Happy on the outside

12th July 2013 at 01:00
Let children get their hands on the great outdoors, but mind what they pick up .

I thought I was being so dynamic when I first revealed my intentions.

"My class is doing history outside today," I announced to my (more experienced) year group partner.

"Why," she asked, "when you could use a PowerPoint?"

Then came the warnings of the dangers of teaching outside: injuries, distractions, nettle stings and the possibility of the five-year-olds arranging some kind of coup.

Our children come from a housing estate of high rises, so I knew that they were not the kind of children who ran around fields picking strawberries; they were the kind who thought that being in an Asda superstore was "outside". So I armed myself with a whistle and red bad behaviour cards, just in case they went crazy.

I began the lesson indoors by telling them we were being evacuated to the countryside. They grabbed their coats and bags and followed me out of the classroom. Even walking across the playground their behaviour changed - they began twirling and skipping.

"This is not playtime," I snapped. "This is the Second World War."

We continued to our school "garden", a scrappy bit of land, home to a few potted tomato plants. As soon as we stepped on to the grass, the children ran off screaming - except for Destiny, who stood by my side and burst into tears. "I want to go home," she said. "I don't like the countryside."

I blew my whistle. I needed them to come and sit in a circle so we could go over our learning objectives and success criteria, but when I looked up they were too busy throwing their jumpers into the trees.

I had lost control. Loud threats of red cards and "You'll never be allowed out again" finally got them back, but they were too excited to concentrate, dizzy with fresh air and amazed at Nathan's ability to catch a bee and secure it in his pocket.

I tried to get back on track by passing around some artefacts that I found in the history cupboard and getting the children to describe them, but found myself upstaged by a sample of dried fox poo.

It got worse when the wind carried my lesson plan away. Then one child's eye swelled shut from pollen. Then they simultaneously all needed to relieve themselves.

Defeated, windswept, we headed back to class. I just wanted them to understand what it would have been like for evacuees in the Second World War.

"Miss, are we going back to London now?" they asked. Then it hit me: they believed it. It had worked.

It struck me that they had done exactly what city kids evacuated to the countryside did back in the early 1940s. They cried, got overexcited and some just sat and happily ate dirt. Could they have got this same experience from a PowerPoint? A video? A naff travelling theatre group?

Now, I teach outside so often that I've invested in a coat-shaped duvet. Even when the last thing I want to do is wrap myself in crepe paper and pretend to be Guru Nanak, outdoor teaching still beats a PowerPoint every time.

Ellie Silverton is a primary teacher in southeast London.

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