process. Which is no mean feat when faced with such a range of nursery options; children as of August may choose to arrange their 16 hours in anyway which suits them, mornings, afternoons, full days. When trying to arrange to meet the needs of every child in transition this is can very challenging. In a setting like mine, a rural school with no nursery, our intake can include many different settings, which adds further to the complications. Yet, within all this we must strive to keep relationships at the centre of the transition; and remember that transition is a process and not merely an event.

Education Scotland suggests we aim to create “pedagogical meeting places between pre-school and primary school” which understand and build on the nature and importance of early learning experiences and learning to ensure meaningful progression can take place. Certainly the projects I can shared on the Pedagoo Perth event have had a pedagogical meeting place which ensured that it not only benefitted the children transitioning into the class but also ensured progression for the children already in the class.

In term 1 of this academic year my class planned, organised and ran Rhyme Time sessions for the community. All P1 children and families for August 2016 were invited by invitation; and the community were invited through newsletters and posters around the locality.

The class planned 6 sessions over term 1, each with a theme, and each week changing the roles they took on during the Rhyme Time session.

The school benefitted by raising its profile within the community, and providing opportunities for parents and families to visit the school.

The class benefitted because they further developed their knowledge and understanding of syllables, rhythm and rhyme. It helped the children become secure in their knowledge of rhyming and popular nursery rhymes in a safe way – as we all had to rehearse for the day! It helped the children deepen their learning as they were teaching their skills to others. It gave the children a purpose to their learning and an immediate goal for their reading and literacy skills. All children took part in reading the story across the 6 weeks, including the primary 1 children, who had been in school 3 weeks by the first rhyme time session. The children even created their own rhyming songs to the tune of well-known nursery rhymes because one week’s theme proved tricky to find a range of songs to fill the session. Therefore this was a seemingly low risk activity yet had a great yield in terms of learning, confidence and leadership.

It helped the children transitioning into P1 next year because they have met their future classmates over a sustained period of time. Their first meetings were in a familiar, non-threatening environment with their parents, with the same routine each time and using songs, stories and rhymes they knew. The nursery the children attend use rhyme time songs and games already in their practice, so it ensured continuity in their learning.

My favourite moment of the Rhyme Time was at the end of a session, which ran to the end of a school day; the Rhyme Time parents and children had remained in the hall to chat as I got my class ready to go home. The P1-3 children ran outside and were immediately joined by the Rhyme Time children and took off up the playground. The parents stopped and chatted to some parents at the school gate, some parents were helping chop our willow dome. As I looked around all the children were running the length of the grass, from toddler to P7, dragging bits of willow dome to the compost heap. It was a true community. The parents were all chatting together watching the children playing together.

Previously we have used joint projects with Balbeggie P1, as we both receive children from the same nursery and partner providers, Education Scotland emphasises the importance of shared planning in the transition process, “shared planning, for example by developing a shared theme/project…could enable dialogue and a shared understanding of roles and progression.” (Education Scotland p11). We decided to do a mini-topic which we could focus on over two transition days and work on in class with our current classes. We chose Hansel and Gretel as a fairy-tale basis and both had a trail of breadcrumbs leading to a letter from the witch- who had mended her ways and was ever so sorry. But sadly needed a house as Hansel and Gretel had eaten hers! The children worked in vertical pairings to build a new house for the witch, using outdoor materials. We tried to do this as an outdoor learning activity but anyone who has been to Collace will know it is always windy, which was frustrating for the children whose marvellous creations were constantly being blown over- so we took the outdoors indoor!

Children then “sold” their houses to their nursery friends, in their own P1 setting attending a transition day at the other school, via a GLOW meet. The children showed off their houses like an estate agent. This gave the children a common experience to share when back in their nursery setting, “Creative teachers, it seems, are those who provide the kinds of contexts, opportunities and space for learning that are familiar to children during the last year of the Foundation Stage. For young children, transition to the classes of such teachers in Year 1 will be much smoother as a result of this kind of practice.” (Bruce, 2008, p179). Again this benefitted the children already in the class as we developed persuasive writing from this and used the initial experience for other learning experiences over the next few weeks. I would take this further if we did this again and use it over a full term, including more curricular areas such as maths and social studies; adding one or two more transition afternoons where we could GLOW meet and share our learning, “settings are encouraged to capitalise on the use of technology including online resources and support. Examples of opportunities for communication for children, parents and practitioners include…GLOW discussions, document uploads or engaging in GLOW meets…”

Last year we were lucky enough to take part in the Memory Box project run by a local dementia charity. It looks at memory and how important it is to us and our sense of self, thus creating a context in which adults could get to know children and what is important to them, “The most significant element in children’s learning at school is the teacher, or other skilled adults… the authenticity of such roles must depend on the authenticity of the learning context or enquiry.” (Bruce, 2008, p179). It encourages children to talk about their memories and creates opportunities to create shared memories. We used this as an opportunity to include nursery children in this project throughout the term. I visited the nursery and showed some of the memories my class had and worked with the children individually to create a memory book of all their nursery memories. My class created a box of memories with their parents, including pictures, photos and objects which all held special meaning to them. All perspective P1 pupils for the following academic year were invited alongside their parents to create a memory box in our memory sharing afternoon.

In fact perspective P1 pupils and their families were invited to many school events during the schools year; not only the Christmas play, carol service and sports day but charity events the pupil council were running such as Monster March where children (and parents) invented a monster for a local children’s charity.

As much as transition “is a process-not an event.” (Education Scotland, p11) certain events do become important in families’ calendars. Every year we hold a new P1 visit afternoon in the summer term where we traditionally focus on outdoor learning and a range of number and literacy based activities, this approach is based on active learning and play based strategies, Education Scotland document on transition states “Active learning should continue to be developed and supported in order to ensure transitions are as positive as they can be”.

As the Education Scotland document states, it is important for “meaningful progression to take place”; so as far as possible I plan these activities to progress into the first 2 weeks of school in August. For example this year I knew we would be doing a minibeast project in term 1 and would be focussing on poetry in literacy. Therefore we created a poetree as a class and used paired writing techniques to create simple poems, something which we built on in the first few weeks of school to create shared and paired writing haikus and other poetry. “There are two main strands to the transition to school: “settling in” to the schools in terms of getting to know people and the environment, and learning about learning in school. Continuity is the key to both these elements.” (Moyles, 2008, p229)

Similarly, many of the games in the P1 welcome packs which we give out on the open afternoon are also used in homework at the start of term to ensure some progression and continuity for children. This also gives us a chance to share expectations of learning with parents. Parents are invited to attend the last ½ hour of the welcome afternoon, where I share the P1 welcome packs, explain the games and show how these will be built on in the homework for term 1.

“Parent participation is vital in ensuring progression across the early level. It is important to support parents in developing realistic and positive expectations of what happens in primary 1, including supporting an understanding of active approaches to learning. This will in turn impact positively on children’s expectations of the transition.” (Education Scotland p10)

Part of our tradition of our welcome pack we also create a talking photo album and ask the children to add to it; this again involves the children in the class welcoming their new classmates and being involved in the process in a way which benefits both the new P1 children and the current class.

Designing and implementing transitions for 3 years now has certainly helped me transition into a better p1 teacher; although I would say there is still a long way to go in my transition process. I would certainly like to capitalise on our successes so far and hope to hold more rhyme time sessions in term 1 next academic year.

Using transition projects or themes which could run for a term such as the memory box would be beneficial for the future and is something I would like to further develop; again building on the success of the Hansel and Gretel GLOW transition. Although this does come with some practical difficulties in trying to match the learning needs of the children in at least 3 settings and finding a suitable project.

The Rhyme Time has taught me how important it is to include the children in my current class in the process; and so I would like to include them in running another enterprise project next term possibly involving our story sacks. Perhaps creating a story sack library and loaning them to perspective P1 parents.

This term our project is a book study on a selected few of Beatrix Potter’s stories; the children will create their own animal storybook as a gift for each of the perspective primary 1 pupils as well as a story CD of the children reading some of the stories.

Learning Journeys

‘Expecting a child to learn only from a textbook is like asking them to look at a travel brochure and calling it a holiday’ – author unknown.

Learning outside the classroom. Everyone knows it works. It’s memorable, engaging, motivating; everything education should be. The pinnacle of this experience is the school trip. Think about your memories from primary school. If they’re anything like mine, almost all have faded but school trip memories remain a highlight.

As a teacher I love to take my class on trips for those same reasons. Finding the best trip and making the most of it however can sometimes be a challenge. Take my experience as an example:

Several months ago I found a venue that seemed a perfect fit for our topic. However I’d never been before; the website had some good information but still left me with questions and the venue was well over an hour away from my home. I felt anxious about taking 30 children around a venue I wasn’t familiar with and unsure how to get the most out of our visit. My familiarisation visit could only be taken once the trip was booked.

This got me thinking. What if there was a website that could help with this? Surely I couldn’t be the only teacher that wants the school trip process to be more teacher-friendly? I searched the web and found nothing so, rather than giving up entirely, I decided to create one myself! That’s how www.learningjourneys.co.uk was born. It’s a forum for teachers to share advice and tips so that they can feel prepared and get the most out of their day. The questions we ask teachers to consider when writing their ‘reviews’ include:

  • How well did the trip support your objectives?
  • Were there any particular parts of the venue that were more or less useful for this?
  • What were the adverse weather facilities like?
  • Do you have any advice/comments about the facilities e.g. lunch arrangements?
  • What was the quality of the staff led guided session like?
  • Is there anything you wish you’d known before your trip?
  • Do you have any good ideas for relevant pre/post visit activities?

Here’s an example review from www.learningjourneys.co.uk :

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Just like Pedagoo, we are all about the positives and sharing advice to get the most out of your day rather than being a typical review of the venue. Together we can create a resource that saves teacher time and helps teachers and pupils to enjoy and learn from their visits even more. You might even find a venue you’d never considered before!

This October, we’re asking you to submit a review of the best venue you’ve ever taken a class to on www.learningjourneys.co.uk . You’ll even be in with a chance of winning a £25 Amazon voucher with each review you submit! Follow us on Twitter at @LearnJourn and use the hashtag #besteverschooltrip to share your reviews with others. We look forward to reading them!