Can I still do outdoor learning while on supply?
How do I get schools to let me do outdoor learning while I am only there for a day’s supply?
These are two questions I recently have from experienced, knowledgeable teachers whose roles have changed. I can understand where they are coming from. When you are in a school, you are comfortable in, and that is used to you, it is easy to take learning outside. But when you are in a new setting, it can be daunting. As a teacher, I enjoyed time working on supply, long-term, short term and daily. I would also take kids outside to learn. So, today we explore the strategies I used and some simple lesson ideas to have up your sleeve.
I would always keep my basic kit in the boot of my car. It is essential that I attend prepared as I never knew it would be readily available. Generally, I had a backpack which had all my bits and bobs for outdoor learning in it. This included:-
- Wool/ yarn – great for arts and crafts, measuring, marking off areas and more
- Chalk – take your writing, letter formation, art, maths or more outdoors
- Medications – remember and take the class meds out
- Phone – it lets you contact the school and them contact you, make sure the office has your number, and you have saved theirs
- Camera – great for gathering evidence
- Measuring tape (10m and little ones)- handy for maths and more
- Mini first aid kit – you never know when you will need it
- Small ball – turn taking or games
In addition to this, if I was on supply, I might also have
- Some scavenger hunts
- Potentially my den kit bag
- A folder filled with lessons I could flip through and use (have you seen our book? That would do the same!)
Arriving at School
Often when you arrive at a school for the first day of supply, a member of the management team will show you to your classroom and explain the lay of the land. This was also my opportunity to float the idea of outdoor learning. I would describe it is my passion, and I see children get so much from it, and I would be hoping to take the children into the playground at some point throughout the day, generally in the afternoon. I would also explain that I would look at the plan (if there was one) and link the learning to something in that. Management was nearly always appreciative of this and intrigued by what we would do.
Of course, you will always get the odd head teacher who is a little hesitant. With those head teachers, I would explain my background, highlighting the courses I have completed and reassuring them that I will be assessing the children and our relationship as the day progresses before heading outside.
Others would be concerned that their playground would not offer many opportunities for learning, it could be mostly concrete etc. This is where having a few lessons up my sleeve to highlight what we can do is handy.
As the day went on, I considered which lessons might link well to what I was teaching. However, a few ideas up my sleeve always help. I have mentioned my folder of ideas, but here are a few to get you going
- Poetry – can you write a poem based on the senses? You only need a pencil and paper
- Mini dens – using materials found in the playground
- Sensory scavenger hunt – great for work linking to adjectives
- Shape hunts – 2d or 3d, but also looking for tessellation, angles and more
- Sound maps – great for getting classes to focus
As you can see, these lessons were simple and required few resources… but this is what made them ideal! There are many more like this; you will have your favourite fallback lessons as well. Our Greenman story can also be helpful too.
Meeting the kids/ expectations
Any good teacher knows you need to set the tone at the start of the year, for supply, at the beginning of the day. I was always firm but fair. I would let the children know at the start of the day that I was hoping for a great one, and if we got through the work that their teacher had left, we could do a little outdoor learning later in the day. It is amazing what a strong hook that is for getting children.
If we had a good day, which we would have, I would start preparing the children for heading outside. I would ask them to remind me of the school rules. I would also explain that while I knew it was their playground, we were there to learn and explain what I wanted to see and hear from them when we were out. This is invaluable. I would also explain that if I did not see that, we would need to head back indoors.
I often find that as long as children and young people have clear expectations and understand them, they tend to meet them.
What if it all goes wrong
Once I did have a primary seven class who had been challenging throughout the day, and I did not feel confident taking outside. So, guess what… we did not go out. Thankfully I had another day lined up with that class, and by the end of day two, I felt confident, and we headed out. But, as I always say, you need to trust your gut. If you are not confident heading outside, you do not need to.
I also once had a class who became too excitable to listen when we did head out and were not focused on the task. This was not their fault as they were not used to being taken outside. But it did mean I did not feel confident with them outside alone. So, I took them right back inside and back to class.
You are the adult, you are in charge, and if that means pulling the group together to go over expectations or heading back indoors, that is ok. Trust yourself. It is ok to stay inside!
Finishing up and feeding back
At the end of the day, I always leave a note for the teacher. In this, I would explain what we had completed that day, and if I had made any changes, I would detail these. I would also explain what we had taken outside and highlight how fantastic their class was.
Afterwards, I would head to management and thank them for having me. I would highlight how fantastic the class were outside and what learning was undertaken.
These two little actions mean everyone knows what has happened and is in the loop.
If you are confident at teaching outside, there is no reason why you should not be on supply. Yes, you need buy-in from the school you are at, and you need to know the children you are working with, but the playground is right there, ready to be used.
I would never head out first thing in the morning as I needed a chance to build relationships, but after lunch was often a great time to head outside.
But, do not feel pressure to see how the day plays out and decide from there.
As always, if you have any questions, please do let us know. You can email us at email@example.com
Happy outdoor learning!