Funding options for outdoor learning

Always a hot topic when it comes to outdoor learning is funding!

My project started with an initial £5000 from the school funds to get the ball rolling. In my naivety I thought it would be more than enough and the project would be up and running and everything I had ever hoped for, this wasn’t the case. That money brought 3 goats, fencing and the bus! Nowhere near enough to get the project finished so I had to look to other funding streams and here is what I found out.

Note: All these things are in my experience, yours might be different!

We contact the whole spectrum of companies and groups, from the local corner store to Tesco. We found that the big multinational companies are in a better place to help than local companies but it does take a lot of persistence and chasing after the right person.

Tesco

We linked up with our local Tesco and found out that they have a member of staff who’s roll it is too look after the local community. We invited her over to see the project and to explain what we hoped to achieve, she was immediately onboard and returned the following day with tools, seeds, hose and a whole box full of goodies. She also put us in touch with their ‘Tesco bags of help’ department which is a great idea. All the 5ps they receive for the carrier bags go into a big pot and then every month 3 projects are choosen in each district. Shoppers then vote which project they would like to receive the top amount of £5000 then £2000 and finally £1000. We have been lucky enough to secure £2000 from this project to put towards expanding and improving our farm.

Cemex

Cemex is a cement company which has work days put aside for local projects. We were contacted by them following local press coverage to see if we would like one of their work days. We had 7 members of their staff turn up and a lorry load of cement to build the slab for our stable and a path across our paddock, all for free.

Essex and Suffolk Water

Much like Cemex they have a set amount of days set aside to help the local community, We were lucky enough that one of our dads works for them and arranged the whole project. We had to buy the materials but 8 members of their staff spent the day building raised beds and ripping the floor out of our bus.

Now for some not so successful stories!

B and Q

Each store has a bin set aside for items that are damaged and they cannot sell, we the premise that it is then given away to local projects. We spent hours talking to our local store, to just about every member of staff but none were able to help us and tell us what we needed to do to take part in their initiate.

I have been super lucky that I have had two head teachers who have supported the project fully and have been in the lucky position that they were able to put some of the school funds into the project. With the change in funding happening very soon I fear that projects such as my school farm will be put on hold, lets hope this isn’t the case.

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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.

Wild Art

This is a great starter activity if you are new to taking learning outside the classroom. This is a very simple activity to manage: I give the children a theme (this is where your topic link can come in), a time limit and allow them to use any materials they can find and off they go!

From experience, the most important teaching point is to give the children a time limit, without the pressure of a time limit the children’s attention will start to wander. Some children will start by trying to produce a ‘birds nest’ as this is what they’ve seen made from natural materials in the past. With a poke and a prod in the right direction though, these children can be persuaded to be more creative. This is a typical birds nest children might make at the start of the activity:

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I have used this activity with all year groups, from R right up to Year 6. Below are pictures of the artwork my year 3 class produced last year.