Stepping stones to success;week;Outdoor education;Books

9th July 1999 at 01:00
There's no need to head for the hills with this package of trail-based activities, writes Chris Loynes.

If you are seeking ideas for outdoor and adventurous activities but lack extensive facilities or easy access to the countryside, Crossing the Swamp, or maybe Kim's Trail, could be a step in the right direction. These, and almost 20 similar activity challenges form part of TOP Outdoors, the latest sports support package from the Youth Sport Trust.

Designed by the trust in partnership with the Outdoor Education Advisers' panel, the card-based activities mostly demand little more space than the school playground, although some open ground would help a great deal with some.

Designed for key stage 2, the pack offers a varied set of challenges and comes bursting with cross-curricular links. The activities are set on brightly coloured tough paper cards, with each area (activity, resources, safety, curriculum reference and so on) clearly marked.

The challenges, trails and exercises are all well chosen for teachers with limited experience of working out of doors with adventure. The easy-to-follow guidelines and clear resource and safety notes are concise and reassuring. And none of the tasks will break the bank. Crossing the Swamp, for example uses carpet tiles, milk crates or strong upturned boxes as stepping stones within a marked area (the swamp).

The cards all follow the same format: each activity is illustrated to give an immediate idea of how it is set up and run; then notes on the flipside do the rest. Many of the challenges will work just as well for older students or even for staff development days.

All the activities can be undertaken by a whole class, and all of them are suited to groups of mixed abilities and ages. The guide comes with notes on including children with physical disabilities.

One of the pack's strengths is the ease with which it can be adapted to raise or lower the level of the challenge, or to fit the site or time available. Crossing the Swamp, for instance, can be made easier by moving the props, or more difficult by say, blindfolding one member of the group, or introducing a trip wire. Notes offer suggestions, or your own imagination will do just as well. You could even try using some of the cards as briefings for one group of children to set up an activity for another.

The accompanying handbook explains how the activities fit into learning outcomes. One drawback is that ideas for reviewing or following up the activities are limited and rely heavily on verbal skills alone.

Although any teacher with imagination will be able to integrate these activities into the curriculum, full training will be provided by the local authority advisory service. There's nothing like a trial run to iron out any problems. The cards give no guidance on the time each activity might take.

A practice will also give more idea of how to sequence the activities, cover the safety aspects and make best use of the setting up and follow on in the classroom. Watch out particularly for the set-up time - setting up well in advance can be a problem unless the site is supervised.

I've run all the activities successfully with staff and I recommend this programme as fun, active and educational. I look forward to the next instalment.

TOP Outdoors is available free through your local education authority. Schools should contact their local authority PE adviser.Chris Loynes has been a teacher and youth worker in oudoor education and now provides training and support services.

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