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By Nina Filipekfreelance education writer

Break free of the four walls and take your teaching into nature. There’s so much cross-curricular potential out there

Outdoor learning doesn’t mean you have to organise a special trip. Why not make the most of the outdoors right outside your classroom window? Look at the opportunities for learning within the grounds of your school and build some outdoors time into your curriculum this spring.

mini scarecrow

Best-dressed scarecrow (art and design)

You will need: small wooden spoon; buttons to decorate; scraps of wool and thread; fabric for the clothes; sticks and twigs; PVA glue; child-friendly scissors.

Make a family of scarecrows to protect young seedlings growing in your outdoor space. As well as Mr Scarecrow, you can make Mrs Scarecrow and their scarecrow children, using different-sized spoons and specially designed clothes. Link with D&T objectives to design paper patterns for the clothes, and discuss the best materials to use. For example, you might decide to only use waterproof fabrics and test their suitability in your science lessons.

Start by using wool to attach the scarecrow’s ‘arms’ (a straight twig or a wooden chopstick) to the handle of the spoon. Place the scarecrow on top of your fabric (or tracing paper if you are going to make a pattern first). Draw a jacket to fit around the shape of the body, leaving a space to join the seams later. Cut it out carefully (you will need a front and back) and either glue or sew the sides together. Decorate and add details to your scarecrow using buttons and other scrap materials.

wind vane

Which way the wind blows! (geography)

You will need: pencil with eraser on the top; plastic drinking straw; drawing pin; coloured paper; decorative feathers; stapler; PVA glue; child-friendly scissors; plant pot.

Cut out a 21cm x 21cm square and cut diagonally to make two large triangles. You will only need one triangle to make the ‘sail’. Fold this triangle in half and staple one side of it to the edge of the straw; the folded edge should make a vertical line at right angles to the straw. Attach to the top of the pencil eraser using the drawing pin. Decorate the sail with brightly-coloured paper streamers. You could turn it into a rocket with drawn-on booster engines or make an exotic bird by adding coloured feathers. Stick your wind vane in a plant pot and place in a windy spot in an elevated position. Your wind vane will point in the direction from where the wind is blowing. Mark north, south, east and west on the side of the pot, and keep a record of wind direction every day for one week. What do you notice?

Flower shade

Screen on the green (D&T)

You will need: three bamboo canes; one piece of fabric 1m², ideally with a flower or leaf pattern; child-friendly scissors; scrap ribbon or garden twine; Plasticine or clay.

This screen will give your outdoor area a little privacy and protection from the sun. Before you make it, take the square of fabric and use it to estimate and measure a table, a bookcase, the carpet or a floor space in the classroom. Get the children to experience how much a square metre is, and talk about things that are bought in square metres. Then, to make the screen, lay two of the bamboo canes on the ground one metre apart. Make narrow cuts in the fabric down each side and across the top, so that you can weave the canes through the material. Tie the fabric tightly to the canes at the corners with ribbon. Secure the third cane across the top and fasten the top edge of the fabric with ribbon.

Now you can find a suitable place for your screen. The ground will need to be soft so that you can bury the canes deep into the soil. Once in position, stick a protective ball of Plasticine or clay onto the end of each cane as a safety precaution.

mini Japanese garden

Japanese garden (PSHE)

You will need: a large tray; play sand; gravel; rocks and stones; kitchen fork.

Create a Japanese ‘dry’ garden on a tray. The children can even tend the garden daily as Zen Buddhist monks do, using little forks to rake the sand. Design your garden on paper first, according to these basic principles: use only curved lines and natural materials; use sand and rocks to denote the seashore; use rocks as ornaments or bridges, arranging them asymmetrically (like islands in a sea of gravel) in groups of three, five or seven; use flat stones as stepping stone pathways, and use a fork to rake the sand into wave patterns to represent the movement of water around the rocks.

Point out contrasting (opposite) features to the children, such as a tall, vertical rock and a small, round pebble. Tell the children that a Japanese garden is meant to be a quiet place where people can go to think about problems and events of the day. Encourage them to look after the garden and perhaps take one of their small-world people on a ‘walk’ through it.


Flower power (numeracy)

You will need: rectangles of coloured corrugated card (6cm x 7cm); small pom-poms; paperclips; sticky tape; 1m of ribbon; child-friendly scissors.

These daisies are easy for young children to make, and together they form a daisy chain number line that will brighten up your outdoor numeracy lessons! For each flower, make a series of straight cuts in the card, following the corrugated ridges and stopping in the middle of the rectangle. Bend the card into a tube and fasten with sticky tape. Open out each of the petals and push a small pom-pom into the flower’s centre. Attach the finished flower to the ribbon using a paperclip.

You can add and take away daisies from the chain, or group them by colour into sets. If each child in your class makes one daisy, perhaps you could count up to 15, 20 or even 25?

Letters in a bush

Heard it on the grapevine (literacy)

You will need: coloured card; gift ribbon; hole-punch; felt-tipped marker.

Have your phonics lessons outdoors! Break down the key words that you want the children to learn into different letter sounds, and write these on leaf shapes cut from card. Use a hole-punch to make a hole in each leaf, and thread with ribbon. Tie to small bushes and trees in the school grounds for the children to find. You can ask the children to collect specific colours or leaf shapes. Tell them to put all the leaves together and arrange them in the correct order to make a word. The words might name the trees found in your school grounds or locality, or be the names of flowers growing nearby. With more able children, miss out one of the sounds and give them a blank leaf on which they should write the missing sound.

Spider and fly on a web

The spider and the fly (science)

You will need: large, shiny buttons or small stones; pipe-cleaners; small fuzzy pom-poms; glittery cellophane, silky ribbon or chiffon for wings; PVA glue; Plasticine; shiny spray paint (optional); reference books.

Look for minibeasts in your outdoor area and record your observations in a spotter book, detailing when, where, who and what was found. Make a model to represent each creature you find and display your models outside in an insectarium (an old plastic fish tank or transparent box would be ideal).

Encourage older and more able children to make their models as realistic as possible. Refer to encyclopaedias, wildlife books and the internet to find out more about each creature’s shape, colour, texture and patterning. Use shiny buttons, smooth stones and beads to make the minibeasts’ bodies and eyes, pipe-cleaners for legs, and sheer fabrics for wings. A flattened oval of Plasticine underneath each creature’s body will hold all the body parts together.