In January, children and teachers at the school were thrilled to find out they had been awarded a £500 Nature Grant by Learning Through Landscapes, a UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. Over 700 schools applied for one of these prestigious grants and only 100 were successful, including Oakridge.
The application process took place in November 2018 and as part of that process, children from the school council had been involved in choosing which items they would like to receive if their application was successful. The items they chose included a get growing kit compromising of a HUGE amount of seeds, a wildlife camera, ground cover kit, an insect observatory and a selection of outdoor guides and reference books for the teachers. Two hours of free training was also included in the grant and the school enjoyed its training day in early February.
It was a hands on couple of hours as teachers and an enthusiastic group of parents met with the Learning Through Landscapes representative on the village green outside school. After a brief introduction about what they would be doing, the group was set their first task - how to age a tree. It was rather insightful and demonstrated really well how outdoor learning can be incorporated relatively easily into the children’s curriculum.
Age a Tree
Choose a tree and count how many hand spans it takes to go around the tree trunk. Record that number.
Using a ruler, measure how wide your hand span is in cm, (take the average if working in a group.)
Multiply the number of hand spans by the size of your hand, (get an answer in cm).
To work out the tree’s approximate age, if your tree was in woodland, divide the girth by 1.25. If your tree was in an open space, divide the girth by 2.5.
You now have the approximate age of the tree.
Using the method above, one group worked out that the tree was around 125 years old. That then fed back into how old the school was and whether the tree had been planted at the same time as the school had been built. It became apparent quite quickly how, as well as maths, topics including local geography and history could also be covered in this single activity.
The group then walked up to the school’s new allotment, where the remainder of the session took place. It was good to hear so many positive comments from the Learning Through Landscapes representative about the work that had been done on the allotment so far and the school’s future plans for it. She felt that every aspect of the allotment, coupled with the school’s other outdoor learning areas, should be applied and integrated into every part of the children’s curriculum. It really was a rather joyful afternoon spent outside in the fresh air with good company learning how better to enrich our children’s education.
Another fun activity involved thinking of as many adjectives as possible to describe a Christmas tree branch, (there have been plenty on site due to the children’s bird hide project.) The group was broken down into three teams and each competed against the other to think of as many words as they could. It was fascinating to hear just how many words everyone came up with and again, it demonstrated how easy it might be to cover english in outdoor learning.
Perhaps everyone’s favourite challenge was one that would ultimately help the children understand the problems with housing development and the harmful environmental impact it has on bee and butterfly habitats. Two large sheets acted as two wildflower meadows and a small, stripy rubber ball was a bee. Without moving, the groups had to try and get the bee from one meadow to the other. At first it was relatively easy, with both meadows being close together. However, the meadows were gradually moved further and further apart, which signified how new houses break up open areas of countryside and therefore restrict the movement of bees and butterflies.
With reduced habitat comes increased competition for food and therefore the introduction of another stripy ball. It highlighted the massive problems that our native wildlife face, problems that our children should be aware of.
Two more tasks followed before the session closed. One was trying to place in the correct order the decomposition rate of various objects ranging from cigarette butts through to nappies, apple cores and orange peel.
The other involved making a paper pot out of a single sheet of newspaper, which proved challenging for everyone, but what a great lesson in geometry and maths!
Overall, it was an incredibly insightful afternoon where parents and teachers were shown just how easy it can be to incorporate outdoor learning into every aspect of the children’s daily school lives. To be able to teach the bulk of the curriculum outside in the fresh air would have enormous educational benefits in terms of how content is delivered and how the children engage. Hands on, purposeful learning should never be underestimated and we are lucky at our school that our teachers see such merit in this approach. With nothing but the peace and quiet that comes from the simple pleasure of being outside would also ensure the emotional well being of the children, and with mental health becoming a compulsory part of the National Curriculum next year, the work Oakridge does now will put us one step ahead of the others.