Come outside! Taking learning outdoors

    Published: 25 May 2021

     A few weeks ago, I found myself delivering a staff meeting outside. We felt completely Covid-secure, and agreed it was just fun – even though it was getting a bit chilly towards the end of the session. It made me remember all the teaching I’ve done outside – and all the teaching that I’d hoped or planned to do outside, but ended up doing inside, regrettably. And it also made me think that actually, a lot of children may have spent an awful lot of time inside across the last months, and a lot of that time is likely to have been quite stationary. And that we need to get them outside – and active.

    So we put our heads together to think of some outside learning activities that will work for any age range. Naturally, as we’re English advisers, we’ve given them an English steer, but there’s so much Maths, Science, History, Geography, Art, D&T, in fact every aspect of the curriculum that can be tackled through outdoor activities.

    So, have a read, and have a go.

    Forest school

    In recent years, forest school has become an increasingly popular idea amongst many primary schools. Having taught in several schools which have included forest school myself, I can attest to the benefits which it brings: resilience, team-building, co-operation, problem solving – the list goes on. Many forest school activities also lend themselves perfectly to plenty of reading and writing activities. The practical nature of forest school provides plenty of real-world context for children to write. The forest setting can also provide plenty of opportunities for imaginative ideas to seed themselves and feed into some good quality books which can lead to exceptional written outcomes from pupils.


    Wood den


    • den building – a forest school classic! Children love building dens – at least, my classes certainly did. Den building really allows children to work together, building communication skills and problem solving. How about asking children to write instructions to build the perfect den? You may first need to establish what makes a perfect den and give the children a chance to design and practice making one before writing the instructions. Children could take photos of different stages to put with their instructions and they may want to give the final set of instructions to another class to see if they end up with a result which looks the same.
    • camp fire – everyone loves a camp fire! It provides a focal point for many activities in forest school: cookery, songs and rhymes, ghost stories and much more. I was first introduced to Smores by a year 6 class around a camp fire in forest school – a total revelation to me! In terms of writing, maybe your class could create a camp fire cookery book? Smores are not the only thing that can be made beside a camp fire – I was encouraged to try baking bread by fire, although I was never that brave! How about creating a camp fire song and story book? This could also be shared with other classes, thus creating a purpose for writing. I’m sure children could get very creative coming up with new rhymes and stories based on models which you could give them.
    • mini-beast hunting – forest school is a great place to find mini-beasts. Children can spend hours hunting and identifying different mini-beasts. They love turning over logs to see what they can find, followed by yelps of delight (and horror) and what they do actually find. It’s a great way to incorporate some science into a forest school lesson, but also a great way to include some writing. A non-fiction report on a beast that you find in the forest would be an obvious start. You could go creative and think about big beasts rather than mini-beasts. How about linking to books like ‘Where the wild things are’ or ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ or even ‘Monsterology’. Perhaps the children could come up with ideas for their own mythical beasts that they might find in the forest. Perhaps they could paint what their beast might look like whilst in the forest and incorporate some natural materials into their artwork. They could then write a report or fact file about their beast which can go alongside. Let their imaginations run wild and have some fun with it!

    Hardstanding playground games


    Colourful gate


    • many schools are picking up the ‘Daily Mile’ again. Children very quickly get into the habit of lining up, going out, running/jogging/walking, and returning to the classroom. Over time of course, they are building up big health and fitness benefits. But what about work arising from that daily exercise? They could record their own daily checks on time they took, how they felt, pulse rates, changes in pulse rates. Lots to be learned there around notation and brevity of entries. They could label photographs, including descriptions of how the activity makes them feel. They could write to famous runners describing what they are doing, or investigate the importance of daily, physical activity.
    • chalk drawing was a favourite of mine, and the classes I taught. Yes, little ones love it; so do big ones. There are some great examples to show them. I rather like the suggestions and can imagine how they could be worked on by groups of children who could then take photographs of each other and write descriptions of their living art word. And of course there’s the extract from the Mary Poppins film when the children jump into Bert’s pavement drawings. Some fabulous story writing could develop from children making their own and ‘jumping’ into them.
    • a skipathon is always good fun. If the children are in teams of six, and taking turns to skip for a minute and rest for five, most children will have got enough breath back to also take turns recording some live action commentary during their ‘rest period’. Listen to it later, transcribe it, and agree how to make it more exciting. And have another go!

    Fun on the field

    Many schools are lucky enough to have a large field which the children love going onto during the summer months. Even now, I remember my primary school days and the feeling of utter joy on that first sunny day, when the grass has just been cut and you are told you are allowed onto the field! Nothing could be more exciting (to me at least)! But let’s not take the humble field for granted – it can also provide us with many opportunities to get children reading and writing for a purpose.

    • when I think of the field, I think of sports day. Why don’t you stage your own mini sports day in class that the children need to commentate and write a report about? Perhaps even a newspaper report, detailing some of the sports activities that took place and profiles of some of the athletes.
    • fields provide a great place for things such as daisies, dandelions, buttercups as well as dragonflies and butterflies. These things might inspire some poetry. There are many poems and short texts that refer to nature – you might like to refer to ‘The book of hopes’ which was published last year. It might inspire your children to create their own poetry linked to nature. You could suggest different forms of poetry: free form, kennings, haiku – show children a range and let them get creative.
    • Rounders – what could be better on a warm summer’s day, than a game of rounders on the field? Why not link writing opportunities to a good old game of rounders! A match report could be written after a particularly exciting game. Instructions lend themselves nicely – perhaps teaching a younger year group how to play the game.

    And finally: Ponds.


    Frog sitting on lily-pad


    • I do love a pond (to an obsessive degree some previous colleagues might say), but much as I love them, the essential pre-pond visiting activity is to make children aware of the risks that open water may pose. So make posters, write instructions for having a fun and safe time, prepare talks balancing risks and enjoyment, different year groups can even write ‘how to have a lovely hour at the pond’ explanatory letters to one another.
    • once you’re there, investigating the plants, the creatures within and alongside the pond, will both be fascinating to children. Magnifiers come into their own as the children discover that the tiniest of bugs have distinguishing features. (Just remind them that all are living creatures and that dry, people-skin will harm water-living animals if they are touched.) Fact files will interest some children; others might prefer to write ‘A day in the life of a …’  Why not let them choose? And I still remember the absorption with which a group of year 4 children explored the bog plants surrounding our pond. They picked, pressed, drew, painted, looked up, labelled – and all from a bit of a dip into The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.
    • and on a sunny day, what could be nicer than a few Poems by the Pond? Perhaps with a uniting theme of water? Share some you love. (I love Overheard on a Salt Marsh by Harold Monroe, Water Picture by May Swenson, and At Blackwater Pond by Mary Oliver.) Or let them browse and decide, take turns in reading. You choose.

    Thank you for reading. We hope you have fun.


    Blog authored by Alison Dawkins and Michael Gray, Primary English Teaching and Learning Advisers.

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