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.

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!