It has been an interesting second half-term for us dealing with the issue of outdoor learning during the winter months; especially here in Wales where we see our fare share of rain and wind…much like the North of England and Scotland.
Our LadyBird Parent Toddler groups have braved the outdoors to great effect as you can see above, but not so much in November with high winds and rain; however the picture below shows a kind of nostalgic image of children enjoying being out in the rain and puddles. Much more care free than us adults.
The weather and environment is of course a factor in whether you go outside, but it shouldn’t be a barrier to catering for the needs of children. The fact remains that we have inclement weather regardless of our age or background…its a constant, so by embracing it and trying to use it to advance our children’s learning and development should be a good thing.
We remember the seasons being a huge feature of primary school life and learning, with fond memories of harvest feast, winter death, spring birth and summer holidays.
The importance of experiencing the outdoors as young children again came into focus as this week for 2 reasons:
1. We entertained 18 educators from schools across South Wales who all came on the course for ideas of how to manage better, engage better and ultimately inspire their young boys; who by admission were just not getting the development they deserve.
We talked about the physical and biological make up of boys in that crucial 0-5 age range of development and discussed how these “Nature” inputs account for the traits that we see in boys of this age…these traits of course are seen as negative; hence why these educators were on the course (boisterous, fussy, active, aggressive).
The key to this discussion, from our perspective, is to understand that in this Nature v Nurture debate we can positively impact the development of our young boys by better catering for them as learners; which we believe means embracing a much freer approach to their learning, a much more considered approach to allowing them to experience life 1st hand in a physical sense.
Everyone in the room appeared to agree and understand that whilst there are many constraints to achieving a perfect learning environment to cater for our “challenging or underachieving boys” (by who’s definition?), a change of mindset and approach should yield better outcomes for those boys.
We except there is much deeper research and analysis of this debate and many exceptions.
Another good friend of ours, Juliet Robertson at Creative Star has a great Blog post about a whole school approach to outdoor learning and is worth a read.
2. We attended a meeting of educators (45, from 18 schools and 7 LEA’s) who are embarking on a 2 year programme to develop and extend outdoor learning in the context of Forest School. They will visit settings in Iceland and Denmark multiple times.
We think it is a fantastic project and has real potential to not only upskill educators with excellent practice from abroad, but more significantly increase awareness of how successful child-centred learning involving a high degree of outdoor activity can be beneficial for our children.
Those who attended Denmark and a pre-school setting recently were inspired through their observations and commented:
“their behaviour was excellent” “their level of independence was high” “their diet was fantastic and not a sweet or crips in sight”
When asked if those children were developmentally in a better place than their equivalent children, an answer was not forthcoming at first because it was an apples to oranges comparison. When pushed to answer based on their gut instinct and professional expertise, the answer was YES.
So, when we have our professional and qualified teachers observing that another countries eduction system “looks” like it could be better or helpful to ours, and the PISA 2003- 2012 results and UN Child Wellbeing Index results tell us that these countries (Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland) have better outcomes than ours. Surely things should be improving?
This project shares many similarities with the learning we promote with our partners in Sweden and globally with Skogsmulle, the Swedish early years nature based pedagogy which 1 in 4 children in Sweden has participated in.
In Wales we have the Donaldson Review which Welsh Government has ratified and now agreed a programme to embed the recommendations and new curriculum. This will be available to schools by 2018 and rolled out by 2021 across the board.
Some of the recommendations are GREAT. We believe changing key stages to developmentally appropriate progression steps is a positive and building on the Foundation Phase principle that:
The Foundation Phase curriculum is planned as a progressive framework that spans four years (three to seven years) to meet the diverse needs of all children, including those who are at an earlier stage of development and those who are more able.
Also the 6 new curriculum areas are an advancement:
Expressive Arts; Health and Wellbeing; Humanities; Languages, Literacy and Communication; Maths and Numeracy; and Science and Technology.
And of course we feel positive about empowering teachers to be teachers by statementing this:
“Teacher assessment remains the “main vehicle for assessment before qualifications”
After reflecting on the educators at our Nurturing Boys course, and listening to educators involved in visiting Denmark and Iceland, surely we shouldn’t have to wait to until 2021 before we meet the needs of our children now.
Donaldson says that health and wellbeing is a curriculum priority, so lets focus on and be innovative with health and wellbeing now.
Donaldson says teacher assessment is vital, so lets reduce the amount of non statutory testing, (more so at Foundation Phase and KS2) and the pressure and stress of statutory testing where possible.
Donaldson says no more attainment benchmarks and more achievement steps, so lets not obsess with every child hitting a “cookie cutter” Level 4,5,6,7 and allow educators to nurture each child for their own personal skills and abilities.
We hope in Wales that the bottom up review and implementation of a new education system grasps the opportunity to be innovative, special and most importantly delivers for every child.