Friday, May 28, 2010

Forth Environmental Link & Grounds for Learning (Stirling Scotland)

Churchill Fellowship – Stirling.

I met this morning with Di Blackmore from the Forth Environment Link (FEL) which delivers successful programmes at grassroots level with the aim of informing and encouraging environmental awareness and more sustainable lifestyles.  Di talked of Earth Education which was initially set up by Steve van Matre and Joseph Cornell.  They promoted heuristic play (an experience-based technique that helps in problem solving, learning and discovery). 

Central to this approach is using real life objects for play.  The FEL had a large number of resource boxes that were available for loan to schools.  These boxes had numerous real life objects such as bones, bark, shells, rocks, soil in them and these were available for schools to use for this heuristic play.  Di talked about getting the message across to teachers that there is no topic that you can’t take outdoors.  Traditionally teachers have been limited to science and natural environment type subjects.  She gave an example of a school who were studying Mary, Queen of Scots.  They were learning about the plants, traditional medicine of the time and climate…that is to say, not seeing the outdoors as an add on, but being at the heart of the topic.

FEL are developing capacity building amongst teachers, by utilising the Train the Trainer model rather than them delivering ad hoc PD to individuals.  They believe in getting people outside.  Outdoors is where society meets the world.  Some teachers are initially frightened to move learning outdoors as they are not the font of all knowledge and often students are more knowledgeable than the teachers.  FEL promoted and believed in action through education to develop and encourage sustainability.  The head, hand and heart philosophy promoted by Sue Humphries, Coombes founding Head Teacher educates children to make decisions for themselves. This means you put a concept into the students head, teach it through their hands and they pick up the belief for life in their heart.

Changing the “odd to be green” thinking is vital and this is being achieved through educating children.  There was a big focus on recycling and getting recycling into schools. Eco Schools focus was on litter.  Both schools I visited in Stirling today had the Eco flag flying.   Di also spoke about the Royal Society of Prevention of Accidents / and how this organisation analysed risk benefit in outdoor learning play areas and endorsed this approach as being beneficial.  When soft floor playground surface was introduced, injuries increased as children felt the risk of a hard surface had been removed so were less careful in managing their own risk.

Stirling Council has introduced an inside/out outside/in policy which lays out what the Stirling Council’s expectations are from early year’s outdoor experiences at schools.  This has encouraged the approach from many previously uncommitted schools. Utilisation of other services was encouraged to make communities work together and avoid duplication. e.g  Ranger services assisted in making bird boxes for schools, bringing in people who are passionate about their interests is also encouraged…when a class were studying flight, the local pigeon racing club visited the school with their pigeons! 

I visited 2 schools today in Stirling…East Plean PS and Forth River PS and also a community outdoor adventure playground.  Featured in these schools were a sensory trail, puddles, wildflower plantings, willow tunnels, vegetable gardens, bird feeders, and diggings and they made fantastic use of natural play areas.  Di is passionate about environmental education and it was extremely worthwhile spending the morning with her.

 Grounds for Learning

This afternoon I had a meeting with Alastair from Grounds for Learning.  (GFL)  We were made welcome by the other Grounds for Learning team – Steve and Eileen. Alastair was very generous giving me his time at very short notice.

 GFL is the Scottish program of the Learning through Landscapes based in England.  GFL have three main areas of focus.  Promoting outdoor education, practical projects such as grounds development and professional development for teachers.  Alastair was very generous giving me his time at very short notice.  Felicity is the Learning through Landscapes contact person in Winchester  for schools who can take out a membership.  Membership entitles schools to contact, question and seek feedback or advice for outdoor education.  Alastair also spoke of Mary Jackson, another Churchill Fellow from the UK who may have contacts in Australia.

One of their aims is to look at how schools can use what they already have in promoting outdoor education and a lot of their work is focused on their website which is being developed as a one stop shop.  The GFL team thought in terms of hardware (the physical grounds) and the software i.e the culture of the school and how to develop both those areas.  GFL promoted using outdoor education to engage parents who were reluctant to be involved in schools.  One example was where parents spent an hour planting wildflowers with their children.  It would have been a lot simpler to plant this area himself, however the outcome wasn’t only about planting seeds, but getting parents to participate in school activities.  It was a non-threatening way to get parents into the school.  Another example was a teacher arranged for a mosaic feature to be displayed at the front of the school.  Children who bought in broken china and glass were able to work on the mosaic, but only if a parent was with them, for 1 hr each morning.  Children were so keen to participate that they put pressure on their parents to come to the school and stay for the hour with them.  Again a non-threatening environment for parents to participate in.

The Scottish Govt. has put together a number of publications to promote “green” education.  A publication “Wee Green Fingers” funded by the Scottish National Heritage Trust provides each Kindergarten aged child with a starter pack which includes seeds to plant and practical activities.  Children are encouraged to take these home and work together with their parents to utilise them.

Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning is another publication which legitimises the GFL ethos. They have a well developed website that includes a significant section on Outdoor Learning.  The only real issue for some schools is a lack of funding to support the initiative.  The Government is supportive and provides guidance.  GFL is working with 30 + schools on their outdoor play areas.  Each development operates on an average budget of approx L4000.  Utilising local materials, volunteers, local contractors, parents and students assists greatly in not only reducing costs but maximises community participation.

GFL sees outdoor grounds development as not a one off makeover, rather an ongoing, slow and steady grounds development.  A consultative approach and involvement from the whole community ensures the longevity of these projects.  Some of the current projects GFL are working on include orchard projects where traditional crops/varieties are planted, natural play area projects and developing woodland play areas.  Many schools are fortunate enough to have woodland areas in their boundaries and are utilising these as outdoor classrooms, however the challenge in many schools is to open these previously out of bounds areas up to students for free play during breaks.  Schools I have visited, including East Plean PS in Stirling were making fantastic use of these areas during break times.

GFL were promoting nature as a daily ongoing part of school life, not an intermittent procedure.  Using outdoor learning to promote nature on an ongoing basis develops in students an ongoing empathy with nature.  The office location of Grounds for Learning in Alloa just east of Stirling, reinforces the message of the GFL team that nature and the outdoors can coexist with a modern world. 

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room3 said...

hi its Room3 heres todays questions
Maggie:is Mrs cumming there yet.
Britt: nice pics.
SAM:i love the pics.

bye talk to you soon love Room3

Stuart Cumming said...

Good morning Rm 3...Mr Cumming is at a meeting this morning at another school, so yes Maggie I am here (Mrs Cumming)...if you have a look at the blog, I wrote about "Beautiful Scotland" which tells you about the countryside which is really magnificent. We are in Edinburgh today and tomorrow drive to the Isle of Skye. Glad you are enjoying the pics Britt and Sam. Mrs Cumming

Anonymous said...


Juliet Robertson said...

Wow - you've been busy recently. I hope you've had a lovely weekend and some breathing space.


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