Children at Burntstump Seely Church of England Academy have been enjoying the great outdoors, exploring their new woodland classroom area.
The school, located at the summit of Burntstump Hill already benefits from an idyllic rural setting, but until now, hasn’t been able to access the secure woodland at the rear of the school property. “It’s a really amazing space for children,” said Head Teacher, Heather Gabb. “When families are touring the school, they are so surprised at the land we have available for children to enjoy. Now we have opened up the new field and woodland we have even more magical areas for children to enjoy their outdoor learning.”
Ellis Atkinson is the school’s Early Years teacher and she says the area has opened up new possibilities for children. “It was during lockdown that we began turning the field and woodland into an outdoor classroom for structured sessions and child-led play. Our site manager used old logs recycled from playground equipment to make a story circle and everything else is handmade from natural materials or upcycled items.”
A favourite with the children; the environmental area now has a mud kitchen, wind spinners made by children, pinecone animals, old tyres to balance on and bird feeders made from recycled milk cartons.
Ellis says she believes that anything that can be taught in a classroom can be taught outside, often with more memorable results for children and their learning. “For example, when we did a maths session on measuring, rather than laminating pictures to compare and order in the classroom, the outdoors provided a more meaningful experience as we used rocks, sticks and leaves to talk about size. It also provides the perfect space to study wildlife and habitat, environmental issues and plant and tree recognition. We even have pheasants on the field and children love listening out for them and asking questions about them.” The area has also provided a space in which children can explore safety lessons when visiting woodland or rural areas.
“We have a newly grassed field area which in future we will use for games and sports activities. The early years class plan to have a teddy bears picnic on there too!” said Ellis.
Lilith, age 5, says it’s the mini beasts that are on her radar. “I like looking for bugs! I really like caterpillars because they change into butterflies. Also, we can run around outside, and we can be free in nature! It is so fun outside!”
Fellow pupils have big plans for the mud kitchen. Michael and Charandeep (both age 4) say the best activity is making mud pies, and Peter (age 5) agreed saying, “I like writing recipes in the woods. I wrote a recipe to make a mud milk shake for the mud kitchen and everyone followed the instructions to make it.”
Teacher, Ellis Atkinson, said that she thinks the woodland area offers further benefits. “We think it has increased the overall wellbeing of our children, particularly after the difficulties surrounding recent times. The area provides opportunities for the children to take calculated risks, moving on uneven terrain, climbing trees, balancing on logs and tyres. They are pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and realising what they are capable of. We have had many magical moments of ‘I can do it!’ Children have had so much fun outside that they often do not realise that they are learning!”
Now the school says they are making plans to use the space more, no matter the weather, with children wearing all weather clothing.
Michal (age 5) said “I like to exercise! My favourite is the ‘follow me’ game.” Fellow pupil Nevaeh, (age 5), said, “I like drawing in the woods on the clipboards and we can read books sitting on logs.”
Children also have their own plans for developing the space. Charandeep (age 4) said digging and planting seeds would be good and Peter (age 5) said he would like to do some composting. But for Nevaeh (age 5), it’s all about the wildlife. “I would like to learn more about hedgehogs and squirrels and all the animals that live in the woods!”
Teacher Ellis said no matter what the weather, the school will make the most of their new woodland classroom. “We plan to continue making it a truly magical space for children, and one in which they are excited to learn.”