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Outdoor Learning - A day in the life…

By Christopher Sykes, Lead (Outdoor Learning), Hardwick House School. 



To mark this year's Outdoor Classroom Day, a global initiative taking place on November 2nd to encourage children to embrace the outdoors for play and learning, we asked Chris Sykes to talk us through a 'typical day in the life' for him as Lead for Outdoor Learning at Hardwick House School.


Below, he describes the daily routine for him and his students as they step outside of the traditional classroom environment and into the vast world of outdoor education. From campfire breakfasts and bonding with rabbits, to digging up potatoes and seeking solace with guinea pigs, Chris captures the essence of outdoor education and the adventures that bridge the gap between text books and the great outdoors, nurturing not just academic knowledge, but also social skills, relationships, and life lessons.


Morning:

Arriving at school in the morning I start to get ready for our campfire breakfast. We do this with each form group over a two week rotation. 


Today we are having hotdogs. I get some firewood ready and prepare the sausages and bread rolls. When the pupils arrive, the fire is lit and the sausages are cooking. The pupils get involved in turning the sausages to ensure they cook equally, and preparing the rolls. When ready, those that want to will enjoy a nice warm hotdog to start their day positively.


How this helps our learners:

Our campfire breakfast really helps our pupils with social skills as they learn how to sit and eat socially together without the constraints of a formal dining situation. They also get to practise skills such as sharing; if there is food left at the end, how do we distribute it fairly? How do we make sure that there’s enough tomato sauce to go round, etc.


Our relaxed campfire breakfasts may also help the learner to try out new or unfamiliar foods, without the pressure of it being a full meal. They can try a bite of something and if they don’t like it then it’s fine, but they get credit for having had a try.


We offer  a variety of food and ensure that we have options for those with dietary requirements such as being vegetarian, gluten free etc. Some of our favourites include pancakes (with squirty cream and other toppings); bacon butties; porridge and fruit; and bacon and baked beans with French bread.




Break time:

Two pupils who are new to the school ask if they can go and feed the rabbits during break. We give them a few carrots and let them spend time together with the rabbits. They start to chat about their own pets, and they learn that they both have cats at home. 


How this helps our learners:

We keep animals at school for a number of reasons, but one of the main benefits is that they are a great resource for helping learners to have a natural, unforced way of being together to talk socially. Animals are a great starting point for people to get to have a common topic to talk about and from this, friendships (including unexpected friendships across different ages) can develop.



Lesson time:

Today’s Outdoor Learning lesson is with a group of year 9 pupils who will dig up, cook and eat potatoes that they have grown. We planted the potatoes in the vegetable patch back when they were in year 8. We talk about how the potatoes need sunlight and water in order to grow and how we add compost into the ground to provide vital nutrients. This helps to enforce the theory of what they learn in Science lessons.


Pupils light a campfire and add a pot of water on, to boil. They scrape and clean the potatoes before chopping them up to add to the boiling water. When cooked we drain them,  add some butter and tuck in!


How this helps our learners:

Pupils are much more likely to try new foods if they see and understand how it has been grown. Here at school, we aim to grow a number of things that a learner can try in small amounts, such as a pea or a small taste of Parsley, and could also grow at home. This all helps with the familiarity of trying new food.


Outdoor Learning lessons also help to establish the importance of  teamwork and the roles that individuals can play within a team. Some pupils may really enjoy digging up potatoes as a sort of ‘treasure hunt’ while others, who may not like the dirt, would sooner be involved in the cooking. All the activities help to  establish the importance of working together - to our strengths - and establishing our individual roles in a team.



After lunch:

A pupil is having a difficult day and has found it very tricky to concentrate in class. She is offered some time away from the classroom with the guinea pigs, as she finds this to be a calming environment for her. She chooses to sit and stroke the guinea pigs and spend some quiet time reflecting on her day. After spending some time out here, she feels better and returns to the lesson.


How this helps our learners:

Animals are much simpler than human beings, and the non-judgemental, uncomplicated nature of how they gain your trust - by feeding them and giving them fuss - is of huge benefit to our learners, especially those who are more vulnerable. 




Afternoon time: 

For pupils who need some time away from others to regulate, but don't want to be in an empty room, being with the animals can be really beneficial.


Some of our other learners choose to spend time with our free range chickens. They ask to give them some corn as they have taught the chickens to eat from their hand. They carefully pick up the chickens and go to see if they have laid any eggs. Before they go home for the day, they help to round up the chickens and pop them back into their coop for the night.


How this helps our learners:

All of our animals are rescued, so the hens started out life in a battery farm. Understanding this helps our learners to develop empathy towards living creatures and to debate the moral issues around how we can help them. Chickens, as with the other animals, can help pupils with their understanding of death and grief. At times we have lost chickens to foxes, but it has helped learners to understand the circle of life. 

Our free range chickens also provide a nice farmyard feel to the outdoor area and give us plenty of fresh eggs!




Chris Sykes has been teaching Outdoor Learning with Art and Design at Hardwick House School for just over 6 years. Previously he taught Design and Technology in mainstream schools. His Outdoor Learning lessons usually involve animal care, gardening and Forest School activities, as well as a campfire breakfast every morning! Outside of school Chris is a Scout leader for his village.







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