Developing Your Outdoor Learning Space Using Wooden Pallets

When it comes to developing your outdoor learning space, there are a couple of ground rules that you should be keeping in mind:

  1. Don’t do anything without involving the learners
  2. Never forever
  3. Own the process, not the product

Enter stage right, the humble wooden pallet: the sturdy, dependable, unsung hero of space development. Stack them up, screw them together or chop them into pieces; the possibilities are endless. Below are a whole host of ways that you can utilise these wooden beauties to develop useful elements in your outdoor learning spaces. But first, a a quick word on sourcing them.

It is possible to get your hands on some really good pallets, but also some total rubbish. If you can get hold EPAL pallets, great. Our school receives frequent deliveries on wooden pallets, so there’s usually a couple lying next to our bins.

If you’re getting them from your local building site and don’t want to get yourself in trouble, make sure you ask. If you’re a little more daring and don’t mind high-tailing it down the road while being chased, then crack on.

Tables

When stacking pallets to make a table, remember to take into account the height of the students that will be using them. Although wooden pallets are pretty stable when stacked, a couple of well-placed screws will ensure that they go nowhere. For taller students, it is possible to flip the pallets onto their side. As you can see in the pictures, we’ve used the pieces of wood from our old playground climbing frame for the table top that was dismantled to make way for our new one. Keep your eyes open and get materials where you can.

Mud kitchens

Need a place to crack on with making a mud pie? Perhaps it’s your friends birthday and they need a beautiful cake. Or maybe you just need somewhere to mix up some mud porridge to work out what the fussy Miss Goldilocks was on about. Mud kitchens are awesome and if you don’t already have one, it should be on your “to think about” list. Buy one if you want, but if you’re tight on the old budget then look no further than the wooden pallet. The photos above are the mud kitchens that we have at our school, but a quick search on Pinterest will send your creative juices spiralling too!

Bug Hotels

In order to create a bug hotel that is as attractive as possible for the little critters, variety is the name of the game. Stacking pallets is a great way to give you lots of little slots that you can fill with all kinds of homely delights. Throw in a couple of screws to ensure stability and away you go. Involve learners by doing some research into the best materials to fill your bug hotel with and get them collecting.

Storage

The old faithful doing what it does best. Holding stuff. Whether you need to organise sticks, plant pots or plastic diggers, the wooden pallet has got your back. Just need things keeping off the floor? Easy.

Planting

Stand them up to hold pots or lie them down to break up your vegetable garden. They’re pleasing for plant pots and useful for potatoes. A lick of blackboard paint goes nicely and also makes your space look like it belongs on Pinterest.


A word to the wise: Your new wooden pallet construction might look beautiful in the first week or so, depending on the quality of the ones you found. It isn’t going to stay that way. It will get weathered and its newness will fade, but it will be strong, it will be stable and it won’t let you down. Wooden pallets for the win.

So there you have it. Take inspiration and feel free to use ideas that take your fancy. Let us know what you do with your pallets if we haven’t mentioned it here and we’ll share it with our community. The possibilities are endless.

Supercharged Storytelling: 10 Ways to Use Your Outdoor Environment to Enhance Storytelling

There are many ways to tell a story. In Grade 1, we are exploring this concept using the outdoor setting to spark curiosity and imagination. There are so many stories that can be authentically explored outdoors, making connections to the setting and character skill sets. Here are 10 ways that you can take storytelling outside.

1) Story Doors

Ignite children’s sense of wonder with a well placed story door that can be stumbled upon. Ask who, what, where, why, when, how questions to gain information about who lives behind the door. Be aware that this may end with you scribbling tiny notes in response to their questions for the foreseeable future. 

2) Story Journeys

Why read a book when you can physically step into the story? Bring the story alive as you travel from place to place imitating the character as they move through the story. A good example of this is; “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, squelch through thick, oozy mud and stumble your way through the forest. Don’t have a forest? Get creative.

3) The Environment as a Backdrop

A simple way to take storytelling outdoors is to use the natural setting as a backdrop to your play. Most fairy tales are largely set in the great outdoors.

4) Create settings

Whether it’s real size or a small world setting, use your natural loose parts to create settings and story maps.

5) Story Stones

Your small world setting is not complete without tiny characters to retell the story with. Grab a handful of stones and use chalk, pens, or glued on photographs to create your own character stones.

6) Mud Kitchen

If you have a mud kitchen already, then get busy making the perfect porridge for Baby Bear, or stir up your own Stone Soup. If you don’t have a mud kitchen yet, build one.

7) Light your Fire

After creating wonderful delights in the mud kitchen, light a fire or your Kelly Kettle and make the real thing. Taste the porridge and see if it’s “Just right” or harvest some vegetables and make a stone soup.

8) Skill Development

Explore characters through their skill sets. Batoning is really easy skill where children can experience splitting wood like the wood cutter in Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. Alternatively, create maps like Percy The Park Keeper. Look out for good stories to connect with outdoor skill development.

9) Problem Solving

Oh-oh! The Wolf is back in town and he’s hungry! Help the Three Little Pigs to build new wolf-proof homes to keep them safe. Get creative and put your outdoor skills to the test, helping out characters from different stories.

10) Make noise!

Make the most of being outside away from quiet classrooms and make noise! Howl like a wolf, stomp like a giant and growl like a bear. Explore stories through sound. Using buckets and natural materials as instruments create soundscapes to compliment the events of a story.


So there you have it. Take inspiration and feel free to use ideas that take your fancy. Whether it’s sunshine or snow, grab a book to match the season and step outside!

Here are some of our favourite stories:

10 Things to Look Forward to as an Outdoor Learning Teacher in 2020

Happy New Year! To kick off 2020, here are 10 things that you have to look forward to as an educator utilising your outdoor space to make learning authentic and awesome. Well done you.

1) More frequent ‘Outdoor Learning International’ Inspiration

2020 is our year for being more proactive with posting on our blog, so hold on to your hats. In the near future, be ready for mud kitchen inspiration, ideas for developing space using wooden pallets and taking maths outside with a focus on measurement. Our hope is to develop a community of sharing Outdoor Learning ideas and expertise. Feel feel to take inspiration and use any ideas that spark your fancy, and let us know what you think. If you’re into that, click the “Yes Please” button on the right to receive updates.

2) Same clothing, different day

Steve Jobs wore the same clothes every day. Barack Obama only wears blue or grey suits. Decision fatigue is a thing, and it suggests that you tire from making multiple decisions throughout your day. People like Obama and Jobs limited their clothing choices in order to minimise their decision making so they could make better decisions later, be those in the worlds of technology or politics.

My current clothing of choice are my Fjallraven Keb trousers and my Montane Extreme Smock. I look exactly the same, everyday. This is not because I am an avid Jobs and Obama fan, nor is decision fatigue avoidance high on my list of priorities. I’ve found what works for me and I’m sticking with it. As the old saying goes: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Find what works for you and stick with it.

3) Skip diving on the weekends

Did I say weekends? This is not really confined to weekends. Any time that you walk past a skip, you’ll be looking in it. We were recently doing the German Christmas Market tour with family and came home with three large wooden bobbins that had been skipped at our local building site. Cheers.

Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day went to market.

4) Pity vs Jealousy

When you’re walking along the corridor in the depths of winter looking like a puffed up onion in all of your layers, you are bound to get looks of pity and maybe even a, “Ooh, I don’t envy you in your job today”.

On the other hand, roll on the summer time when it’s 25+ degrees and you are sauntering along in shorts and T-shirt. Those looks of pity turn to scoffs of jealousy and you get things like, “Is your job really a job?”

Meet Claire. Claire works in 3rd Grade. Claire is one of the best people at the pity vs jealousy conundrum. She’s great.

Possible responses include:

  • “Speak to me in 6 months”
  • “It sucks to be you”
  • “Here’s some research about how my blood pressure and immune system are better than yours”

5) Goodbye manicure, hello grubby calluses

When you’re working hard to facilitate epic hands-on learning experiences for your young people, you are not going to be able to avoid getting those hands dirty. The good news is that research suggests getting your hands dirty is good for you and it might even be an antidepressant. Win.

Take care of those hands and remember to wash them. A spot of hand cream also wouldn’t go amiss.

Top Tip: a pinch of sugar with a spot of soap will get out some of the more ingrained dirt. Like a homemade Swarfega, that stuff your Dad had under the sink growing up.

6) Things in pockets

As an indoor teacher, I would usually arrive home with at least one whiteboard pen in my pocket. As an outdoor teacher, I still have the occasional pen but my pocket booty is so much more wonderfully varied. Acorn hats, bits of wood, bits of tree, a Pokemon card… the list goes on.

All in a day’s pocket…

Top Tip: Empty your pockets before going home, or prepare your partner for a magical variety of gifts on the kitchen side.

7) The Smell of Fire

Using fire lighting as a learning experience is second to none. Smelling of fire afterwards is not so great. Some people will tell you how they love the smell of fire and how it brings memories rushing back of when they… blah blah blah. How wonderful for them. Smelling of fire everyday because you’re halfway through your skills unit can be a bit tedious. Nobody has ever complained at me on the tram home, but it might happen one day.

Smelly people have no friends

Top Tip: get hold of some Febreze. Febreze is your friend.

8) “But I won’t be cold…”

This is the response you get when you tell a student who has just come inside from recess on a cold day to get their jacket for outdoor learning. Generally, you can go one of three ways:

  1. “This is not a discussion. You’re not coming out without a jacket” – This may sound a little harsh but when your outdoor time is limited, this conversation with seven different students only makes it shorter.
  2. “OK, your choice” – You know that you’re right, but our actions and choices have consequence and what better way to learn that than through the medium of shivering?
  3. “Bring your jacket and hang it up when we get there, then it’s there if you need it” – The compromise. Invariably, the jacket will get worn before you even get halfway through the lesson and you can quietly bask in the glory of being right.

9) Becoming a chainsaw meerkat

Picture the scene: You’re walking back inside after a long lesson out in the cold, looking forward to that well-earned cup of tea and then you hear it. You pause. Could it be? It’s definitely there, but where is it coming from? That guttural yet beautifully sweet song that is the sound of a chainsaw.

Hello my friend…

Whether you’re making your circle of logs for the first time or topping up your firewood for next year, nothing beats free wood. When approaching a tree surgeon, be sure to do so safely. Find out who the boss is and ask nicely if you can take some. Very often, you’re saving them some time by taking away some wood. Depending on how nice they are, you might be able to specify the shapes and sizes that you want. You also might need to just take what they give you and cut it up yourself.

Top tip: have a couple of bottles of beer lying around to graciously thank any chainsaw master that lets you take some offcuts. If you don’t have any tree surgeon friends, make some.

10) According to the research, you’re going to feel great!

In a world where Forest Bathing is becoming a thing and doctors in Scotland are prescribing ‘nature’ to help with a patient’s treatment, you are in a wonderful position to be able to take learning outside as part of your job. Good for physical health and mental health, the research is out there.


Happy 2020

from

Outdoor Learning International!

Back to School: Now, Get Out!

This is it. The start of a new year. You’ve got the motivation. You’ve had the go ahead and you’re ready to take learning outdoors! Where to start? Here are a couple of things that it might be useful to think about.

Buy a book

Get inspired. Something like ‘The Curious Nature Guide’ is a great book for the beginning of the year. It has lots of ways to encourage your students to slow down, notice and connect with nature. Did you know that there are 1440 minutes in a day? Surely we can pause, be quiet and listen for the sounds of nature for just 1 or 2 of them?!

The Curious Nature Guide – Clare Walker Leslie

The schedule

How much time have you got and how are you going to fit it in? There is no magic formula for fitting in with a schedule. Every organisation is different, things change every year and you need to be flexible. Aim for long blocks of time where possible.

This is how we’re integrating with 2nd grade this year. We’re taking kids every other day in half classes, which leaves core classroom teachers with 11 students. Our current problem is the lack of whole class time on Outdoor Learning days. Right now, this is ok because OL is driving the unit of inquiry. In unit two, things might change again.

For more suggestions on how to integrate, check out our ‘Getting Support‘ page.

The space

Take a fresh look at your space. Are there any big plans for the upcoming year? Remember the golden rule: don’t make any changes without students! Your space will change throughout the year. Remember to incorporate this when you are planning. 

Clothing and boots

Remind your students to be prepared. At our ‘Back to School Night’, we let parents know that it is not their fault if students are ill-prepared. Students should be aware that it is their responsibility to have enough clothing to be warm and dry. The blaming of parents, grandparents and pets is not an acceptable excuse. Consider a system for telling students what they need on a given day, otherwise you will find yourself repeating “boots and jacket, please”. 

Routes and routines

How are students going to get to your outdoor space? If the weather calls for it, where are they going to put on/take off their boots? Will the shoes be in somebody else’s way while you are outside? Who is going to sweep up afterwards? A bit of thought beforehand can negate people knocking at your door complaining about the mud in the corridor. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: The first time you wear the boots will be fine. It’s the second time, when the boots are full of mud and they’ve been drying in the lockers for a day. That’s when the mud goes everywhere. 

Ground rules and boundaries

Depending on your affinity to chaos, you might like to think about some ground rules before heading out there. “No Pick, No Lick” is a great place to start. The phrase sums up the importance of respecting the space and not eating anything! Beyond that, have a think through how your school rules apply to your outdoor space. For us, “Be Safe” & “Be Respectful” transfer really well. 

“No Break, No Take” is also useful for discussions around resource management and the desire to take everything home! If everyone takes a stick home, then will there be any left? If we break all of the long sticks into the length that we need, what happens when we need long sticks? Put it back and look for one which is the length you need. 

Slowly slowly, catchy monkey… 

The program that exists at our school has been an 11 year process in the making. Things started down in reception and made its way up to prep, then grade 1 and finally to grades 2-5. The spaces were developed in that order. And it took ages. 

It’s ok start small. Be careful of trying to go zero to hero. Concentrate on what you’re doing and be aware of not spreading yourself too thin. If that grade 12 science teacher really wants to take student learning outside too, that’s great. Don’t break your neck coming up with ideas for them when you could be focusing on your 3rd grade learning experiences. If they’re excited, they’ll come to you! 

Record it and shout about it

For sure, any kids that you take outside are going to go home and tell anyone who will listen about their awesome day. You should do the same. Put photos on your class blog or school Facebook page. Connect to people on Twitter. Invite your principal and director to come outside with you to witness the awesome.

Go forth and take learning outside.

A Beginners Guide to Art in Nature

Art in Nature. Land Art. Transient Art. Call it whatever you like. Taking learning outdoors using art as your vehicle can be an awesome place to start. The following pretty much makes up a unit of inquiry that happens with our Grade 2 students at the beginning of the school year. Comment below with other ideas you have, let’s get this sharing started!

1) Rainbow chips

A lovely way to get started is to use a Joseph Cornell activity called Rainbow Chips. This is basically a colour hunt where students are provided with coloured objects and their goal is to explore the space to try and locate that colour. When they find it they find it, switch for another colour and so on and so forth. Some people use colourful bits of broken pottery for this, colourful gems also work. Our favourite is to nip down the the local DIY shop and liberate a whole load of paint colour samples (ninja skills/confidence required). Up to you, whatever you can find.

Liberated paint sample cards

2) Start the conversations

Colour is an element of art. When we look at a piece of art, colour is something that we can comment on. At this point, we might whip out a classic Goldsworthy print and try to identify some colours. Enter stage right, the other elements of art. Value, texture, shape, line, form, space, & perspective. The opportunities for developing language and vocabulary here are boundless. Introduce in whichever way suits your style but be sure allow time for students to explore the outdoor space to find examples of each thing. At this point, our students are collecting what they find using Book Creator.

Using Book Creator to collect examples of space

At the end, bring back your Goldsworthy (or other) and see if students can comment on and give their opinion, linking in to their shiny new ‘Elements of Art’ vocabulary.

3) Get inspired

Start talking about transient art in any school and you’ll get… “Land Art? Have you looked into Andy Goldsworthy?” And of course, being the grandfather of the scene, his stuff is the bomb. He’s got plenty of books out there but there is also a range of things on Youtube, like this and this, that are good for inspiration. Andy is great, but please don’t stop there! Marc Pouyet’s books (especially this one) are also an excellent source of imagination kickstarters. Even a quick search for #landart on Twitter will open up a whole load of other folk who are doing some pretty cool stuff too. People like @RFjamesUK, @escher303, @TimPughArtist and @LandArtforKids are a selection of our favourites.

4) Create

Give it a go. Crack on. Go outside and create. Depending on resources that you have available, you might want to restrict the amount of materials, or not. We advocate the old “No Pick, No Lick” as a general rule in our Outdoor Learning space. Not because we don’t like fun. Because we find that if every 2nd grader decides that they want to use those leaves from that bush, then we end up with pretty naked shrubbery.

While creating, encourage students to make conscious choices as artists. Why have they chosen that location? Have they notice the texture of the rocks that they’re using? What can they tell you about the value in the acorns that they’re arranging in that circle?

Creating can occur multiple times, of course. To mix it up a little we’ve found it interesting to challenge our artists to use only one type of object. For example, only conkers or only oak leaves.

The abstract discussion is an excellent way to add depth to an Art in Nature session. Does our artwork need to be something? Can we leave it open to interpretation? Do we find the abstract discussion is accessible to all 2nd graders? Absolutely not. Sometimes, your artwork just needs to be a house with a pool. Sometimes, you just need to sit in a patch of sun a lick a rock.

5) Focus on one thing

If you have students that are not sure where to start, encourage them to focus on one element of art in particular. Shape, perhaps. Our old friend Andy G loves a good circle. Why not try some different shapes? Shapes within shapes? Lots of the same shape? Regular shapes? Irregular shapes? Is an oak leaf a shape? Shapes.

6) Gravity Glue

Michael Grab, or Gravity Glue as he’s better know, is a wonderful way to segue into something a little different. Check out the video below. Rock balancing can result in a calm and relaxing flow state, enhanced by deep concentration (closely followed by infuriation as the whole thing falls on your toe). Fun fact: rock balancing championships are a thing.

Gravity Glue

Alternatively, find out what an Inuksuk is, and give one of those a go!

7) Go for a walk

Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. We like to head off down to our local section of the Rhine. In the past, inspiration has come from cool things that we’ve seen en route and also the beautiful location when we get there. If nothing else, we find that a change in location offers copious amounts of new materials and more space than our regular Outdoor Learning locale. Where could you go?

Our local stretch of the Rhine River. It looks worse in the rain.

8) Get inspired… again…

Are musicians artists? So, if we bash together a rock and a stick, are we creating art? Experiment with different ways of playing objects that you can find in your outdoor space. How many different ways can you play your log? Try making a thunderstorm. Everybody grabs their favourite noise maker, one person conducts and sets the dynamics.

Music from Nature – Diego Stocco

If you’re lucky enough to have access to devices which support GarageBand (a wonderful tech-integration team helps too), then have a go at creating some Diego Stocco inspired compositions. This is cool stuff, make no mistake. It’s also pretty difficult to get the end result sounding anything like Diego, but the process can be awesome.

9) Don’t forget to look up

Who doesn’t fancy spending time laid out on the grass looking up at the white fluffy things? This is great for our line of inquiry which considers people responding differently to same stimuli. Not possible everyday so you have to pick your day. An easy way in is this book. Get outside and lie on the ground.

10) Share

Whether you host an exhibition for family and friends, post photos on Twitter and Instagram or just leave your artwork for the random public out walking their dogs; sharing your work is a must. Get students to prepare a blurb for their creations, linking back to elements of art and their inspirations. In our parent exhibition, students stand by their piece and explain their choices as artists, but these could be written also. If you’re posting on social media, remember to connect with the people that inspired you!

PYP Blurb