Embrace Outdoor Learning All Year Round

Embrace Outdoor Learning

Children love outdoor learning whatever the weather. I lay witness to this today when the wind howled and the rain poured down, as the heaven’s opened. Despite the swirling tempest, there was a hive of activity and a positive and excited vibe, as the children huddled under the tarpaulin and industriously fashioned their personal quill pens from discarded feathers. Safe undercover, they merrily bashed oak apples and berries to make natural inks.

Creativity flowed as they all started busily and independently writing, drawing and composing upon the rustling paper that they shared, balanced on wobbly wooden benches. They were all engaged, focused and happy. The shelter, however temporary, had enabled learning to thrive and spirits to soar throughout a morning of heavy rain.

However, as the rain thundered on the tarpaulin, I couldn’t help but think that a more permanent shelter would have made my life as a teacher a little bit easier this wet and breezy morning. The children were most definitely inspired by being outside, regardless of the autumn weather, but what solutions exist, creating a reliable, robust outdoors learning space, that can be accessed easily whatever the skies send our way? This started me thinking about the different options for more permanent shelters within our grounds and their benefits. Here are some of the myriad of possible shelter options I’m now considering:

6 Benefits of Sturdy Shelters

  1. Functional Outdoor Classrooms

Functional Outdoor Classroom

What could be more perfect than a large, timber Outdoors Classroom? Providing reliable shelter and ample space for a whole class to learn whilst surrounded by the outdoors environment. Equipped with wooden benches, a sturdy roof and windows to the outside world, this weatherproof area enables teachers to start lessons as a group undercover and then venture into the wider outdoors, knowing that their sturdy timber classroom is close by, providing the perfect space to regroup, record observations and to share ideas and findings. No more complete drenchings or paper blowing away, whilst children explore their outdoors environment!

Whilst researching the options of a rectangular shelter I discovered that there are a whole range of options to chose from, such as whether we needed full-height or half-height walls, decking, ramps for easy access, benches, polycarbonate windows and even picket fences and planters incorporated into the sides! My favourite is the option of roof windows to let the light stream in. So much choice!

With possibilities of being made to virtually any size, I was feeling confident that a Roofed Shelter could be a real option for our school. With the additional guttering and downpipes, this would solve the problem of needing a nearby water supply to support the teaching of maths, science and literacy in our popular Mud Kitchen. A great way to integrate STEM learning into everyday teaching.

Integrating STEM into Play

I’d love to take my daily phonics and reading sessions out into the outdoor environment, where children can let the fresh air waken their senses and engage their brains. A permanent shelter would facilitate this and ensure resources are kept safe and dry.

It was great to see there was a Lean-To Shelter option, with benches and a polycarbonate roof, which would have made a perfect setting for my Forest School lesson that morning. I especially loved the choices of colourful and patterned transparent roofing, creating shapes and colour; I knew the children would be inspired by the beautiful floral effect roofing right there and then, creating colourful patterns that change with the light. I think our staff could also use it as a sanctuary to improve our own mental well-being, whilst relaxing in a vibrant and visual haven… even if just for one precious minute!

  1. Grand Gazebos

Gazebo - Staging and Seating

For smaller budgets or tighter spaces, a stylish and sturdy Gazebo may provide the perfect solution to soggy or scorching lessons. Coming in a variety of sizes and styles, an attractive, timber Gazebo provides a roof and flooring to keep the elements at bay, come rain or shine. Children love to pop into this accessible, inviting shelter whilst playing, to take a rest or to socialize with friends. With the options for bench seating, a Gazebo can provide a very functional and versatile space in which to discover, play and explore.

For our setting, it was great to discover that natural wooden Gazebos come in a range of sizes, to suit any play space and to learn that Schoolscapes could build a bespoke, timber gazebo meeting all our needs. We would be needing to create a versatile, well lit, undercover space, so it could be used throughout the day as a shelter, for playing, learning, waiting and even performing.

I was thrilled to hear that with careful positioning, my gazebo design could incorporate a linked stage and seating, creating a vision of a future Forest Performance. What a wonderful asset to have in our school, for generations of pupils and teachers to come to enjoy and benefit from!

  1. Shady Shelters

Shady Playground Shelters

Colourful, vibrant Shade Sails remain a firm favourite with the children. They remind learners of beautiful sailing boats and exciting adventures on the high seas. The advantage of Shade Sails is that they can straddle tighter spaces between walls or be strung between timber and galvanized steel posts in the open playground.

Coming in a variety of striking colours and weave sizes, these beautiful sails provide shade from the sun, as well as protection from the elements. Ideal for covering outdoor equipment such as sand and water trays, small world and sorting tables, or for creating an enticing Storytelling Space.

I was astounded that these stunning weatherproof sails come in 20 lovely colours and can withstand winds up to 110mph and even 22kg/m2 of snow! The heavy-duty material provides up to 99% protection from harmful UV rays and can reduce the temperature in the shaded area by nearly a third. Sails would provide perfect benefits for my Forest School Area within the school, especially as I’ve discovered they are also mould and mildew resistant as well as easy to clean when required.

I can already picture these super shade sails fitting in perfectly around our school site, and fingers crossed we’d get to test out the sun and snow claims first hand!

  1. Dynamic Dens

Dynamic Den Building

Practical Den Posts would have certainly helped me on that wet and blustery day. Stringing up my temporary tarpaulin would have been a much easier and quicker process, rather than having to search desperately for any ways of tying my ropes, of various lengths and thicknesses, to bushes, buildings, railings and even to each other; of course always the shortest rope ending up by the longest stretch of space!

Complete with hooks and holes, robust Den Posts installed into the ground in sets of 3 or 6 provide a choice of height options, making it easy for our staff to angle our shelters to compensate for the elements that day. For myself, the best thing about these sturdy, timber posts is that not only would they save me time, they can also be relied upon to always be there, without the risk of someone borrowing them for another purpose. We all know how things go walk-about in schools!

One of the things I particularly love about having more permanent Den Posts installed is the way the children would be able to help me to erect the shelter, putting into practice their engineering and mathematical skills and providing opportunities for teamwork and collaboration. They also provide a designated space where children can experiment and succeed at den building, using sheets, blankets, old tarps and all kids of ropes or anything suitable that comes to hand.

Den building develops children’s problem solving and critical thinking skills. All children love to build and create and it’s important to allow them to have time to reside in their own den mansions, even if just for a little while.

I like the way these beautiful, smooth-to-touch Den Posts inspire creativity, doubling as weaving posts or providing the ideal spot to hang up home-made instruments ready to be played.  They also provide the perfect place to easily hang up a history timeline or a maths number line. Certainly creating a very versatile area for both teachers and learners, the Den Posts provide hours of outdoor fun, where children are free to use their imagination or apply their science and DT skills.

Perhaps I can think of a suitable spot for these in our grounds too? Maybe I’d better start fundraising?

  1. Stages for Stars

Imaginative Play Stages

A beautiful, timber Outdoor Stage provides a fantastic setting for any outdoor performances, whether to peers or relatives. With such a wide range of stage options, from roofed stages to stages with wings or stages complete with innovative chalk and whiteboards, I’ve discovered there are a multitude of stage designs available to stimulate creativity and imagination, suitable for any outdoor play space.

Teamed with natural, wooden Amphitheatre Seating or movable Benches, a stage provides limitless options for children to perform poetry, music, dance and drama.

Ideal for children to build their confidence, develop their communication skills and encouraging creativity at playtimes. Also ensuring future X Factor winners have all the chance and opportunities to practice in order to wow audiences far and wide and to succeed in a world of performance and arts!

What could be more magical than an outdoors celebration assembly or a festive Christmas performance bringing friends, families or the wider community together, able to gather in comfort to commemorate and celebrate the occasion?

I’m glad Schoolscapes can helpfully install projects in planned phases over time and help our school to spread the cost, as I know our children would love a performance area and it would really enhance learning and celebration opportunities for the whole community within our grounds.

  1. Homes for Bikes and Trikes

Cycle Shelter

Like all schools, we aim to encourage our children to be active and lead healthy lives. So, whilst looking into these tremendous timber shelter options, I’ve just spotted another type of useful structure that would benefit our pupils, parents and wider community.

The Timber Cycle Shelter would be ideal for housing the children’s bikes and scooters safely whilst they’re in school as well as providing welcome shelter for parents during the school pick-ups. I think I have the perfect place in mind to site this useful playground addition. With the provision of a safe place to store their bikes, maybe even more pupils would enjoy bringing their scooters and bikes to school, as parents gain greater peace of mind?

Encompassing Community Spirit

Having safe and inspirational undercover spaces to gather, however big or small, creates a real feel of shared values and develops community spirit. Whether brought together as friends, a class or a community, undercover communal areas can create a unity of purpose, where ambitions can be nurtured, shared, achieved and celebrated safe from the elements.

Often an outside structure makes it easier for staff, parents and external visitors to run clubs either at lunchtime or after school, as they have a permanent and reliable base that they can use to gather in or return to, throughout the year. I know my Forest School Club this October and November would greatly benefit from a robust and versatile undercover base; it would certainly provide an easier and more effective space for my children to get ready and get dressed into their outdoor gear.

As a learning space, a well-designed and sheltered area creates a versatile and valuable location enabling teachers and learners to collaborate in comfort and safety, under nature’s vast skies.  As Autumn turns to Winter and the New Year fast approaches, a quality shelter provides a haven from which to explore the changing seasons and to observe and enjoy the natural world.

I know I’ll be booking in and benefitting from Schoolscapes knowledgeable advisory and expert design teams this Winter, to help me to narrow down and decide the best shelter options that can be customized to suit our requirements, space and budget. Maybe I’ll even manage to incorporate many of these elements into a phased project plan? That would be so amazing!

One thing’s for sure, I know we’ll be making the most of the fresh air and the natural world during what’s left of this year and on into the New Year, embracing the great outdoors and bringing nature to our children’s minds in every way we can; with more shelters in the future the children will be able to experience the true beauty of nature first hand and enjoy the natural elements, in safety and comfort.  Happy memories of discovery and learning will then stay with them over time, rather than the chaos of a class out in the rain dominating their thoughts.

Embrace Outdoor Learning All Year Round was last modified: May 15th, 2020 by Steve Bell

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