Outdoor Learning Ideas

In my weekly update last week I mentioned outdoor learning.  Today I thought I would share some of my favourite activities, across the curriculum, that are easy and quick to do!  Some of these have come from Pinterest, some from CPD courses and some from my own warped mind.  My philosophy here is that outdoor learning should compliment your teaching, it should never be an add on.


Splat Spelling

A part of spelling is word recognition.  Could you write the words outside in chalk and get the children to then throw water balloons?  Each time a balloon hits a word they need to read it and then use it in a sentence.


Jump Spelling

Write the letters of the alphabet, in whatever order you like, in chalk.  Children can then jump from one letter to the next to spell the word they are working on.  Their partner can check the spelling is correct as they go!


Senses Poem

I see… I feel… I smell… I taste… I hear…

Simple sentence starters which are suitable for any age group.  The children can write or draw the rest of the line.  I love to do this lesson each season and see how the poems progress.  At the end of the year you have a wonderful poem which reflects on the changing of the seasons.


Time Line

Sometimes it is hard for children to comprehend just how long ago, or how recently, something happened.  A while ago I was teaching a class about the stone age.  I created cards for different historical events from the stone age through to the present day.  Each step a child took represented 100 years.  They quickly understood the concept of time in a way that made it meaningful for them.


Around the Clock

I had a class last year that were struggling to remember their 5-minute intervals.  I had tried everything in class and nothing seemed to help.  I decided then to take the lesson outside.  The children were in groups of 4 and each drew a large clock.  I would then shout a time, i.e. 5 past or twenty-five to and the children had to jump to the appropriate number.  This really seemed to help all children begin to understand and remember!


I Need/ I want

With a younger class den building can be a great way to explore the difference between needs and wants.  They can design their den using basic materials, tarps, string, tent pegs etc.  They start adding things like Playstations, beds, fully functioning kitchens etc to their designs.  This helps open a discussion over what is a need and what is a want.


Natural Art

I love Andy Goldsworthy’s art.  It soothes my cluttered mind and children just seem to get it.  It explores colour, texture, shape and more besides.  I often use his style of art as the stimulus for the first lesson I have outside with the children each year.  The children create something beautiful but you also have the time and space within the lesson to explore some behavioural techniques and ensure the class understand that when learning outside the playground becomes the classroom.


One of the great strengths of outdoor learning in Scotland is how well we all share ideas.  There are 2 websites I truly love though.  The first is Juliet’s http://creativestarlearning.co.uk/ and the other is https://www.ltl.org.uk/scotland/resources.php.  Both have ideas for every age, stage and curricular area.

What are your favourite outdoor learning activities?


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Why I Switched to Supply Teaching

This time last year I was nervous.  I had been a teacher a long time, yes, I had tried to leave the classroom once before but only lasted 6 months until I ran back to it, missing the children and the camaraderie amongst the staff.  But I was looking to leave the school I was in come summer.  I was going to become a supply teacher.  What drove me to this and was it the right move?

People think teachers have it easy, they work 9 to 3 and have a ton of holidays.  If only that were true!  The last couple of years I had worked part time, just 3 days a week in school.  This meant 3 days of working 7.30am to 5.30 or 6pm, with a 20-minute break to quickly inhale a lunch.  This alone was roughly 30 hours a week in school.  These days were primarily filled with the children, during which a teacher makes more decisions per minute than a brain surgeon!  But, these days were also filled with marking 30+ jotters for each curricular area that day (often over 100 pieces of work, each day), tidying, updating displays, looking out resources for lessons, liaising with parents, staff and other professionals, fighting the photocopier, determined it would work for the scant sheets I was allowed to copy and a myriad of other tasks!

Then one of my “days off” was generally used to do admin and other bits there was no time for amongst the hubble and bubble of the school day.  This was when I would sit and try and plan interesting, stimulating lessons taking into a count the children’s likes and abilities.  I would write report cards, complete reports for external agencies (if they were allowed to leave school grounds) and attempt to keep abreast of ever changing schemes of work, national changes to the curriculum and changing wider government policies.  I would also complete my daily plans, weekly plans, termly plans and update the yearly overview and complete umpteen other pieces of admin all designed to prove I was doing my job to the best of my abilities, because being good at admin makes a great teacher, right?!  And lets not forget I would often try and track down resources for school which I would buy myself as budgets were non-existent but they would improve the children’s learning experience.  All of a sudden, my 21.5hour week was closer to 37hours.  Add a school show, disco, parents night, curriculum evening etc and all of a sudden my 21.5hour contract equated to over 40 hours of work a week, squeezed into just 4 days.

Unfortunately, these working hours were not due to me being a workaholic.  It is the norm within teaching in Scotland.  It is suggested that teachers here in Scotland work an extra 11 hours a week on top of their contracted 35 per week.  There are 39 weeks in an academic year.  This means the average teacher is working 1794 hours within those 39 weeks.  Compare this to your average worker, who works 37hours with 25 days holiday a year and 10 days public holiday will work roughly 1665 hours a year.  A teacher is working, on average just 129 hours extra a year, not a lot.  But when you consider this is squeezed into just 39 weeks you quickly see how teachers can become exhausted!

Added to this is management who get caught up in their roles and forget why they became teachers in the first place.  They start believing council targets, test results and the budgets are more important than the people in the school, that is the staff and the children.  Yes, they have difficult roles and are often not trained in how to manage people, but this should not mean they lose any sense of empathy, as I have unfortunately experienced first-hand.

These are some of the reasons which combine to lead up to 40% of teachers to consider leaving the profession in the next 18 months, clearly something has to change.  It certainly combined to make me determined not to work as a full-time teacher and even made me question whether being “part time” was even worth it.  My husband agreed with me and we decided it was not.  I had tried to leave the classroom once before and I missed it too much.  I decided this time to try supply teaching.

So how has this year been so far you may ask, do I miss the security and consistency of the same school?  Well, no.  I quickly ended up in a day a week contract in a school I love.  I have management who care about their staff and understand working part time means being part time.  Yes, like every teacher I will do a little extra, but it is just a little and for the benefit of my kids, my class.  It is not to complete unnecessary admin or other such tasks which make no real difference in the classroom.  I easily pick up more supply work when I want it, not a day goes by where I don’t get a text for it.  Plus, once you are in a school they tend to like to keep your details as it is difficult for them to get supply staff.

My stress levels are greatly reduced which in turn has greatly benefited my health.  I went from a vicious cycle of having caught bugs, infections and having flare ups with my hypermobility syndrome to being out this awful cycle and being healthy.  I have energy to do things.  I have recently started Korean kickboxing twice a week and Krav Maga once.  To have the time and more importantly, the energy, for this before would have been unimaginable.

I am also a happier person.  My family and friends would attest to this one.  One thing teachers are bad at is negative self-reflecting.  We often have management, the council and the media telling us we are not good enough or doing enough.  Going on supply means I ignore this most of the time which makes me happier overall.

I get to socialise now!  After a school day I was often too tired to do much with friends or family.  My socialising was kept to weekends only.  If they were going for a meal or to watch a film on a week night I simply didn’t have the energy to join them.  Now I do have the energy.  If one of my friends has a bad day I am now not too tired to pick up the phone or pop round to visit.  I can enjoy meals with my family not thinking about what else I still need to do.  It really is quite fantastic!

I also have time to do things I enjoy.  I am now running my own business and I am half way through a Masters degree.  Obviously all three things combined mean I am a very busy person who works incredibly hard.  However, I am happier, healthier and a lot less stressed.

Clearly the hours I worked as a teacher were not the issue, neither was working with the children who, for the time I had them, were always “my kids”.  The issue lay with ever changing goals and priorities forced upon us, constant change and paper work for paper works sake.  Teaching isn’t an easy profession, but it can be worth it if you find a way that works for you.  For me, that is being on supply.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-32926585 and https://inews.co.uk/news/education/scottish-teachers-working-six-days-week/


Learning Websites

I am often asked by parents which web sites they should steer this children towards.  Children often do not realise the amount of learning they are doing whilst playing online and how much it can improve their reading skills.  There is a myriad of sites out there and it is hard to know which sites are best, but let me help you by listing my favourite 10 free websites.

  1. Newsround 
  2. Dogo News

I find children are interested in their world.  Newsround and Dogo have news, facts, games and videos to help children begin to engage with current affairs.  Both these sites are similar but have slightly different outlooks.  Newsround is created by the BBC and Dogo by a mum in the USA.  However, both a relevant and a range of sources help children develop their questioning and critical literacy skills.

  1. How Stuff Works

Is your child a budding engineer?  Do they have a real interest in how things work?  Here’s a great website for them to explore and discover answers to their current questions and many more besides!

  1. Nasa

Is it space that captures your child’s attention?  This site is filled to the brim with information and games for them to play

  1. Fun Brain

This site has games in literacy, numeracy and more.  It also has online books and comics.

  1. Oxford Owl

This site is great as it has a range of free ebooks for children to enjoy.  It also has some maths activities and even tips for parents!

  1. Nat Geo Kids

Who doesn’t find the National Geographic captivating?!  They even have a kid friendly site!  It contains everything from animals to wildlife, science to nature, archaeology to geology, geography to history.  I am sure your child will find something which interests them.

  1. Top Marks

This is one that teachers will often suggest as homework.  Why?  Because it is brimming with free games which help support maths and literacy

  1. Teach Your Monster to Read

This is a great site for supporting your child’s reading, I find children adore it.

  1. Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is another fascinating website for kids, it has games and fact files.  This is really a great educational resource and endlessly captivating.


There you have it, 10 of my favourite learning websites.  Hopefully it helps you and if you have others to share please feel free!

This Past Week – 29 April

It has been a busy old week.  I am another year older but the birthday celebrations didn’t stop us tutoring this week!  I always love this time at the weekend. When I sit and think about the progress each and every child has made.  It really does make me happy to see how they all progress.  They work hard and it shows.

Every child has highlights every week but I don’t really have space to write about them all.  So who has really stood out this week?  Well Euan and Harry are continuing to improve their focus which makes a real difference to the work they produce.  It is great to see them work hard with this.  It is amazing how much of an impact attitude can make to learning.  Talking of which, Beth has decided to get to grips with all her time tables and it is really showing.  She will soon have earned an emoji sticker for each and every one.  Tutoring doesn’t just influence attitude throughout the 1hr session each week, it can permeate throughout a child’s life.  This is happening with Lexie who is growing more and more confident in herself and her every day life – long may that continue!

Next week will be a little different.  I have no tutoring.  Instead, I am away to school camp with the primary 6 class I teach on a Wednesday.  I am looking forward to a week filled with abseiling, rope courses, zip wires, canoeing, archery and a whole lot more.  My challenge this week, to get over my fear of heights so I can enjoy all this with the kids!

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The Importance of Music Education

Earlier this week I wrote about 2 music lessons I delivered in the outdoors.  We explored notation and the reasons why we might want to visually record a composition.  We also explored a range of musical terms and finally, we created short musical compositions.  Whilst the lessons met the desired outcomes, I know that a music specialist would take the children’s learning further.  I know this as early in my teaching career I was lucky enough to work in schools with music teachers.

Music really is one of those things in life where you either feel confident at it or not.  A primary teacher needs to teach every curricular subject and there will be some where they simply do not feel confident.  I would suggest a lot of teacher’s do not feel confident with their own musical abilities and therefore their competence to teach music in depth.  However, music education is essential because:-

  1. it develops children’s communication skills
  2. it develops creative thinking skills
  3. it aids memorisation
  4. children learn relaxation techniques which are important for mental health
  5. it leads to a sense of achievement, whether learning a new instrument or composition
  6. it develops team work skills
  7. feedback within music can help children develop resilience when receiving feedback in other curricular areas, therefore helping them improve work throughout the curriculum
  8. children learn to recognise patterns, which helps with maths and literacy
  9. it can increase coordination
  10. possibly most importantly, it can improve self confidence

The rewards in high quality music education are clear.  They even extend across the full curriculum.  However, teachers, as much as they will try their best, may not be the best people to teach children music.    Yet councils are continually cutting budgets for music education.  A music teacher within a primary school is almost a mythical being these days. Surely though, the benefits of music should play a key part in the provision, we wouldn’t get rid of literacy because books are too expensive, so why music?