For me, the idea of honing my skills in outdoor learning over the course of seven months, meeting and working with a wide range of highly dedicated and interested like-minded practitioners AND having the opportunity to spend a whole weekend at Lagganlia, sounded like a dream come true. So when this course was offered, I jumped at the chance.
Our first meeting was on a cold, wet day in November, at Bonaly Scout Centre, the 15 strong team quickly bonded over the desire for a hot drink, so a happy hour of match-free fire lighting, kindling chopping, and storm kettle boiling had us making friends in no time. The rest of the day passed quickly with a wide range of activities, from poetry and soundscapes to trail marking, followed by more fire lighting to cook lunch, pizza, soup and chocolate bananas, delicious! The rest of the afternoon was spent in discussion with each other and the sharing of ideas, joint reflection on the experiences we had had; good, bad and ugly, of outdoor learning and what it meant to us as individuals and practitioners. The direction of the remaining sessions was left for us to decide, we all had at least some experience in outdoor learning, and the idea was to give us the extra experience and knowledge to take outdoor learning in our setting to the next level. Also to encourage and inspire other practitioners to take children out and about with confidence and the knowledge that outdoor learning doesn’t have to be a big deal, simple ideas are often the best and getting out of the classroom can be easy and inspiring for all.
Making outdoor learning fun and inclusive
The next Friday afternoon session was set for January, and we met at Oaklands School, a mixture of hard and soft landscaping, wild woods and concrete. Here we were able to see outdoor learning in practice in a setting where the traditional and outdated ideas of outdoor learning as only strenuous, physical activity can be put to the test. Music, art, STEM, imagination, teamwork and good old fashion boisterous play were all evident among some of the city’s most physically challenged youngsters. For our last Friday afternoon, we met at Towerbank Primary and spent an enormously rewarding afternoon on the beach learning how to spark imagination and excite learning in STEM with little more than sand and what washes up onto it. As it turns out there is plenty you can do, treasure hunts, surveying, graphs, charts, sorting, biology, ecology, environmental impact, and we all took away more ideas than we will possibly ever have the time to use.
Our final meeting took place in May at Lagganlia, located within the outstanding natural beauty of Cairngorms National Park. After a long drive and settling in on Friday night we had a lovely walk and dinner at the Loch Insh water sports and outdoor centre then back to the lodge for a slide show of the last six months or so of our outdoor learning achievements, of which there were many! Thankfully the fairly persistent rain did not dampen our spirits, and on Saturday all 13 members of our group lead a different short lesson. The range and scope of activities were incredible; photography to drama, art to map making, team building and trust exercises. After lunch, we had a behind the scenes tour and a talk on the history and vision of outdoor learning in Edinburgh and its two residential centres, Benmore and Lagganlia, from Nick March, Operations Manager at Lagganlia. Finally, time to reflect, evaluate, and receive certificates before a group photograph and a fond farewell.
I have grown enormously in confidence in my approach to outdoor learning and no longer feel that merely taking a reading group outdoors is a cop-out, I have gained so many great ideas and have been given the key to a vast wealth of resources, books, blogs, websites, forums and organisations doing wonderful things in our beautiful environment. I now have the tools I need to deal with the practical issues around risk assessments and how to debunk the negative vibes from staff who “just say no”. It would seem there is nothing in the curriculum that cannot only be done outdoors but enhanced by being outside the constraints of the classroom environment. This works for all children, but for those who find it hard to engage in a meaningful way with a traditional “bums on seats” approach, perhaps this could be the way forward.
The 2019/20 Lead Teacher in Outdoor Learning course starts on Friday 4 October. CEC Teachers; use course code CF2675 to book a place.