Make mud pies and fires

9th February 2007 at 00:00
Too much indoor cosseting is producing a generation of risk-free wimps, conference told

teachers need to be taught how to "get dirty" playing al fresco, according to experts in outdoor play. Delegates at a major conference on outdoor play were told that most had no idea how to make mud pies or play with sticks (TESCymru, February 2).

Trevor Roach, head of education and science at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, claimed many young teachers lacked the outdoor play skills necessary to teach the Assembly government's flagship play-based foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds.

Speaking at the Forestry Commission Wales's (FCW) annual Woodlands for Learning conference last week, Mr Roach said one of the skills being offered to teachers on a special course at the gardens was how to dig a hole in the ground. "We are working with teachers who don't have outdoor experiences and they need to be taught them," he said.

"They are being trained in things that might seem obvious to people from my generation."

Speakers at the conference, held at Carmarthen's Trinity College last Friday, attacked the "cotton wool" culture in schools and among teachers and parents.

Mike Greenaway, director of Play Wales, the national organisation for children's play, said children should be encouraged to take more risks - even learning how to "safely" play with fire.

"Children lead hermetically-sealed existences these days," he said. "We work with some who have never lit a match in their life - and that appalls me.

"Playing with fire to get experience of it is the best way to learn."

Mr Greenaway, an adviser to the Assembly government on its play strategy and foundation phase, claimed children from all backgrounds are deprived of play.

"A lot of children now only play outdoors with their friends in school during break or dinner time," he told delegates.

The Assembly government launched its national play strategy in 2006, the first of its kind in the UK. It wants to see "staffed adventure play" to compensate for lost open space, with children involved in planning and designing.

The FCW has around 80 forest school initiatives running across Wales, where pupils of all ages get the chance to learn conventional subjects in a woodland setting.

Classes for older children have also been found to be useful for those disaffected with the education system.

Sue Ginley, FCW education officer, said: "The beauty is that you can fit any curriculum-based activity into a woodland setting."

At Tremorfa nursery school in Cardiff, an area of the playground has been allowed to grow wild for children to use as a forest school.

Annamaria Bevan, the forest school leader at Tremorfa, said children's personalities have developed in ways they cannot when they are confined inside.

Pupils are encouraged to make dens, play on swings, find insects and sit around the fire toasting food on sticks which they have carved themselves.

Mrs Bevan said: "So much learning comes out of it - you see huge rises in children's self-esteem.

"They become confident learners and they transfer those attitudes to the indoor classroom."

* aled.blake@tes.co.uk

Leader, page 26

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