Can you make a double decker bus into an outdoor classroom?

My attention in the last few weeks has been drawn away from the animals down on the farm and onto a rather big, yellow object! About a year ago I persuaded my then head teacher to buy a double-decker bus to convert into an outdoor learning environment as a  complement to the farm. The first year of the project has been rather slow: the bus arrived, we parked it up and then not a lot happened!

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In the past few weeks the project has finally gotten up and rolling! We had an electrician come in and wire the bus up with heating, lights and sockets and the necessary safety lights. Now comes the hard work!

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My vision for the downstairs of the bus is to be a small group/workstation area. I’m planning on reusing four of the old seats to creat small work areas, with tables in the middle. The backseat will be expanded on and turned into a U shape with a table in the middle for a larger group of children to get around and work at. There will also be a storage unit.

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Upstairs we are going to be a little more creative. I plan on using artificial grass on the floor and then have flowers/trees/animals painted up the walls, so that it mirrors the outside environment. The children will then have bean bags and cushions to sit on, but I hope the area will be flexible in its use.

This is a massive project and very daunting, but I will not let it fail! It will become an inspiring and energizing space for the children and hopefully the local community to use. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work and determination.

I hope to share the progress of this project on this blog in the coming months, ready for its grand opening in the summer (fingers crossed).

I can not do this project on my own, and I would love as many people and companies as possible to get involved in the project! If you think you or your business can help, in any way possible, please email me at tbellinger9@gmail.com

Many thanks and watch this space….

 

Keeping goats in a school!

Over the past few weeks there has been lots of press coverage about schools keeping goats on their grounds – all of it positive and engaging.  Let’s hope it leads to more goats in more schools!

One of the most high profile goat schools at the moment is Varndean School in Brighton. They have five pygmy goats (you can follow them on Twitter @varndeangoats). They’ve received a large amount of press coverage this week, including being in the Telegraph (click to read article) and on Good Morning Britain (click to see interview).

This has helped to highlight the real importance in educating the whole child. We as teachers and leaders can sometimes become so wrapped up in results, progress and the importance of English and Maths, that we risk losing sight of the bigger picture around these real children, children with real emotions and some very real problems.  We (myself included) risk becoming so engrossed in improving data that we stop seeing the children in our care as humans and begin to see them as just a percentage.

Last Monday I had had enough – enough of the pressure, enough of the constant critics, just enough! So I went for a walk and as I reached our farm, I found a Year 3 class there, interacting with the animals and learning how to care for them. This instantly lifted my mood and their smiling faces proved that all the weekends I had given up, all the early starts to look after the animals on our farm, were worthwhile. It takes a big team to look after our animals, but for me (and the other helpers) the effort  is well worth the enjoyment the pupils take from the farm. For that one afternoon those Year 3 children were forgetting about English and Maths, forgetting that day to day treadmill our children now find themselves on and were enjoying being outside in the company of animals.

The two questions I’m asked again and again by visitors and members of the school community are ‘Where is the educational benefit?’ and ‘How can we weave the farm into the curriculum?’ As time has gone by I have moved away from the answer of ‘Here is the educational benefit and this is how we make use of the farm in our curriculum’ to how I really feel which is, the educational benefit is great and it’s good that we can link the farm to our curriculum, but the real benefit is watching those 29 faces light up without a care in the world when they spend time on the farm. It’s that child I had last year who hated coming to school, but since the animals have arrived practically skips through the gates and her first stop is to say ‘good morning’ to the animals. These things don’t show up in any data analysis and are very difficult to record, but they are the real reason we should have animals in school and particularly goats!

Let’s hope the tide of results driven education will slowly subside and instead the welfare and happiness of our students will become equally as important as that of results.

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5 things to do with the humble stick!

Any person who takes children outside for learning will have a ‘go to’ piece of equipment. Mine is the humble stick. Here are 5 ways I have used sticks during learning outside!

1. Wool wrapped sticks

This one really appeals to my crafty side. It is also great for improving children’s fine motor control. It’s really simple for the children to complete – simply find a stick of their choice, tie on a ball of wool and off they go. The trickiest part is getting started with the wrapping, but if you tie the knot fairly tight and then wrap over the knot, it should be plain sailing!

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Multicoloured balls of wool work best, as you get a really nice contrast in colours, but any left over wool will work!

2. Stick paint brushes

This activity involves slightly more than just a stick but it’s still simple enough to do with any age or ability of children. Children find a stick and then find some other materials to use as the brush head. This can be grass, ferns, leaves, feathers – anything they want to try out. Hold the brush head materials against the top of the stick and secure with an elastic band. Now comes the really fun part: get the children to paint pictures with their new brushes and experiment with different heads.

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3.  Make a trail with your sticks

This was my favourite activity when I was younger, although it does require more than just one stick! Create a trail using sticks and rocks as various symbols. The simplest trail is just to make arrows with the sticks to show directions, but there are several more features you can try, as show below:

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4. Cook over a campfire

My son’s favourite activity! Use a stick to cook various foods on an open fire. Marshmallows are great for this, but take care to let them cool  down before eating. 

Bread twists are also a great food to cook on the open fire. To make each twist:

  • 1 cup of self raising flour
  • 2 tbsp of powdered milk
  • 1 tpsp of baking powder
  • 1/4 tpsp of salt
  • (optional) 1 tpsp of sugar

You will also need some vegetable oil to bind it together at the campsite.

With the bread dough prepared, the children should heat the sticks over the fire.  Make sure they don’t burn – just enough to warm and sterilise the stick at the place that the bread dough will be going.

Get the children to start twisting the bread dough around the stick, using a bit of pressure so it adheres.  Then, cook over the fire.

The sticks should be maintained at a height where you can safely hold your hand for a few seconds before it gets hot.  Make sure they rotate their sticks regularly so that one side doesn’t get burnt.

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This is me and my son Finley enjoying a marshmallow  cooked on a stick that he found himself! (Willow works really well if you can find it!).

5. Wind chimes

A lovely activity that younger children will really enjoy (and love to take home at the end of the day) is to make wind chimes from sticks.

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Select different length sticks and tie them to another (horizontal) stick. Hang nearby to catch a breeze!

Why I setup a school farm!

I was recently contacted to write an article for the ‘Footprints’ publication which is the Diocese of Norwich’s quarterly magazine. They wanted some background on why I had setup the school farm and where I would like to take it in the future. I had a 250 word limit which means I could not go into as much detail as I would have hoped. Here is the article.

I started to set up our school farm (called ‘The Ark’) in the winter of 2015, with the aim to improve outcomes for our children and to engage them with their learning. In just over a year we have added goats, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs to our farm, with the hope to grow and develop it further over the next few years. We raised the chickens from eggs in our year three classrooms. It was quite surreal teaching the children with little chickens cheeping away in the background, but the children loved it. As a school we watched them grow and develop and learned how to care for and look after them.

We have children out on the farm most days. They engage in it in a number of ways. We have whole classes using it to support their work with habitats, writing information texts, observational drawing and we even had children weighing and measuring the animals to collect data for maths. The goats have even become something of a celebrity in the school, managing to take a starring role in the KS1 nativity. Groups of children take it in turns to put the animals to bed each night with the help of our newly appointed farm hand, Emma, who works afternoons to help support the children and staff when using the farm.

The farm has become an integral part of life at Peterhouse and the children are learning new skills from it everyday – skills which are not always taught in the national curriculum but ones which are important in making them exceptional members of the communities they live in.

If you have any questions about ‘The Ark’ please feel free to comment below and I’ll try to answer them as much as possible.