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Geography - The great outdoors

What it's about

It is a daunting moment when you realise that your pupils can recall the current menu at McDonalds with ease, but can name only a handful of environmental features, writes Paula Owens.

Getting started

I remember asking some Year 1 (P1) children, for whom English was a second language, to tell me about their outdoor school area. They came up with only one feature, "climbing frame". So how can we help children to develop the vocabulary to talk about the world around them?

Create memorable experiences in your outdoor spaces, framed by geographical questions such as "Where is this place?", "What is it like and why?", "How does it compare, contrast or connect to other places?" You might use different scales of enquiry to map the school grounds, marking natural and man-made features, different habitats and activity areas. Or get children to research, design and make information panels, maps, signs and trails.

Go on "wonder walks" and look for the unexpected in the everyday such as a delicate spider web, or the changing shapes of clouds. Provide outdoor blackboards, coloured chalk, hides and binoculars. Have a "watching window" in class where children can take it in turns to observe the outside world for five minutes each a day and record what they see in a diary. Spice up the action with strategically-placed bird feeders and boxes.

What else?

For suggestions of how to use your school grounds and locality, visit

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