Forest Kindergarten

Breathing Life into Literacy

By Louise Hack

Education and lives have changed hugely over the last 50 years. We now live in a fast world- fast food, fast internet access, firing off a quick email to numerous people and flicking between many screens. Our brains have developed into high speed trains which somehow are able to cope with constant quick episodes of conversation, information and interactions without moving from the comfort of our seats.

Education seems to mirror this more and more and there is an ever- increasing rush to put pen to paper, be still, write at length, test and assess with less and less time to connect, explore and wonder. However, when you strip it right back learning is a process and a messy one at that! We need to consider the core elements of learning and surely the rights of the child and we need to put them at the heart of our teaching.

They must therefore include the following:

  • Making connections (people, nature)
  • Active play and learning (time, space, following own interests and fascinations)
  • Exploration
  • Developing self-emotions, confidence, resilience, problem solving and independence

And what better place to enhance and develop these areas? Yes you’ve got it – the
outdoors!

I believe that moving literacy into the outdoor environment inspires children,
stimulates their imagination, makes sense of the world around them that they will
ultimately be reading and writing about. In this article, we are going to explore how to integrate literacy into nature by using the big outdoor classroom.

So…. get ready, lift yourselves up from your desks, pull on your waterproofs and be
prepared to get your hands dirty as you open the doors to literacy learning beyond
the classroom walls. Go forth… explore, discover and wonder and I guarantee you
will notice significant changes with engagement, energy, ownership and emotional
involvement- both yours and the children you teach..

Rituals and personal stories – on a recent Forest Kindergarten training event with
Juliet Robertson we discussed the importance of rituals in play and behaviour.
Rituals can create order and help us to create sense to our world. All animals seek
rituals and even my gorgeous but slightly anxious Ozzy dog seeks familiar and
ordered events on his walks and wanderings. I have learnt to follow his lead – who
am I to try and avoid one of the sniffed but much loved bunny holes!

As a child rituals were an important part of my world and I still remember them fondly from the chants we used to say as we crossed bridges to school to the gentle shake of a low lying branch to wish the old tree a good day. Rituals are repetitive, help children to feel secure, tune them into their environment and aid transitions. Rituals help to form personal histories and stories which in turn aids storytelling. So when out and about with little ones – look around you and consider how you can create stories with the places you visit regularly. Tune in with your world – really look and explore. Children will never forget all the little things.

Forest Kindergarten - creating charactersCreating characters – creating characters or woodland creatures is a lovely activity for young children to do quite early on using the natural materials that they find.

It can help them to feel safe to have a little creature that lives in the woods who they come to find each week and someone that they can have adventures with. It can also help to develop empathy, friendship and relationships.

 

By creating a character hands on, they can start to develop the descriptive language whilst in the moment of making for example “it has a bumpy, pointy head and soft, smooth skin.” It is much easier to describe when you are creating something hands on rather than looking at a 2D picture of a character from a book. In addition to this you can now create the characters story.

Storytelling – Storytelling connects. It connects us to our past, to each other, our families and our world. Here are two examples of ways to unravel stories with young children:

Story Worlds - Forest KindergartenStory small worlds – try creating a natural story world

*You could create a place for your creature to live in. Does it live in a dark cave? Does it like to live up high or underground? Is your character shy or does it like to have lots of people to live nearby?

 

*Or retell a story using a story map that you have made- track a story adventure by creating the journey from start to finish.

Story sticks – This is a great activity and one of my favourites for creating a story journey.  When out for a long walk, collect a stick about the length of your lower arm and take some elastic bands or string with you.   Wrap the elastic bands/ string around the stick and as you enjoy your walk, your children can collect treasures and attach them with the elastic bands.  This is a great activity for encouraging children to become inquisitive about the world around them, it helps them to tune in and explore and REALLY look at what’s beneath their feet.  At the end they could make up a story using their collected treasures to remember the steps they have taken on their journey. Alternatively, this stick can become… hmmm… a chance to inspire their imagination!

Describing our world – we can have high expectations that all children will be able
to describe the world around them. But how can anyone truly describe a scene
unless they have experienced it first hand? Multi-sensory experiences aid the brain
to connect and engage which as a result associates a meaning and an emotional
connection. Therefore, if you want someone to use descriptive language in a story,
poem or passage to describe, for example, the thundering rain or windy weather,
then they need to experience it first-hand not just through a picture. They need to
feel the wind on their skin, feel a sense of cold, have their hair whip around their
face, feel the air almost knocked out of them and even struggle to walk into the wind.

Learning by doing is exciting, it allows us to create meaning. When you next have a
snowy or windy day then yes, by all means think about safety but also open your
eyes to the fact that this may be a child’s first experience of such an event. A year or so ago when we had our last ‘big’ snow shower, I took a class of Reception aged
children outside to experience snow. They had never experienced this other than
through watching TV, Frozen the movie in reality. After a little while of exploring, they were telling me how cold they were, how the snow had turned hard and that it wasn’t soft anymore. Children need to discover, see things change before their eyes to encourage vocabulary and the depth to write about subjects in the future.

Tuning in and listening – early phonics

Tuning in and listening – early phonicsIn a previous job role as a consultant, I worked in a variety of different Early Years settings focusing on the very early years of literacy. One of the most significant outcomes of some research that I was involved in, was around the decline of ability to filter sounds due to increased environmental noise e.g. babies finding it hard to tune into their mothers voice or a toddler hearing a set of keys fall to the floor.

 

 

It is hugely important that we build in time to ‘really’ listen to what sounds are around us. Noise is a part of our lives and so much so that during a recent remote holiday to Devon it almost hurt my ears when there was a lack of sound!

International Literacy Day 2019In the outdoors there is a cacophony of different sounds – some natural and some man made. The difference to tuning into them outdoors rather than indoors is that the sounds are not so strong and overpowering because there is more open space for sound to travel around. Nature has a rich orchestra and is a great way of allowing children the time to sit quietly and record either by pictures or marks on a page the different natural sounds/ conversations they hear. You will be surprised that when you really ‘tune in’ how many different sounds you can hear.

 

In addition to this, allowing children to have the time to understand that everything can make a different sound – one stone dropping into a cool pool will not sound the same as another. Everything is different and unique – so catch your breath and relish this time.

Books to support literacy learning outdoors (some of my favourites):

Stanley’s Stick – Neal Layton
The listening walk – Paul Showers
Leaf Man –
We’re going on a leaf hunt – Steve Metzger
Mud – Mary Lyn Ray
Snail Trail – Ruth Brown
Yucky Worms – Vivian French
Wild – Emily Hughes
Bog Baby – Jennie Willis
Into the Forest – Anthony Browne
Tree: seasons come and seasons go – Patricia Hegarty (Bee and Moon books also
by the same author)
Leaf – Sandra Dieckmann

So finally…

Breathe the outdoors into our literacy learning!Outdoor experiences allow us to breathe… the pace slows and we start to respond to the natural rhythms around us. The outdoors allows us to connect and deepen our sensory experiences which help to make meaning to the world in which we live. We develop our talk, negotiation/ problem solving skills and tune into the natural environment.

We can develop an abundance of language and we can also develop our personal histories/ stories in a playful way. The outdoors allows us to develop the link and connection between ourselves, our adventures and stories.

So lets breathe the outdoors into our literacy learning and inspire and engage our children with many different skills whilst they play and explore.

Louise Hack, Whoosh Learning Director, Educational Consultant & Circle of Life Rediscovery Trainer.

Find out more about our upcoming Forest Kindergarten Training:

FOREST KINDERGARTEN ‘OPENING UP THE OUTDOORS’ TRAINING

A two day introductory course based on the Scottish Forest Kindergarten Model.

Key Overview:
Forest Kindergarten TrainingForest Kindergarten is modelled on a Forest School approach and is based around child-centred learning through play in the Early Years. Forest Kindergartens offer young children frequent visits and regular play opportunities in a local, natural setting all year round – this could be a woodland, park or even a beach!

The aim of this two-day training is to develop Early Years practitioners’ skills to enable and empower them to make regular visits to a local green space/woodland.

Date: 18th October & 4th November 2019.
Facilitators: Marina Robb, Nikki McKnight, Louise Hack, Vicky Tideswell & Lucy Collins.
Location: Mill Woods, near Laughton, East Sussex.
Time: 09.00 – 16.30.
Cost: £100.
Booking: Please book online.

Key Content:

  • How to prepare both yourselves as practitioners and your young children to go to a green space.
  • Setting up a suitable site and setting boundaries with children.
  • Preparing for risks (risk benefit model).
  • Research on the benefits of playing and learning outdoors.
  • Games and songs to support children with the routines of regular visits to a green space.

Please visit the website for full details.


Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

 

Outdoor Learning – A Case Study by Juliet Robertson

Outdoor Learning at St Geradine Primary School

One year ago Juliet Robertson spent two mornings working with a small group of teachers at St Geradine’s Primary School in Lossiemouth. The Depute Head, Fiona Stevenson, who was leading the outdoor learning improvements, wrote the report below, with one of the class teachers, Laura McGurke, for their local authority newsletter.
How do you develop a Whole School Approach to Outdoor Learning?
St Geradine School in Lossiemouth was delighted to receive £3000 from the Innovation Fund to support their work in developing outdoor learning.
Their aims were:
  1. To develop outdoor learning within and across their school in order that it is embedded within the curriculum and sustainable for the future, with a view to being able to share/roll out developments to other interested primary schools.
  2. To provide learners with a wide range of fun, meaningful and challenging experiences:
  • Pupils will have opportunities for challenge and enjoyment through outdoor learning experiences.
  • Pupils’ learning and development will be supported and enhanced through meaningful play opportunities.
  • Pupils will develop their skills (e.g. problem solving, team working etc.) and personal attributes (e.g. resilience).
A working group comprising one of their DHTs, P2 teacher and P6/7 teacher consulted with Juliet Robertson from Creative STAR Learning to plan and lead the development.
Through a series of staff meetings they achieved their aims by:
Creating outdoor learning folders:
  • These included risk benefit assessments personalised for Lossiemouth and their school grounds, helpful guides on planning trips to the forest, beach and quarry, ideas for activities in Numeracy, Literacy and Inter-disciplinary Learning (IDL), the Countryside Code, the Highway Code and local maps.
  • Ordering resources to support the stewardship roles, literacy and numeracy.
  • Creating class backpacks with essential equipment for off-site visits in the local area.
  • Beginning to plan for developing the school grounds to enhance learning experiences.
  • Staff involvement in a series of twilight sessions looking at the local area and the opportunities within it for outdoor learning, learning experiences in numeracy and literacy and how to use the beach as a learning context.
The impact on learners:
  1. Improved health & wellbeing (fitness, fresh air, emotional & mental health etc.)
  • Children state they feel better working outside as there is more space available and lots of fresh air.
  • P7 parents have commented on the increase of outdoor play at home as a result of ‘Wolf Brother’ sessions outdoors.
  • Nursery parents strongly believe our outdoor provision is very good.
  • Classes walk from the school to the forest, quarry and beach areas.
Quotes from learners:
  • ‘I enjoy outdoors because it’s very peaceful’ Claudia P7 Pupil
  • ‘It’s a way to encourage children to spend more time outdoors which is extremely enjoyable.’ P7 pupil
  • ‘I enjoy outdoor learning because of the outdoor atmosphere, especially when it’s slightly breezy and the birds are tweeting. It all feels very peaceful and relaxing.’ Aimee P7
  • ‘I like the coolness and I also like the hotness and I like the games we play.’ Lewis P2
  • ‘I think I learn more when I’m outside.’ Evie P2
  • ‘I like running outside because it’s good for my bones.’ Ava P2
  • ‘It was cold. We run outside to keep warm.’ Niall Nursery
 
  1. Connections being made in their learning from curricular areas to the real world and within real contexts; seeing the relevance of their learning; making sense of their learning; interdisciplinary learning experiences.
  • All classes had planned outdoor sessions for the next term. P1 are used the local community and school grounds to support literacy and maths (line and shape, information handling, shape, measurement and number in context). They gathered information to write reports and identified landmarks within Lossiemouth; P2 visited the forest weekly to support all areas of the curriculum; P2-3 classes have used learning walks around Lossiemouth within an IDL on ‘Footprints from the past’; P4-5 classes used the school grounds to support literacy and numeracy and have visited the beach to work on science and poetry writing; P5-7 are using ‘Wolf Brother’ novel as a stimulus to work outside using the forest, quarry and school grounds.
  • SFL staff are using the outdoors to support work in literacy and numeracy.
  • Nursery classes are outdoors every day for focussed and free play.
  • All classes have undertaken a stewardship role with their classes which should promote feeling of responsibility for our school grounds for all e.g. litter, birds, wildlife, willow, garden, composting.
Quotes from learners:
  • ‘I enjoy all of outdoor learning because I enjoy going outside and going to the woods and quarry’ Olivia P7
  • ‘I enjoy outdoor learning because you can engage with nature.’ Mollie P7
  • ‘We planted golden flowers. We sprinkled the seeds in the soil.’ Grace Nursery
  • ‘I put the soil on the seeds. I watered them with water and a watering can. We were raking to put the air in.’ Archie Nursery
  1. Opportunities for creative and critical thinking, challenge and enquiry
  • P2 used small world toys and a fairy tree stimulus to create stories in the local woods.
  • P5-7 used natural dyes to create artwork.
  • Learners at all stages using natural materials to create artwork and to support literacy and numeracy.
  • Learners frequently talking and reflecting about their learning outside.
Quotes from learners:
  • My favourite part of outdoor learning was doing the arty stuff.’ Sally P7
  • I enjoy doing all the different jobs because some are hard.’ Georgina P7
  • I like outdoor learning because we get to hear sounds.’ Aaliyah P2
  • I was putting sticks in a pile. I was pretending it was a fire.’ Aiden Nursery
  • I collected shells and wood and ice and pine cones and old leaves off trees. We sorted it all out into piles.’ Aiden Nursery
  1. Stimulating and varied learning experiences, a different learning environment, more relaxed learning environment
  • Use of school grounds, beaches, forest and quarry.
  • Homework tasks which are outdoor based have been more successfully completed by more learners.
  • Parents are aware and are enthusiastic about the increased variety of experiences outdoors.
  • Learners are more openly talking about these experiences with their families.
Quotes from learners:
  • ‘I really enjoy outdoor learning because it gives me a chance to learn about nature.’ Claire P7
  • ‘I like working outside because it’s easier to learn and I like the activities we do.’ Bella P7
  • ‘I liked how you can learn things and do them at home.’ Bethan P7
  • ‘I really enjoy outdoor learning because I like going out to different places and to see different things’ Fern P7
  • ‘I enjoy doing maths outside.’ Oliver P2
  1. Opportunities for personal achievement
  1. Motivation through experiential learning
  • Staff have reported learners being more engaged and enthused with learning outdoors.
  • Parents have reported increased use of outdoors at home.
  1. Opportunities for risk benefit management; decision making skills.
  • Learners are actively involved in considering possible risks when working outdoors.
  • All classes have established rules and responsibilities and are developing confidence in their routines.
Impact on staff:
  • Every class within the school has engaged with outdoor learning and staff now feel more confident and equipped to take their classes outdoors.
  • Staff have embraced the challenge of working outdoors and are creating challenging and enjoyable experiences for our pupils.
  • Staff feel supported with the Risk Benefit Assessments, class backpacks and bank of resources and have enjoyed reading Dirty Teaching.
  • The teachers who have been leading the development have enjoyed the opportunity to develop something they have a keen interest in and are delighted with the clear impact it has had on staff and learners. They now have a better understanding of the process of development work and how to integrate outdoor learning into all curricular areas.
Developments for the future:
  • To further embed the use of the outdoors in their practice.
  • To continue to develop routines for going outside so that learners are more confident and independent.
  • Develop the school grounds in partnership with the school and local community.
  • Continue to build on the award schemes they have begun.
  • Continue to build a bank of resources and accommodation for these.
Outdoor Learning with Juliet Robertson
If this guest blog post gives you a flavour of what can be kick started with a little support from Juliet, please come along to the Circle of Life Rediscovery CPD on 18th May:
Dirty Teaching – Developing a Whole School Approach to Learning Outdoors. Click here to find out more and book your place!
In this practical course, we look at realistic ways of embedding outdoor practice into the life and ethos of your school.
Circle of Life Rediscovery

Circle of Life Rediscovery is a not for profit CIC company in East Sussex. They provide outdoor learning and nature based experiences including bespoke Camps for schools, Forest School sessions, Enrichment Days plus Forest School Training Level 3 and CPD’s for adults as well as funded programmes. Find out more here.

Outdoor Learning with Juliet Robertson
“I believe strongly in the capacity of schools and teachers to develop their own outdoor practice. I save time re-inventing the wheel or getting stuck on irrelevant matters – keeping the focus on the learning experiences and outcomes for children. I also bring a wealth of knowledge and experience which can help staff think more strategically about embedding outdoor learning into the life of the school.”
Juliet Robertson, Creative STAR Learning. Find out more here.

Why Teach Literacy Outside?

Here are ten reasons to get outside and teach literacy!

By Juliet Robertson, Creative STAR Learning.

Come and find out more about Outdoor Literacy on 23rd February!

Recently I was asked to think about why I teach literacy outside. Whilst there is a lot of focus on early years and literacy, the value of reading, writing, talking and listening outside for children and young people of all ages is significant.

Here’s 10 off-the-cuff reasons I said…

1. It makes the learning and teaching of spelling and grammar fun, relevant and interesting.

2. Children enjoy making miniature worlds which then become the scene for a story. They can sculpt and shape their imaginative thoughts. This helps them understand about creating a setting with words.

3. The world around us provides inspiration for writing poems. The results are consistently of a better quality than poetry written in the classroom.

4. As we move from place to place, our thoughts, feelings and actions change. This helps us understand that this happens to characters in a story too. We can make our character descriptions more authentic.

5. There is nothing like reading a ghost book or horror story in a creepy place. Or making up your own. The setting doubles the atmosphere created.

6. When we play games we can write down instructions about how to play them. Our knowledge of being outside can be used to write advice to others about how to avoid being stung by a wasp or what to do if a nettle stings you. Functional writing has additional purpose and relevance.

7. Real life experiences help us develop our vocabulary and comprehension. For example, some children find vocabulary introduced in a book confusing. He or she may not necessarily understand that a river, lake, stream and pond are all bodies of water. Sometimes concepts that are read about in a book do not make sense until they are seen, felt or experienced for real.

8. We’re not reading at our desks. Hardly anyone reads at a desk unless they are at school or in an office. Reading for pleasure should be at leisure.

9. The art of naming, describing and knowing about the world around us matters. You can learn the umpteen descriptions to describe the stem of a plant. But without observing these, it is much harder to memorise or to truly know and understand.

10. Children engage with their learning outside and this has a knock-on effect back in the classroom too, according to a recent study.

Outdoor Literacy CPD, East Sussex – 23rd February

Join our Outdoor Literacy CPD on 23rd February, East Sussex
On Friday 23rd February Juliet will be in East Sussex offering an outdoor literacy training session. We’ll be exploring how to make literacy simple, doable and enjoyable, outside – whatever your environment, be this a concrete or natural jungle. For details please see the Circle of Life Rediscovery website or you can book your place here.

 

 

About Juliet Robertson

Juliet Robertson
Juliet Robertson is a former head teacher of three schools ranging in size from 6 to 277 pupils. In 2007 she established Creative STAR Learning to provide Support, Training, Advice and Resources for outdoor learning and play.

Juliet has worked behind the scenes at a national level in Scotland as a consultant, ghost-writer and adviser to many organisations including Education Scotland, Inspiring Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). Find out more.

 

About Circle of Life Rediscovery

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery is a Community Interest Company and has been working since 2004 to reconnect people from all backgrounds and ages to the natural world.

We provide nature based programmes that are educational, fun and often life-changing!

These include Forest School Sessions, Woodland Days, School Visits, Camps for Schools as well as Forest School Training, CPD’s and Family Days.