An outside chance

12th July 2013 at 01:00

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 very real possibility of the five-year-olds organising some kind of coup.

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

I began the lesson indoors, telling the children that we were being evacuated to the countryside. They collected their coats and bags bemusedly and followed me out of the classroom. Walking across the playground, their behaviour began to change: they were twirling, skipping and delegating who was "it".

"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 and London's most notorious minibeast hotel. As soon as we stepped on to the grass the children all ran off screaming, except for Destiny, who stood by my side and burst into tears. "I want to go home," she sobbed. "I don't like the countryside."

I blew my whistle. I needed the children to sit in a circle so that 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" eventually got them to come back but they were too excited to concentrate, dizzy from the 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 had discovered in the history cupboard and getting the children to describe them. I was upstaged by a sample of dried fox poo.

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

Defeated and windswept, we headed back to class. I had simply 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: it had worked. Not in the way I thought, but they got it.

It struck me that they had done exactly what city children evacuated to the countryside did in the early 1940s. They cried, got overexcited and some sat and happily ate dirt. Could they have had the same experience from a PowerPoint?

Now, older, wiser and caring a little less about control, I teach outside so often that I've invested in a coat-shaped duvet. We've had injuries, accidents (the wet kind) and once a child fell asleep under a bench but I still champion the outdoors. 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.

Ellie Silverton teaches children aged 5-6 in southeast London, England.

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