The other day I attended a day at Thornlie Primary School in Wishaw where outdoor learning practitioners came together to see what outdoor learning at school looks like in practice, what works well, the challenges that may come up and how they can be overcome.
It was a day filled with presentations and workshops (the latter were actually presentations too), one after another, without so much as a breather or an opportunity to ask questions. There was so much information to share and only a day. People had come from across the country and given up their time, so that time had to be well used.
Thornlie Primary School is an example of good practice which is why the day was held here. The school recently developed their outdoor grounds to encourage outdoor, active and nature play. The school is located in what probably passes as an area of multiple deprivation and prior to the development of the school grounds, the school experienced vandalism from pupils and older youngsters in the community.
With the leadership of the head teacher, and a grant from Grounds for Learning, the school embarked on a journey that really I would wish upon every school. They started out by consulting the pupils on what they would like to see in the sizeable outdoor grounds that the school has. The pupils were involved in every step of the development process, from initial brainstorms, in every decision making process, and in every aspect of the implementation that was safe for children to participate in. And here it is now, a state of the art outdoor space what has so much to offer: willow tunnels, a fire place, water play, a massive tree to climb and jump off from, wall paintings and canvas, a pond, bushes to hid in, loose materials to manipulate and get creative with, a sandpit, raised beds, climbing frames and much more.
Exclusions in the school went from almost 300 a year in 2003 to zero in 2010. Pupils are proud of their school, and there has been no vandalism since the school grounds were developed. Bit by bit, the teachers use the outdoor area for their classes too, on average the children have 3 lessons out of doors a week just now, and the hope it that as teachers get more confident using outdoor spaces for the curriculum, this number will go up.
The benefits are already apparent: better behaviour, better engagement with school and education, better attainment, no exclusions, no bullying, no vandalism, instead happy and proud kids and happy and proud teachers (I assume parents are happy and proud too, just I didn’t speak to any).
You know what? I think every school should have this. Yes it costs money but a cost benefit analysis demonstrates that it doesn’t really cost any money – and that analysis didn’t take into account the longterm health benefits of having kids that play actively during playtime.
And this is what it looks like: