Taking risks on Outdoor Classroom Day!?! Be prepared to dare!

19th April 2017

By Cath Prisk

As teachers, our job is not to hand children back to doting parents clean and unharmed. It’s our job to educate them. To frame experiences and shape environments where they can grow. Where they can dare! And be amazed…

That doesn’t mean being reckless, or exposing children to unnecessary hazards, but it does mean ensuring we give them experiences that will drive their learning and development.

And as every scout, climber, fireman and indeed teacher knows, the difference between hazardous experience and challenging growth is preparation and planning. It doesn’t mean hovering, but it does mean thinking.

As a young teacher, the first time I decided to take a class that I was covering outdoors without any planning was, to put it mildly, a disaster. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but precious little learning happened and the children were mightily confused. I learnt a LOT. My teacher training never covered this, but I knew it was important. I read and reflected with my colleagues on how I could take lessons outdoors without the kids simply running around screaming… And the next time was a dream. Actually, it might have been a few lessons more… but 20 years later I remember the moment when I looked round at a small sea of shining faces and realised how much more effective it was to go outdoors for our science lessons than just looking at a book. I love books too of course. But first children need to experience the world. That day little Mohsin – often a tiny trouble maker of the first order – was engrossed in coaxing a worm onto his hand and Annabel forgot she had said she was scared of them. Lee had stopped freaking out about the dirt on his shoes and there was that contented buzz of children fascinated. On coming back in we had lots to discuss, to draw, to document and tell parents about. And lots more to discover.

I always left time for a bit of running around though!

Girl rolling tyre in the playground

Going outside on your own school grounds should be straightforward on Outdoor Classroom Day and shouldn’t require any special permissions. If you are unsure, check with your principal. Of course, many schools around the world don’t have their own grounds, or you might want to go a bit further afield. If you are going off site then make sure you abide by your school’s off site rules and procedures. Carry out a risk:benefit assessment of the activities you are going to do – whether off or on site (see Balancing Risks and Benefits in Outdoor Learning and Play by Tim Gill in the Outdoor Library). Risk:benefit assessments are common in most industries, and simply mean we decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. Yes, taking the children onto wet grass or giving them adult tools to do some gardening may be hazardous, but the pride they will feel afterwards and the competencies they develop will be worth it! In their play too, allowing and even encouraging more risk can bring huge rewards. Schools that encourage play fighting report reductions in real fights. Schools that encourage tree climbing and running report children returning to class readier to learn.

Do make sure you have the right first aid/incident reporting procedures in place. It sounds obvious, but it can’t be said often enough. There are lots of online courses and books to help you, and an outdoor paediatric first aid course can help you feel much more confident, especially if you are going more than a few minutes walk from the school or you are planning on taking children for bigger adventures. And if you feel confident, the children will be feel it too. The fact is most schools report seeing a reduction in accidents when they encourage more risky play, but it pays to be prepared. Especially if you are trying something new.

If you are going off site you need to make sure that your insurance policy covers you for any liabilities in accordance with any usual off site activities that you undertake and that you have any special permissions in place. This also applies to any transportation that you may be using.

But Outdoor Classroom Day isn’t really about the big adventures – important though they are – it’s really about the small ones. It’s finding the wild spaces round the back of the school. It’s seeing the playground with fresh eyes open to the learning opportunities it affords. It’s about having a go. Maybe offering the children just a lot of scrap, standing back and seeing what happens…

As we say on the back of all the Outdoor Classroom Day books… Do be aware you get involved at your own risk, and be prepared to be amazed…

Further reading

Managing Risk in Play Provision, UK’s Play Safety Forum

Balancing Risks and Benefits in Outdoor Learning and Play, Tim Gill

Teacher Tom’s Blog – an ongoing brilliant blog about the realities of teaching outdoors day in day out. Teacher Tom’s kindergarten is for younger children, but much of the practice is applicable to older children.

The School with No Rules – the surprising benefits a New Zealand primary school saw when they took away playground rules, and a fantastic case study of what happens when a child breaks their arm.

Please share your experiences or ask for help on the Facebook group too.

One thought on "Taking risks on Outdoor Classroom Day!?! Be prepared to dare!"

  1. Tim Gill says:

    Lovely to read this Cath. Preparation and planning, yes – but also being prepared to get a little outside of our comfort zones, so that children can get a little outside of theirs and find out what they are capable of. Vygotskians will know where I’m coming from here!

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Wohoo! Top marks for signing up!!!

Thanks for joining the movement, we can’t wait to see what you get up to on the day! Please share this with your colleagues and friends to help us make it possible for every child to get outdoors to learn and play every day 🙂

Thank you for supporting Outdoor Classroom Day!

We’ll send you a newsletter shortly. Time to play is critical for every child – share your moments with us by tagging #OutdoorClassroomDay and make every day a day to learn and play outdoors!

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