We are happy to share this guest post from Kierna Corr, blogger and educator in N. Ireland. Her motto is "sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, and snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kids of good weather." John Ruskin 1819-1900. Her blog, Learning for Life, follows her adventures as she holds the door open wide for the children to tumble and run outside.
I am a nursery class teacher in a primary school in Dungannon, N. Ireland. My class are 3 and 4 years old and spend one year with me before starting statutory schooling. I was very fortunate to receive funding to spend a week shadowing a colleague in an outdoor kindergarten in western Norway. I came back totally enthused and wanted to try as many of the things I had seen with my class, and fortunately all the other staff were in agreement too.
We decided to spend at least 1 hour outside everyday, no matter what the weather and starting going outside first thing in the morning. In the new school building we have a covered verandah area and this means that we can take many resources outside that normally might get destroyed in the rain etc. It also means we have snack outside and those children who want to sit and be quieter at an activity can do so whilst others run about being noisy.
Unfortunately I did not have any wooded area within walking distance of the school nor was there a suitable area within the school grounds that could be utilised either. However, a local park did have a secure natural learning space designated as a "Woodland Classroom" for schools to use free of charge. I secured Lottery funding for transport costs and for 2 years I took my class to the park on a weekly basis. Due to funding and staffing issues for the past 2 years we have gone once a month. It is only possible to go at all because so many of our parents come along too to help make it as enjoyable as possible. The children have a communal snack when they arrive and then are free to play for the next 70 minutes. The children are free to run, climb, jump, splash in the mud, play with water making mud pies and just enjoy being in a safe secure natural environment.
We got a brand new school building in 2006 so we don't have an established natural play area and also have a lot of tarmac and no trees. I have found that the children don't get hurt as much in the forest as the natural surface provides a softer surface and they cope better with nettle stings than a fall on the tarmac. They do transfer most of the skills they learn in the woodland classroom back to their play in the school playground and all staff allow them to climb up on the tyres/seats etc, as long they get up by themselves.
Ideally I would love to be able to walk to such a wonderful area and be able to use it on a daily basis but it is something to look forward to each month.