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I’m time poor!

Dr Catherine Foley provides practical advice on how to ensure teaching outdoors doesn't make extra demands on a teacher's time.
Children using pipettes and measuring jugs outside
© University of Reading

Let’s be honest – teachers have a lot to think about. Whatever your context, you will be juggling external and internal pressures constantly. There’s a curriculum to deliver, government policy to satisfy, parents, carers and colleagues to collaborate and communicate with, and of course the small matter of keeping young minds energised, supported and fulfilled. So you may be thinking at this point in this course – all this is great, but how am I supposed to fit it in?

Here are some ideas for integrating climate education outdoors within the demands of a busy role and packed curriculum.

Identify areas of the curriculum that are a natural fit

You might start with areas of the curriculum that lend themselves naturally to this approach. In mathematics in England for example, six- and seven-year-olds need to learn to measure and record aspects of measure such as heights or volume. It can be time consuming to find all the right resources for a lesson teaching these skills, and difficult to come up with meaningful contexts. If you have set up a weather station where children regularly read rainfall amounts from a scale, or record the height their sunflower plants have reached in different growing positions, you can secure these skills without needing to plan bespoke, resource-heavy lessons – the activities become integrated into your day.

Start with something you are confident in…

You will find it quicker and easier to plan for outdoor learning if ideas come naturally. So if teaching poetry is your first love and you can easily generate ideas, try taking your class outside to identify examples of the Fibonacci sequence in nature and use this as an inspiration to write Fibonacci poems (based on the number of syllables in each new number in the Fibonacci sequence). Children will be learning about and writing new forms of poetry, all while growing to notice their natural environment.

©University of Reading

… or frustrated by!

All teachers have their parts of the curriculum they find challenging to teach. It might be learning to tell the time or devising interesting ways of teaching children about compass directions in geography. Picking one of these as a focus can help you to overcome an area that takes up more planning time than it should. Could children create a map and compass directions for visitors to navigate around the different habitat sites in their school?

Be clear about the learning objectives – and able to talk about them with senior leaders

Like it or not, school leaders are accountable for the progress and development of children against agreed curricular objectives. So always make sure that you can justify how your approach meets the learning objectives. Think creatively about how digital photographs or simple voice recordings can be used to capture evidence of impact on learning – the very fact that learning about climate and sustainability takes place over extended periods of time lends itself to evidencing pupil progress (as you saw in Step 1.7). Children who could measure to the nearest centilitre at the beginning of your rainfall project will be able to do so to the nearest millilitre by the end; children who could make simple groupings of animals into vertebrates and invertebrates at the start of a project to increase biodiversity within an allocated class ‘patch’ will be able to use keys to identify different types of invertebrates as they compete to prove that their class has been most successful.

Let’s look at an example.

Five-year-olds at Potters Gate CE Primary School and St. Andrew’s CE Infant School used recycled wood squares to make flower presses. They drilled the holes with a hand drill and explored a range of bolts and wing nuts to see which ones matched and fitted the holes before choosing the most suitable ones. They then cut recycled card and paper to fit the flower press. They will be using them to collect examples of plants that they grow in their garden areas whilst also watching the change of season, learning plant names and the parts of flowers. The investment of time by the teacher and children paid off as areas of the curriculum from design and technology to science and geography were addressed.
©Potters Gate CE Primary School and St. Andrew’s CE Infant School.

Work in partnership with support staff or local enthusiasts

Find out who are the hidden gems in your class community. A parent might be able to set up a composting project for you, there could be a teaching assistant with a passion for bird watching or an aunt who works in a local recycling plant. If it ‘takes a village to raise a child’, as the saying goes, it shouldn’t rest all on your shoulders to start moving learning outdoors. Your role is to know what you want to achieve, and how to assess whether you have done so – tap into your class community wherever possible.

Get organised!

The more children can be independent in learning outdoors because resources are well organised, the less time-consuming it will be for you. If you can be confident that you can get out ‘whatever the weather’, you won’t need to plan back-up activities or spend your own energy or curricular time teaching children new routines.

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If you work with older children, visit an early years class and watch how the children are taught to be independent and manage their own resources.

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What kinds of classroom activities would you like to take outside if you had time? What’s stopping you from doing so? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

© University of Reading
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Teaching Climate and Sustainability in Primary Schools: An Outdoor Learning Approach

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