Don’t Throw It Away! 7 Things To Make Out Of Your Christmas Tree In January

There’s nothing quite like bringing a real Christmas tree into your home over the festive season. The shape, the smell, the needles stabbing you in the feet. Whether you went with Pine, Spruce of Fir, eventually January will arrive and it will be time to let it go. There will also be a load of other people wanting to get rid. Hello, free resources! There are lots of things that you can make and to be honest, the sky is the limit. This blog post contains 7 ideas to get you started and spark your creativity. Make them yourself and make them with your children and students. Here’s to a positive start to 2021!

Now is the time to send out the call to your community for trees after the festive season comes to an end. Depending on your situation, you might be able to offer collection. Otherwise just ask people to deliver their trees so that you can use them to make awesome stuff! Some will, others won’t but if you don’t ask, you won’t get!

Important Note: All of the things in this post are going to give you opportunities to use tools with students. Take the time to introduce them properly and have conversations that are going to help students keep themselves and others safe. If you haven’t used sheath knives yet, check out our Knife Basics page.

Wooden Spinners

Check out this post in our Project Inspiration Series on How to Make Wooden Spinners. Whether you use it to incorporate measurement skills or you just want to have a massive ‘Nature Beyblade’ competition, this project is a win.

Log Santas

One use that we’ve found for a log cut on an angle is these adorable log Santas which students made to sell at our Grade 3 Christmas Market. Sawing the trunk on an angle provides you with a lovely, free-standing shape that you can do lots with. You can burn patterns, paint designs or simply write messages of 2021 positivity.

Harry Potter Wands

“It’s Levi-O-sa, not Levio-SAR.” Channel your inner geek and make something that you can pretend you bought at Ollivanders with Hagrid. Again, make sure that you’ve been to check out our Knife Basics before getting stuck in.

Small World Settings

Create some trees in your small world setting. Where else is it ok to have elephants and dinosaurs hanging out in the same place? Alternatively, you might want to season your most recent concoction in the mud kitchen with a sprinkle of magical needles. Let your imagination go wild!

Noughts and Crosses

Also known as ‘Tic Tac Toe’ by our friends across the pond, this is a cute little project which involves a fair amount of sawing. You’ll also need a soldering iron to create the lines on the board and pieces. Alternatively, this could be done with pens and markers. We used bow saws to cut the game board from the trunk and hacksaws to cut the counters from the thicker branches.

Baubles and Gift Tags

Being able to say that next year’s tree decorations or take-home-crafts are going to be made out of last year’s Christmas tree is pretty cool. And once you cut the discs, you can do anything with them that you like. Paint them, brand them or simply leave them au naturel. The sky is the limit.

Key Rings

Get some practise in with your concave cuts, thumb pushes and stop cuts. Oh, and there’s some drilling too. Check out this post from out Projection Inspiration Series on How To Make Wooden Key Rings.

Other uses for left over Christmas Trees

  • Burn it (cue creosote discussion here)
  • Protect plants from frost with it
  • Mulch it
  • Recycle it
  • Donate it to a good cause (e.g. in some places, they are used to reinforce sand dunes against erosion from the sea!)

So there you have it, a little inspiration for some of the things that you can make instead of just throwing out your Christmas Tree. If you’ve got any other ideas, we’d love to hear about them!

Autumn Treasures: Collecting and Using Natural Supplies

Autumn is an exciting time of the year for replenishing your natural supplies. Whether you are walking in the forest or along the road, the ground becomes a treasure chest for all those who look closely.

Conker picking used to be one of my favourite things to do every Autumn. As children, we would wrap up, grab a bag and splash through puddles on the way to finding the best Horse Chestnut tree in the local area. Of course, the best tree was in someone’s garden and every year they kindly turned a blind eye whilst groups of children clambered over the wall to collect the shiniest brown conkers from their lawn. It is therefore, something I look forward to doing with my class each year. Luckily we have a Horse Chestnut tree just outside of our school grounds and plenty of conkers fall on the footpath preventing the need for skirting over fences (although the neighbours did invite us into their garden one year).

There are so many other amazing treasures to be found depending on your local environment. From pine cones to acorns, sycamore seeds to wonderfully coloured leaves, you will return with brimming buckets and excited children.

So the walk was wonderful but what now? Here are 4 ways that you can enjoy exploring your collections.

Observing and asking questions

This can of course happen whilst you are out on your walk, as children spot unfamiliar or interesting objects. If you have lots of time, you can take magnifying glasses with you and encourage children to wander slowly, noticing tiny details in nature. Listen carefully to the questions your children ask and discuss possible answers or predictions. Note down some of the questions to research together later with books or a quick Google search. If you are short on time, keep the collected objects and spend time at the beginning of the next session observing your finds and asking questions as a group.

Sorting and comparing

How many different ways can you sort the objects? By length, colour, shape, type of object, tree it fell from etc. Challenge the children to come up with as many different ways to sort the objects and see if you can guess their rule. You can also compare the different types of seeds that you found and explore how and why seeds are different to each other.

Counting and estimating

Want to explore larger numbers? Challenge the children to estimate and count how many conkers/acorns you collected. Last year we had a very competitive ‘Guess how many conkers we collected’ competition in Grade 1. Each week we gave the children a new clue, for example; showing what 100 conkers looked like, and children were invited to make a revised estimate. In the end one child estimated exactly the right number- 576!

Arts and Crafts

Arrange them, roll them, stamp them, print them; there are so many different wonderful art and craft activities that you can do with natural materials! Learn about why leaves change colour and create Autumn coloured pictures or print leaves onto air dry clay and make decorations for your shelter. It’s time to get creative, get messy, and have fun!


So there you have it, a few ways to enjoy what nature has to offer this Autumn. I wonder what you will do with your collections?

If We Chop Down This Tree, Will We Kill Our Librarian? Authentic Opportunities For Taking Measurement Outdoors

I think I can count on one hand the number of times that, as an adult, I have needed to measure a shape that is printed on a piece of paper. Research tells us that authentic learning experiences are the way forward. It suggests that enabling learners to put their skills and knowledge to practical use in a situation where the outcome has a tangible relevance to their own lives, results in far greater retention of knowledge. It’s time to get authentic with measurement. Don’t panic! The great news is that out of all of the ways to learn mathematical concepts in an outdoor environment, measurement is one of the easiest places to start. Here are six ways, which can be adapted to suit your setting, for taking measurement outdoors in an authentic way. 

Pose a Problem

If we chop down this tree, will we kill our librarian? What do we need to calculate to make sure that Mr Crouch will be ok? Hopefully, the students will figure out that they need to measure the height of the tree and also the distance between the school building and the base of the tree. You can then use “10 ways to measure a tree” from OutdoorClassroomDay.org.uk to help you calculate your librarian’s life expectancy. With older students, and if you really want to really get into it, you could bring in some trigonometry and have the conversation about how the top of the school building is further away than the base because the hypotenuse of the triangle is longer than its base… blah, blah, maths, maths.

No librarians were harmed in the writing of this blog.

Make Stuff

Not many things give students more motivation to improve their measuring accuracy than having a hands-on project to work on. From bamboo panpipes and birdhouses to wooden spinners and raised beds. It doesn’t really matter what you create as long as you prepare yourself to make the most of the activity through the lens of measurement. Using the phrase “measure twice, cut once” is useful when encouraging students to focus on their accuracy.

Find a Purpose

Recently, we were contacted by another international school who are in the process of developing their outdoor learning space. They wanted to know the height of our tables and also the size of our student-friendly rakes. What followed was a task for our 2nd grade students where they had to measure and record a variety of objects in our space. Sometimes in centimetres, sometimes metres and sometimes a mixture of the two. Everything was measured, from the height of bushes to the length and width of our entire space. Some students even moved onto finding the perimeter of the planters in our vegetable garden. It’s safe to say that the inquiring international school received slightly more information back than they asked for. In summary, find a task that has an authentic purpose and see where it takes you!

Magic Number

Using a thermometer in your outdoor space (insert reading scales discussion here if necessary), find the day’s temperature to the nearest degree in celsius. This is your magic number. Send your students out into the space armed with measuring tools and challenge them to find objects that are the same length in centimetres as the magic number. For example, if the day’s temperature is 7 degrees, students are looking for objects that have a dimension of 7cm. This can be a very different task depending on the season. If you’re in a country which favours fahrenheit over celsius, then it’s going to look very different again.

This activity is one of our favourites because it offers a switch around in the focus of measurement. Instead of measuring one object to find its length, students need to measure lots of objects in their search for the elusive magic number. Use it as a starter and extend it as you wish.

Plant Things

Here’s an idea for those among us who have higher OCD tendencies. Incorporate measurement into whatever you’re planting and the result can be a wonderfully ordered vegetable bed or flower garden. This year, we spaced our tulip bulbs 10cm apart. Unfortunately, with all of our students being at home during Covid-19 lockdown, the closest they got to their beautifully spaced flowers was seeing a picture of them!

Measuring can also come into play when comparing the height of growth. This came in particularly handy during the aforementioned lockdown. Those of you who read the blog post about our Home Learning a couple of weeks ago will know that we sent bean seeds home when everything kicked off a couple of months. Keeping track of growth and comparing this during our ZOOM meetings has been part of our Home Learning process.

Get Your Game Face on

In a similar way to making projects, measurement can be found in a whole host of different games. We have some tyres lying around as loose parts which we use to play a boules-type game. Standing behind a start line, players throw or roll their tyre to try and make it finish closest to the jack or marker. The measurement aspect comes in when it’s too close to call. This can be a good opportunity to discuss standard versus non-standard units. If you’re going to wind students up by suggesting that certain players are “false measuring” to try and win, be sure to appoint a referee whose decision is final. This is a great technique to encourage accuracy, checking and rechecking measurements.


So there you have it, six ways to incorporate measurement into your outdoor space. The bottom line is that measurement can be found in almost anything you’re doing, so just be aware and don’t miss the learning opportunities! And if you do miss them, give yourself a break and catch them next time! Stay safe and stay healthy.

Lockdown Adventures: 5 Ways to Turn a Walk into an Adventure

With the NHS prescribing fresh air to boost patients’ health and wellbeing in 2019, there is no doubt that there is a strong connection between green space and good mental and physical health. As we are confined to our homes, with schools and activity clubs closed, here are five ways to take home learning outside. These activities can be adapted to any setting; from local parks to your own garden, or even your house if you are in quarantine. So, open the windows, step outside, and appreciate the natural world all around you.

Go on a Colour walk

A colour psychology chart created by UserTesting

Tune into your surroundings by looking for a specific colour on your next walk. Much research supports the notion that colour can have an affect on our emotions. Stand in a field of bright yellow sunflowers and it’s hard to feel anything but happy. Look at the turquoise blue of the ocean and calmness floods through your bones. So, choose how you want to feel each day and surround yourself with a colour that stimulates this emotion. As you are getting dressed, look for an item of clothing that matches your chosen colour then get out and go colour spotting! How many yellow/ red/ green (have fun with that one) things can you see along your walk? You could choose a different colour each and see who spots the most of their colour, or you could team up and work on embracing one emotion as a family. Reflect on how you feel at the end of the walk… does yellow really make you happy?

Go on an Emoji hunt

If you are like me, emoji’s have become part of your daily life. Whether you are happy, mad, eating cake or just think you deserve a medal today, there’s an emoji ready to depict your day. So choose some of your favourite emojis and look for them in real life, finding them in their natural environment. You can theme your walk (obviously we recommend a nature theme, like ours) to focus on a specific topic such as; buildings, transport, foods, or even emotions if you are feeling creative. 

Want to extend the fun? Take some paper and map your journey using emojis and keep it as a little memento of your adventure.

Go on a Barefoot walk

Feeling adventurous? Be daring, break the norms, and get the bath ready.  Think back to the last time you walked barefoot outside; maybe you were padding across a warm sandy beach towards the ocean, or maybe you slipped off your sandals during a picnic and felt the cool grass tickle your toes. Your poor feet spend so much of the day, jammed inside of your shoes, with a solitary job of getting your body from one place to another. But your feet are a very sensitive part of the body. Containing around 8,000 nerve endings, they are highly receptive to touch explaining why so many of us have ticklish feet. So, take off your shoes and socks and feel the fresh air between your toes. How many different textures can your feel under your feet as you move around? Move slowly, try tiptoeing or gently brushing the soles of your feet lightly across a surface. Note how the feeling changes as you move differently. Make your own barefoot scavenger hunt or use ours above. 

Follow this map

No matter how old you are or where you are in the world, you can follow this map. It is universal, transferable and pretty ambiguous by design! Choose your starting point, choose your distance, and have fun seeing where the map will take you. Once you’ve had a go at following this map, try making your own, adding rests and challenges to do along the way. Our map was adapted from ‘Surprise Yourself’ a book of fun adventures written by Lisa Curie.

Trail making

Before we had paper and mark making tools, explorers marked their paths using objects they found along their way. Release your inner caveman and make some trails for your family to follow. Look closely for materials that are available in your location, remembering to only take objects from the ground that can be put back at the end of your adventure. You can arrange stones on the ground to point which way to go next or create a big X with sticks to ensure that nobody goes off track. Add a little extra motivation by leaving a little prize at the end of your trail. 


So there you have it, five ways to turn your next walk into an adventure. Have fun getting outdoors in whichever capacity you can at the moment.

Project Inspiration: How to Make Bamboo Panpipes

Following our recent blog post on how to create wooden spinners, next up in our project inspiration series is bamboo panpipes. Opportunities for learning include safe tool use, measurement and fine motor skill development. This year, we created bamboo panpipes during our Grade 2 measurement unit. The measuring, re-measuring and sawing is a wonderfully authentic learning experience for measuring in centimetres.

Whether you’re using it as a way to practise measuring or as a challenge to play the perfect pentatonic scale, this project is great. The children also have something to take home at the end, which is a win in anybody’s book.

A Quick Note on Organisation

As with everything on this blog, you are going to take ideas and adapt them to suit your own space, number of students and confidence levels. When taking on this project, remember to consider the following:

The Layout of your Space – Consider having an area for sawing and a separate space for everything else. This will help students to manage their space bubbles while using the hacksaws.

The Process – Be clear about the process you want students to go through. For example, only approach the sawing table when your measurement has been checked and only when there is an available saw. When you’ve cut your bamboo, move back to the work station for sanding and cleaning.

Be Prepared: Giving each student a 1.2m length of bamboo to work with can be hilarious but also potentially hazardous. When concentrating on measuring, they tend to lose awareness of the other end of their stick and other people end up getting hit or poked. Pre-cut your bamboo into more workable lengths.

Step 1: The Bamboo

As a rough guide, you’re looking for bamboo with a diameter of 1.5cm. Don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect size. Just be aware that the bigger the hole in the middle is, the more air you’ll need to make a good sound.

GEEK ZONE: Bamboo is a monocot which means, like grass, it grows from the bottom up. The sections and nodes show where new growth occurred and the internal diaphragms aid the the transportation of water and nutrients. What that means for us is that wherever you see a node, the tube is blocked. If you wanted to, you could use these natural blockages to help create your panpipes. However, to assist with cleaning, tuning and ease of construction, we suggest avoiding nodes where possible.

Step 2: Measure

“Measure twice, cut once” and, “You can’t put it back on”. With these pearls of wisdom from my carpenter brother in mind, we get students to measure twice before getting a friend to check their measurement too. [Insert a short ‘measuring in centimetres’ tutorial here if necessary]. Initially, we included a ‘check measurement with adult’ step before sawing. We started at 7cm because we found that anything less than that was difficult to get a sound out of.

Top tip: Because we want our pipes to be node-free, make sure that your students know their measured distance should not cross a node.

Step 3: Cut

It’s time to get the hacksaws out. Remember to have a glove on the hand that is holding the bamboo. Try to cut as straight as possible to make your life easier later on when glueing everything together. We find bench hooks really useful to aid the sawing process but they are not essential.

If your learners have little experience with using a hacksaw, getting a straight cut might be easier said than done. If this is the case, do a quick demonstration and then give them some time to practise.

Top Tip: Keep an eye on the condition of your hacksaw blades. They can get blunt fairly quickly and sometimes bent. Bent blades can make it impossible get a straight cut and can be frustrating for students. Have a pack of spare blades and change them out as necessary.

Step 4: Name

For the sake of your own sanity, do not miss this step. BEFORE THEY DO ANYTHING ELSE, students should write their name on each freshly cut piece of bamboo. As a general rule, we encourage students to be responsible and keep tabs on their own materials. As you can imagine, this is successful to varying degrees. Names help.

Step 5: Clean and Sand

Freshly cut bamboo might be a little sharp and can contain a surprising amount of fluffy material. Sanding the ends of your pipes to give them a nice smooth finish will make your bamboo much more agreeable on the lip.

The inside of your pipes should be as clean as possible. Depending on the diameter of your hole, you might be able to use a circular file. Otherwise, grab a tent peg and start poking. This cleaning process is a vital step. Any material left inside the tube will interfere with the vibration of the air stream, which is a fancy way of saying that your tube won’t make a good sound.

Students will probably try and test the pipes once they are clean. At this stage, it’s worth having the discussion about sealing one end with a finger to create a better sound.

Step 6: Repeat

If, like us, you are using this project as an opportunity for children to hone their skill of measuring in centimetres, then you might also like to specify the lengths. We used 7cm to start with and then did 2cm intervals up to 15cm. Repeat steps 2 through 5 as many times as you need.

Step 7: Glue

To attach our pipes together, we used a hot glue gun. This is not the most environmentally friendly choice as the glue is most definitely not made from nuts and berries. It was, however, quick and fairly simple. We are looking for an alternative sticking solution.

Step 8: Plug

You are aiming to seal off the end of each pipe so that the sound resonates beautifully when you blow across the top. In the first trial versions of our panpipes, we experimented with duct tape and white tack. Both methods worked fine but looked terrible. Enter beeswax. As well as having lots of health benefits, beeswax is malleable and fairly easy to work with. We used beeswax pellets which meant that students had to smush and mould a couple together to plug each hole. We completed this project in the middle of winter and needed to use the staff room microwave to help with softening up our beeswax pellets.

If you want to be clever with your hole plugging, then it is possible to tune your pipes. The more beeswax you stuff into the tube, the smaller the space inside becomes thus creating a higher note. This is great if you have the time and can be an interesting open-ended challenge for your big thinkers!

Step 9: Decorate

How you finish your panpipes is up to you and will largely depend on the materials that you have available. At the time, we had some freshly cut willow which gave us a really nice natural finish. Some chose colourful paracord while others used batoning to split bamboo before wrapping it with sisal. The choice is yours.


So there you have it, bamboo panpipes. When it comes to playing the panpipes, it’s probably safe to say that your students won’t match your level of experience of blowing into beer bottles. So, just like the wooden spinners, encourage a little bit of experimentation and practise.

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!

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