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Outdoor learning: new year's resolutions

How on earth is it already a month since Christmas Day? Argh! Only 5 months until the dark nights start drawing in again... in the meantime, let's be positive, and think about ways to transform the way you use your outdoors or school grounds for learning and play. My latest piece in Nursery World magazine offers five suggestions, all of which are SMART: sustainable, manageable, affordable, realistic and timely. Yes, I know those aren't the 'real' SMART targets... are they even a thing any more?

If you're a Nursery World subscriber you can find an early years focused version of my resolutions here. If you aren't, here's a summary:


  • Turn outside upside down: audit everything. Go through the storage units, the PE cupboards, the science lockers... what resources do you have that could be put to good use outdoors? Do some resources need to be recycled or disposed of? What do you have that hasn't been used in years?

  • Now audit the spaces themselves. Try to look at each area of the grounds with fresh eyes. If you have a friend at another school or setting, invite them over to examine your site - then return the favour. Look for opportunities to enrich learning by using the landscape and its features as a unique resource.


  • Be part of the learning (or play). Learning beyond the classroom is hugely rewarding for children and adults alike, so plan activities or tasks that you'll enjoy teaching and participating in.

  • Make 2019 the year that your playtime duties don't involve ANY lemon-sucking (© Shonette Bason Wood) or mug-hugging. If you're out there with the children, PLAY! If nothing else, it'll keep you warm.


  • ...other people, especially parents. Your school community and neighbourhood are a rich source of ideas, information, expertise and FREE STUFF! What incredible skills are out there, to inspire your students? How many parents work in uniformed services? Who's travelled the world? Who runs a business that could supply you with interesting art or DT materials? Start searching... and don't take no for an answer (at least, not the first time).


  • Take risks with outdoors. Risk taking - physical, emotional and intellectual risk taking - is an integral part of every animal's development, and for humans it's how we learn to keep ourselves safe. My fabulous Grün Macht Schule colleagues in Berlin tell their schools: 'you learn to fall by falling' and it's true. So take risks with your teaching and learning outdoors - go further afield on trips, visit new places, use your school grounds more frequently and effectively.

  • At playtimes, do your best to encourage risk taking - start by banning yourself from saying 'be careful' and exchange that phrase for something more helpful, such as 'watch where you're putting your foot next' or 'show me how gently / carefully you can do that.'


  • Develop your own knowledge and understanding this year. There is now a great deal of high quality CPD available to teachers, TAs and early years practitioners (some of it delivered by us at PLL, of course), and not all of it involves days away from your class. Online CPD is great way of satisfying a need to challenge yourself, and face to face outdoor learning CPD is always hugely inspiring. Hundreds of Facebook groups and Twitter tags exist, providing peer support for everything from early years schemas to winter residentials.

  • Set yourself a reading task each half term - perhaps starting with Last Child in the Woods, No Fear* or Dirty Teaching - to develop your understanding of the importance and value of outdoor learning and play.

  • Perhaps 2019 is the year you become a forest school leader? A CLOtC quality badge holder? Build your confidence by gaining a first aid or bushcraft qualification? Or maybe explore opportunities for taking curriculum subjects outdoors.

Whatever you choose to do in 2019, enjoy making the changes. Join the outdoor learning communities and share what you've learned. Happy New Year!

* No Fear, Tim Gill's seminal guide to risk-taking and independence for children, can now be downloaded as a pdf from that link.


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