On a crisp autumn morning, muffled voices and laughter can be heard as the registration tent is erected for the P7 Orienteering Festival. Soon the air will be full of shouts of encouragement and enthusiasm as the pupils arrive. This is a key date in Midlothian Council's outdoor learning service's calendar.
Meanwhile, in a P7 classroom, an orienteering team has an Ordnance Survey map spread out across tables so they can time and test each other finding place names. This is an attempt to burn off nervous energy and prepare for their arrival at the festival later that day.
It will come as no surprise that outdoor events such as these provide fantastic educational experiences for participating staff and pupils. Orienteering lessons have been delivered in Scottish schools for many years and provide endless active learning opportunities which are cross-curricular, involving subject areas such as maths, English, social subjects, expressive arts, physical education, environmental studies and health and well-being.
The increased flexibility of A Curriculum for Excellence allows for greater inclusion of outdoor learning experiences during school time, which can support the four capacities CfE aspires to develop. Orienteering can involve whole classes or individuals, it is inexpensive, helps develop life skills, is enjoyable and safe. Importantly, schools get active in the outdoors, and pupils can develop a lifelong love of outdoor activities.
To get schools involved, the outdoor learning service in Midlothian attracted a Lottery grant from Awards for All. This allowed it to have each primary and secondary school and local parks mapped. High-quality colour maps are an important resource and can be updated electronically as school grounds change. During the launch, Scott Fraser, the national development officer for orienteering, presented a map pack to representatives from each school. It contained orienteering markers, control punches, a disc with an electronic map and 30 colour maps - enough to get teachers and pupils moving.
After the schools were mapped, it was important to provide teachers with the skills to deliver orienteering lessons. Hilary Quick, from Scottish Orienteering, delivered a course on Teaching Orienteering. As always, her training was interactive with participants rarely sitting in their seats for longer than 30 minutes. This is one of the best ways to learn about orienteering.
"Very enjoyable" and "learned lots and keen to start with pupils" were some of the responses from attending teachers. This course was oversubscribed and had a mix of primary and high school teachers, from geography to PE; such varied participants support cross-curricular links.
After the training, the participants could introduce the basic skills of orienteering to beginners in a fun, exciting and safe way on areas such as a school site. With training and mapping resources in place, teachers can deliver lessons and provide a pathway for students to develop skills. Classroom and gym activities provide the first challenges, progressing to school grounds and parks.
Schools in Midlothian can contact the outdoor learning team to organise events in wilder areas, increasing the challenge.
The P7 Orienteering Festival fits comfortably into this pathway and allows pupils to put their new skills into action. The event, which takes place in a local country park, starts with a warm-up activity followed by a timed cross-country. It is difficult to describe the level of enthusiasm children have at the chance to work independently and unsupervised in the outdoors, as such opportunities are now rare and are rich learning experiences. An event that is properly organised, in a suitable venue with experienced staffed will provide real learning opportunities safely.
By providing outdoor learning activities, raising awareness of permanent orienteering courses and "Come and Try It Events", the aim is to ensure that pupils continue to return to the outdoors throughout their school career.
Scotland has many schools with ideal grounds for orienteering, which are in close proximity to green spaces. Investment in such activities can pay rich dividends for all. So why are you waiting? Get involved!
Eoin Keane is an outdoor learning teacher with Midlothian Council
The priority schools booking began this week for this year's Bank Of Scotland Imaginate Festival of children's theatre, taking place from May 25 to June 1.
Fifteen productions are on offer, for children of all ages, and this year the home-grown productions are joined by companies from Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy and Australia, with a co-production by Visible Fictions and the The Children's Theatre from Minneapolis.
This festival is firmly targeted at schools, and to support their "Pounds 5 a ticket" and free tickets for accompanying teachers, Imaginate provides an infrastructure that includes subsidised travel, free parking, road crossing patrols, and sandwich-eating areas.
For all the information, booking details and to download a schools booking brochure, teachers are advised to go to the Imaginate website. Full performance details will also be featured on the Young Audiences Scotland website in the near future.
Valerie Reid, schools co-ordinator
T 0131 225 8050