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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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!

Game Ideas

I wrote a blog post recently about the importance of play and why I use it (https://carols-tutoring.com/2018/04/02/why-play/).  But how do I use it is equally as interesting and really very simple.  I have a few favourite games and I am going to share them with you now.


Image result for jenga

This is a great game for children practising their fine motor control in can so easily incorporate maths or literacy skills.  I have a few different sets, for tutoring 1 to 1 I do not need a full stack so tend to split it.  I can then write on each wide side of the stick.  This means I can use a single Jenga tower for 4 different activities!  Here are a few ideas of how you can use them

  • Letter recognition – half a box gives you enough sticks for the whole alphabet and a couple spare. You can use it simply for letter recognition or with more confident children to think of words beginning with that letter
  • Times tables – I write on the times tables sum so the one stack can be used with any table (2 x _ = ?). If I am working on a single times table then we stick to one.  But, often we are working on a few.  I have a 12 sided dice and when the child removes the stick they then roll the dice to get the missing part of their question.
  • Vocabulary – I can use it to help children reflect and extend their vocabulary. All those nice words like good, walk, talk etc can be written on the sticks.  When the child pulls the stick out they then need to suggest a better word, i.e. muttered rather than said.
  • Number facts – write an addition sum with a missing number, much like the multiplication sums
  • Spelling – with my older children, we work on a number of ways to make the same sound, i.e. for long A we might use a-e, eigh, ay etc. we can write each way on to a stick and when the child removes the stick from the stack they need to say a word with that patter, spell it and use it in a sentence.

Connect 4

Image result for connect 4

Another favourite game.  I use this concept 2 ways.  It can be used with words on the edges to help build word recognition.  The child needs to say the word and use it in a sentence before they can drop their piece.  The alternative is a printed sheet where we use the glass counters to connect 4.  www.themeasuredmom.com does some brilliant sheets for spelling!



Playing cards are a great tool for maths.

Match – this is great for number recognition.  The symbols on the cards are really helpful and get kids counting.

Number bonds – I will often run through a deck of cards with a child and ask them how many more needs to be added to get to 10 or 20.  This is a great way to engage rote learning but in a fun way.

Doubles – children need to know their doubles to 20, it makes maths easier in the long run.  Again, we can use the pack to do so and the symbols to count if necessary.

Pontoons – an old game which I played when young though we called it 21s.  This is great for mental maths.


Image result for lego

Kids love Lego.  I love Lego.  Who doesn’t love lego?!

Times tables – the lego cube can be a visual representation of the times tables.  A piece with 8 dimples can be representative of 2 x 4.

Spelling – letters on the sides help children build the bricks to build words.  Quick and easy and if they get it wrong, easily corrected.

These are just a few of my favourite games for learning.  There are many more we could play and indeed do play.  I often find some of my favourite ideas on Pinterest or think of them whilst walking down the kids isle of B & M or other discount shops.  Parent’s will often spend significant sums of money on games but I hope you can see you can play fun, educational games with little effort or money and children really will enjoy them.

Making Maths Real

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When I start working with a new child in maths, I often find myself explaining to parents that I will use a range of tools that their child can touch and move to help teach concepts.  This is regardless of the age of the child.  I prepare the child and the adult to use materials they maybe used in younger classes and I find that once prepared, the parents accept this and the children enjoy it.  But why do I use this approach?

Well, this approach does have a name, CPA Approach.  This stands for Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract Approach.  It is helpful for teaching all ages and stages maths, even adults!  It is about giving learners the tools to solve the problems in front of them.  It links previous learning to their new abstract learning.  But, what does it really mean?

Lets start by looking at the stages.


This is the stage where children are “doing”.  In traditional teaching methods the teacher will demonstrate the problem and the child is expected to follow the process to complete follow up questions themselves.  In CPA the learning is brought to life.  For example, if children are learning to add they might have 2 dinosaurs whilst I have another 2.  The child can then count the number of dinosaurs altogether, doing the sum 2+2.  From this we can move towards using cubes, glass counters or other such materials.



This is the “seeing” stage.  Drawing can help children learn more complex theories such as division or multiplication.  It also helps them make the connection between this and the concrete stage.  So we might have 3 groups of dinosaurs with 4 dinosaurs in each group.  This equation is 3×4.




Finally, we have the abstract or “symbolic” stage.  Children here use abstract symbols to solve problems.  It is essential that children understand and are competent at the concrete and pictorial stages before we progress to this stage.  This is when we start using the mathematical symbols.  So instead of solving the problem of I have 2 dinosaurs and you have 3 dinosaurs, children will solve the equation 2+3=



Although there are 3 distinct stages I will move through them in a cyclical fashion, reinforcing earlier learning and using it to extend to new learning.  I will use a range of tools for each stage and ensure it is available for the child at all lessons.  This helps children develop a range of strategies for solving problems.

Difference Between Tutoring and School

Often in school the concrete materials are removed by the time the child reaches primary 3 or 4.  This is because they can be considered a distraction or babyish.  Even if available, children may be hesitant to use them as they do not want teased by their classmates.  However, this can lead to children being forced to encounter abstract concepts too early leading to children missing out a key step in their mathematical understanding.

Whilst children can not use concrete materials forever, I firmly believe this method helps build understanding and in turn helps the child develop confidence.  It helps children clarify their mathematical thinking and most importantly builds a strong foundation for future learning.

What is Place Value?

What is Place Value_ (1)

Place value is the value of each digit in a number.  But what is the difference between a digit and a number? Well, a digit is a single number which forms part of bigger number whereas number is the collection of the group of digits.   So, if we take 563, the 5, 6 and 3 are the separate digits but, combined in this order, they make the number 563.  Place value is the understanding that the 5 represents 5 hundreds, the 6 is 6 tens and the 3 is 3 units.  As can be seen:-


What makes this hard initially is the pesky zero!  Look at these numbers







I am sure, as adults, we can agree they are all different.  But imagine being a child where you are still learning about numbers and being faced with this.  Suddenly, it is really very complicated.  By the time children are in primary 2 they are being asked to understand numbers in the hundreds.  Often in writing they can circle the biggest number or sequence a set of numbers.  They can identify the digit in the hundreds, tens or units columns.  Worksheet assessments will show all this clearly.  But as soon as you start playing with numbers and discussing them with children they can often demonstrate a shaky understanding of the concept.

Asking children to count or skip count (counting in jumps, i.e. 3, 6, 9, 12…) can demonstrate they stumble when they need to jump from one decade to the next (29 to 30, 59 to 60) or to the next hundred (99 to 100, 299 to 300).  When asked to write a number they may struggle to know exactly what column each digit should be in, writing 563 as 50063 for example.  Or when asked which number comes first out of 57 and 302 they may say 57 as the 5 is bigger than the 3, it didn’t relate to the value of where the digit sat.

If children do not fully understand the concept of place value in their early years then as they progress to harder mathematical concepts in primary 3 or 4 is all of a sudden can prove difficult. They need to understand this key concept to be able to add and subtract bigger numbers, to use times tables, negative numbers and more.

Every single child I work with for maths tuition have 1 single thing in common.  They all have a misunderstanding of place value.  Helping the child start to understand that 563 is the same as 500+60+3 helps them break it down and play with it.  We use a range of techniques and resources to help children understand this.  Once understood, children can then use this knowledge to add and subtract, multiply and divide and are less likely to make errors in their work.