Take students outside – ‘magic carpets’ cost nothing

Outdoor learning done well shows what equity in education really means, says Natalie White

Natalie White

Take all pupils outside – ‘magic carpets’ cost nothing

A smile spread across her face and her eyes danced with delight.  She whispered to the child next to her that "It really had been out of control, it was swaying all over the place – a very bumpy ride!"

The class laughed, as they'd seen her struggle to control her magic carpet across the playground.  But this wasn’t a pupil, this was the teacher: their teacher had been in that make-believe adventure with them. 

She had crossed a green stinky swamp, ridden on the back of a unicorn, explored the Forbidden Forest and escaped from wolves and witches.  The class had all been through the same immersive experience with her, and now, while writing it down in a book, she was reliving it with them.

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All the pupils wanted their part of the story to be in the book. Cleverly, the teacher created an atmosphere of curiosity: she asked questions that kept every child's imagination alive, that encouraged creativity and collaboration. "You were at the back when we galloped over the fields, I didn’t see the colour of your horse – what was it?"

By taking the class outside on an imaginative adventure and throwing herself into it as much as they did, the teacher had shown the children that it’s OK – even exciting – to pretend.

I witnessed the children constantly looking to the teacher, checking for validation and permission. Was it OK to say that you just bought mustard ice-cream from the magic shop, or that you have X-ray glasses on? As the experience unfolded, the boundaries of what was acceptable to imagine seemed to melt. "If I can gallop on a horse, maybe I can put on an invisible cape? Maybe I can use my teleportal machine?"

The world is changing, and our young people need to be resilient, adaptable, creative and imaginative. They are going to need to think out of the box, find solutions to profound environmental and economic issues, and have the confidence to believe they can contribute. 

A final thought. No prior knowledge was needed for a child to take part, no additional resourcing was needed, no assessment or identification of "need" was employed, no "label" invoked.  Every child went on a memorable adventure, every child could recall and share that adventure – and every child was successful. That, in a nutshell, is equity in education.

Natalie White is a principal teacher and development officer for outdoor learning, in East Ayrshire, Scotland

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Natalie White

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