Creativity thrives in the outdoor classroom

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The joyous sound of children laughing, the sight of children smiling and interacting enthusiastically with their friends is a delight to watch for many a teacher across the country. Young children thrive on role play and imagining themselves as their favourite fictional character, a pirate or princess maybe.

As educators, it is our duty to offer inspirational school grounds, which not only offer endless learning opportunities but also allow pupils to have fun and engage with their peers. Here Colin MacAdam, managing director of Playforce, explores how play can support the delivery of a creative curriculum.

Creativity is a process that involves the discovery of new ideas. It is fuelled by a conscious or unconscious insight. We must consider pedagogical delivery methods and learning environments that not only engage pupils in new and exciting discoveries, but also ones that consolidate their knowledge and build upon existing ideas for future success in life.

Outdoor grounds can play a key role in pupils’ engagement with learning and their motivation to succeed. Activity based learning in the outdoor classroom is a highly powerful tool; it is not only crucial to a child’s emotional and social development but presents a whole new educational experience too. Children can take part in imaginative and inventive playful learning; they can also learn the importance of taking risks and overcoming challenges and obstacles.


The enjoyment of exploration

All young children share an innate passion to play and explore their surroundings. The outdoor classroom presents an array of opportunities for pupils to take part in both independent and collaborative experimental learning. Consider here a creative approach to teaching children about their surrounding environment. In an outdoor setting, children can be at one with nature; they can immerse themselves in a sensory experience. For example, supervised play areas can lend themselves to nature gardens which allow pupils to discover insects, foliage, varying seasons and changeable temperatures. At a young age a child’s manipulative skills are developing and they will enjoy tactile experiences; wet and dry sand, water, paint and clay. Through exploring the school pond or flower bed children can learn about water life such as frogs, fish and different plant species.

In comparison to the indoor classroom where text books and the Internet may be used, the outdoor classroom opens the door to further learning opportunities. Pupils can fully immerse themselves in the natural environment taking part in a hands-on, engaging experience; they can touch, smell and listen to their surrounding world.


A child's imagination is the limit!

A creative outdoor learning environment should also encourage children to inhabit the area in an open-ended, flexible, free flowing manner. Imaginative play is an essential ‘game’ that children use to replay situations or events they may have seen, or to recreate a scene involving their favourite film character. It might involve the stimulation and rehearsal of communication, social and language skills. School grounds that offer an area for story telling or a spacious zone for role play can present far reaching cross curricular benefits. Links to literacy can be achieved; allowing pupils to act out a scene from their favourite book, for instance. Alternatively, consider a themed day - a pirate and princess day offers children an exciting and creative opportunity to dress up and take part in pirate ship battles or wear their favourite princess tiara.

Self-initiated play is key for a child’s development. It involves making decisions about what they want to do, where, with whom and what resources they will need. A fun experience, but it also presents key citizenship skills; communication, sharing ideas, respecting others and voicing opinions.


School ground adventures

Presenting a range of activities to a child can increase their motivation to succeed; school grounds that offer colourful zoned play areas have been found to engage pupils and subsequently impact upon their concentration and behaviour. Adventurous environments that engage a child in physical and mental agility tests not only present an active curriculum for increased health and wellbeing, but also provide links to numeracy and problem solving skills.

An obstacle course or multi-level play area might challenge a child to learn about risk taking and friendly competition. Fine motor skills, such as spatial awareness, hand/eye co-ordination and accuracy can be developed also. Introducing a sporting challenge, such as World Cup Week can offer an abundance of creative approaches to teaching the curriculum. Strong links between subjects such as sport, geography and history can be made here. Pupils can learn about different countries, colours and patterns of worldwide flags, whilst also understanding the history of football and the World Cup. Connected learning that is relevant and purposeful results in a class that is fully engaged with both the teacher and their peers.


Creative collaboration

The ability to work effectively as part of a team or independently is a key skill for adult life. Presenting the music curriculum, for example, the outdoor classroom not only allows children to experience the range of sounds, tempos and dynamics of musical instruments, but also challenges groups to compose musical performances. Classes can be split into three teams; a singing choir, a dance group and a band playing the musical instruments. Social awareness is encouraged; playing in groups helps a child to learn the importance of sharing, solving problems, respect and friendly relations.

A history lesson can be linked here also, such as the teaching of Big Ben, the largest four faced chiming clock in the world. Conventionally a theory based lesson, a teacher may naturally think to present traditional text books or a website about Big Ben to the class. However, what about extending the imagination and delivering this lesson in a practical and physical way through a large hand cast bell panel in the playground.

Further artistic talents can be drawn upon in the natural environment through collages or model making; children can collect foliage and fallen leaves to create a visual representation of their dream holiday destination, or their favourite animal. Once again, this allows children a wholly sensory experience, testing their decision making skills, patience and artistic ability.

Ultimately, children revel in freedom of movement and in play that is inventive, adventurous and stimulating. This should serve as our inspiration to providing creative play to truly enthuse and engage young children.


Colin MacAdam is managing director of Playforce.

Creative Teaching & Learning