Early Years Staffroom

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Inspirational Outdoors Conference


Our competition winner Liz Marples talks about her experience at the Inspirational Outdoors Conference courtesy of the Early Years Staffroom..... What an absolutely amazing and inspiring conference!  I have come home full of ideas to implement at school.  The Inspirational outdoors workshops are hosted at Mount Pleasant Ecological park in Porthtowan, which is a feast for the eyes with so many excellent examples of an inviting and inspirational outdoor learning environment. To open the whole Inspirational Outdoors event, Martin Besford, who created Highway Farm Activity Centre, did an excellent and engaging key note speech about how to make the most of your outdoor spaces.  I also came away with lots of practical low cost ideas to implement at school, which was brilliant. We chose three workshops to take part in (it was difficult to choose because there were so many inviting options.) Workshop 1: Creating with Clay - a whistle-stop guide to the endless possibilities of working with clay with Claire Simpson. Claire’s enthusiasm and passion for working with clay shone through in this workshop and she gave us a variety of different ideas to use with children such as making clay faces on trees, making a Japanese dough ball and imprinting with natural objects such as leaves onto clay. We also looked at a wide selection of stories that we could use as a starting point of a clay lesson to help ignite the children’s imaginations. Workshop 2: Woodland Adventures- Let’s Get Physical A fun-filled action-packed session with lots of exciting activities to try with the children.  We had great fun taking part in all these games and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (as I’m sure the children will too!) We started our session focusing on games to develop the gross motor skills.  To start we were split into two teams and given a challenge to collect the most water into our team bucket after going through the assault course each using a milk bottle filled with water, this encouraged us to work on our team- work skills, empathy, co-operation and problem solving techniques.  We also took part in a wide range of team building activities that made us think outside the box.  On such a hot sweltering day it was a welcome relief to have a water fight using the water pistols – which would encourage the children to be active in their play (and also have brilliant fun!) In the second half of the workshop we focused on the fine motor skills.  We were taught how to make a ‘funky fingers’ fine motor skills activity station using a variety of nails, pins, string etc.  We also used a palm drill to make holes in small circular slices of wood.  This workshop gave us lots of easy, low cost practical ideas to implement easily at school. Workshop 3: Colours from Nature – a whistle-stop beginners guide to exploring ways of extracting colours from plants, soils and the natural resources around us, with Claire Simpson. Claire showed us an excellent variety of card games such as ‘Go Find It’ to help encourage the children to ‘actively’ explore the natural colours and textures around them.  We also looked at using colour charts and stories as a stimulus at the beginning of a lesson. It was really interesting to investigate a variety of techniques such as flower pounding on fabric / card, using steam to extract the colours from plants and finally making our own natural paints using a pestle and mortar with natural materials mixed with an egg white. A thoroughly action-packed, inspiring and enjoyable first day!

Day Two

Key note speech from Niki Buchan, who had travelled from Australia to attend this inspirational conference. Niki’s speech highlighted the importance of encouraging children to learn in the outdoors as much as possible and also to let them be free to explore their own learning creatively.  She is a huge advocate for play. Niki stressed the importance of adults knowing when to step in and step out of children’s play.  She has studied outdoor learning across the world and highlighted that learning outdoors offers the child escapism and will nurture the child’s mental wellbeing.  Niki also highlighted the importance of letting children manage their own risks because by taking risks we not only learn about our limitations, we also learn important life lessons. Workshop 1: Kernow SEMH – Emotional Coaching in the Outdoors. This practical hands-on workshop made us explore the big emotions children feel.  We role-played situations and were encouraged to think about appropriate language to help calm and soothe an upset child.  We were asked to validate the child’s feelings and to help soothe the child through steady breathing.  Adults need to demonstrate to the child what calm feels like. Being ‘in the moment’ with the child is not only crucial for the adult (to understand and validate the child’s emotions) but also for the child, so they feel like someone really cares about how they feel. Workshop 2: Greenman Learning – Validating Woodland Play in an Education System that Demands Data. This was a practical hands-on workshop demonstrating the various stages and skills involved in whittling.  We were shown a variety of techniques which got progressively more challenging and helped build on our existing whittling skills.  This form of teaching is demonstrated in the WILD passport where children master simple skills before progressing onto more complex skills. STORYTELLING QUEST Activity with Phil Waters We were all welcomed to join a Quest to find the Giant’s golden pooh nuggets which had been hidden around the ecological centre.  This was storytelling at its best and demonstrated how you can hook children into an imaginative storytelling activity through a treasure hunt and mystery materials.  Each group had to give themselves a name (we were called the Gold Diggers,) then we each had to take a mystery bag with an item in it before finally setting set off on our quest to find the golden nuggets.  Along our journey we had to open a mystery bag at each stage of our adventure and incorporate this into our story.  At the end of the treasure hunt all the groups gathered together on the field to retell their exciting adventures (complete with props) about our quest for the Giant’s golden pooh nuggets. The ‘Inspirational Outdoors’ two day conference has been such a wonderful experience.  I have come away with so many practical ideas to use in school and met many like-minded people with a passion for outdoor learning.  I’m looking forward to next year already!   Thank you so much for this fantastic blog Liz Marples. If you would like to win a conference ticket please keep an eye on our facebook page @earlyyearsstaffroom Click here for more blogs