I love the autumn, there’s a whole school year ahead to get stuck into. Everything is possible in September and everyone is fresh and bright-eyed for a new academic year. We have great plans for where we will have reached by next summer (a lifetime away) and the strides we’ll take to get there. It’s all about looking ahead and reaching high.
For me, this autumn is a chance to plan for some of the great ideas shared between teachers and outdoor learning providers during collaborations in the summer term. Putting some of those “stolen chestnuts” into practice.
We were delighted to be visited by Lindy and Paul from Australia in the summer. Lindy is an early years trainer in Sydney, interested in forest school in the UK and in developing “Bush Kindy” in Australia.
“If you can take children out in your weather, then we’ve got no excuse.”
Paul, a science educator, is working on planned failure with his students. Setting impossible tasks that develop skills including persistence and a healthy attitude to real life problem solving. It’s absolutely about the process, and not the product.
Lindy and Paul joined in with the 4 and 5 year olds visiting us for a day of story-telling activities; exploring the fairy tale props around the wood, adventuring on the sailing boat we had made last time from some cut branches, mixing up a feast in the mud kitchen, creating a natural banner for our planned party and making up our own versions of traditional tales.
In return, Lindy showed me great pictures of trips into the bush with a preschool group, talked at length about the joys of outdoor learning and the similar barriers evident on both sides of the world. As promised, Lindy also shared an Aboriginal game for us to enjoy outside.
“It’s called ngaka ngaka and it starts off like noughts and crosses.”
My experiences of noughts and crosses are largely disappointing to be honest…My children have each gone through obsessive noughts and crosses playing for a period of time. It starts with enthusiasm but it doesn’t take too much playing to know that the person who goes first will most probably win. Or that no-one wins. Game over. Or actually, with an excited 4 year old, game starts again, and again, and again…
Also last winter we had a Stick Day at forest school and, amongst other things, we made some games using woodland materials. I was trying to (subtly) give the group an understanding that they only needed a few simple materials to play, as opposed to the electronic games machines they had all received for Christmas. One group of children carefully made a great noughts and crosses stick game, neatly cut and lashed, demonstrating great co-operation. But the game itself didn’t live up to expectations, and they soon got bored of playing. Noughts and crosses had let me down, and no doubt they were back to their screens before bedtime.
So, third time lucky for noughts and crosses?
Lindy showed me that with some simple additions the game can be transformed, as shown by the Aboriginal version that requires strategic thinking, yet remains uncomplicated enough for everyone to have a go.
Like noughts and crosses the object of the Aboriginal version is to be the first to get your three counters in a diagonal, vertical or horizontal row before your opponent. Lindy and I played the game on the woodland floor, using a stick grid and some woodland treasures we had found for our three counters. We discovered that leaves blow away, but three stones and three cones worked well.
Unlike noughts and crosses a 4 x 4 grid is used, and phase two of the game begins when both players have laid three counters and no one has positioned three in a row. At this point in noughts and crosses the game is declared a draw and a persistent four year old wants to play again, again or a disappointed eight year old wanders off. In the Aboriginal version players then take turns moving one of their stones (or cones) to an empty square on the grid. Counters can be moved in any direction, provided it does not need to jump over another. You can move diagonally. You have to move when it’s your turn. Simple. Give it a try.
These are small additions to the game and yet it’s transformed. An inspired difference in play. Strategic thinking is required, consequences of moves need to be considered and to “look look” ahead is essential. Yet it remains simple enough for everyone to be able to have a go. Thank you Lindy, for sharing this, and for drawing my attention to the enormous impact of a small change, a little step opening up a huge doorway of opportunity and learning.
So while I set my sights on the destination that the great strides might takes us this autumn, I’m reminded to also notice the many ant steps each stride covers, and the great delight from achieving so much, so simply. So, here are my top three tiny ant steps to take learning outside this autumn for teachers looking to add a bit of bush kindy to their own practice.
- Bring outside inside.
Start a nature table, or a nature basket in your classroom. Pop it under your chair if you’ve run out of class space already. Invite children to bring something in that they have found, or a picture to talk about. Some children with show sparks of enthusiasm to build upon through the year.
- Talk about it.
Have a conversation with a colleague about an idea you’ve got to take a story, a maths starter or a science lesson outside. Give it a go while autumn is still providing us with some warmth, and take some time to talk about how it went afterwards.
- Stay outside after playtime or PE.
When you have lined up in the playground after playtime, turn the line around and instead of walking into the classroom, stay out to do a little something for five minutes. After all everyone already has their coat on. Find something interesting, look at the sky, read a poem, have a chat. If you are lucky enough to have a green space to explore, use it. Link it in with your classroom plan; make it a starter for learning – today’s letter, set a number challenge, a bit of PSHE, or use your senses to experience what it’s like out there today and brainstorm some adjectives for writing or spelling.
And wherever you are on your outdoor learning journey, have a game of ngaka ngaka. You might just look look at things a little differently differently.