Humanities - Space: the final frontier

4th November 2011 at 00:00
Children must experience the outdoors if they are to thrive

We were 10 years old and the summer of `76 was hot and dry - warm enough to wear only shorts and T-shirts as we headed out to play each day, straight after breakfast, heading home only in time for tea. Clambering over the fence at the back of our friend's garden, we crossed a playing field into a hayfield. One of us played sentry, looking out for the farmer, and if they spotted him we ran to the safety of the school grounds as fast as we could.

This was in suburban Croydon, on the outskirts of London, which had largely become a concrete jungle. However, places to play were still plentiful. As a child it meant I had the chance to create my own awareness of geographical space, expand the boundaries of the world beyond my home and gain appreciation of how natural environments changed. Little did I know it, but the seeds of a good story were also sown over the landscape I explored.

The scene would be very different today when most computer-savvy 10-year- olds are more likely to experience the four corners of the world through the internet and communicate with school friends on social networking sites. But their experiences lack the immersion that my generation had as we explored our neighbourhood through play. Nothing gives a geographer such spatial awareness and environmental appreciation as being in, and feeling, the outdoors.

From the experiences of my childhood - and my life as a teacher - grew the seed of my first novel, which focuses on a little girl, Martha Smith, from the City of Newcastle. It is the end of this century, England consists of four cities in a federation, the climate has cooled and Martha has never seen a green space. But all this changes when Rudi and Trojan visit from the City of Manchester and the three discover a secret playing field that by law should have been demolished decades earlier. It is a book that aims to remind us how important the right to play and places to play in are to children, and their future.

Children are born storytellers and love to spin a good yarn. For us as teachers, however, in order to nurture this natural ability, we need to take them to places to play and on field trips that help them explore the world close to, and far from, their neighbourhood.

Natasha Miles is a school principal in Canada who started teaching in Wales in 1993. She is the author of "A Place to Play", published by Pegasus Elliott MacKenzie Publishers


Comenius has shared a huge pack of topic planning resources for Year 1, including five weeks of cross-curricular planning on the theme "gardener's world".

For more ideas on activities for cross-curricular outdoor learning, visit our Outdoor Learning Collection.

In the forums

Have you got any good ideas for personalising your outdoor area at school? Share them in the TES forums.

Find links to all this week's resources and forums at


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