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Self Sufficiency – The Reception Teacher And Pupils Who Built Their Own Mud Kitchen

Being outstanding outside doesn’t have to cost the earth, as the work of award-winning Reception teacher Simon Poote demonstrates – you just need to be willing to get your hands dirty...

  • Self Sufficiency – The Reception Teacher And Pupils Who Built Their Own Mud Kitchen
  • Self Sufficiency – The Reception Teacher And Pupils Who Built Their Own Mud Kitchen
  • Self Sufficiency – The Reception Teacher And Pupils Who Built Their Own Mud Kitchen

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Having spent much of his own childhood playing outdoors and embracing nature, Simon Poote is well aware of the value of outdoor learning for young children.

A Foundation Stage teacher at Long Crendon Primary School in Buckinghamshire, he has put considerable effort into making learning outside the classroom (LOtC) a key part of his own practice – and in 2015 he was rewarded with the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom’s LOtC Innovator Award. This was in recognition of his creative LOtC provision for his Reception class and hard work in developing the grounds at Long Crendon Primary, despite having limited funds at his disposal.

What his work demonstrates is that developing high-quality LOtC doesn’t necessarily mean spending lots of money; that even a do-it-yourself approach can deliver real benefits to children’s learning and development.

Inspired to improve

As a new teacher, Simon was inspired by visiting schools with excellent outdoor facilities, but he soon realised that it would be difficult to replicate this provision in his own setting. After spending time trying to raise money to fund the development of the outdoor space at the school, he decided that he would have to find some more innovative ways to get the work done.

Starting with a flat lawn and no money, Simon set out to landscape and equip an inspirational learning area. To keep costs down, he did a lot of work himself, with the help of the children and the local community, and used re-purposed and recycled materials. He placed an emphasis on involving the children in the development work, increasing their sense of ownership of the space and enhancing the benefits for their learning.

Landscaping the grounds

Using donated soil, an old tunnel and wooden equipment that was being disposed of, Simon landscaped hills and created a ‘trim trail’. The children helped to sow wildflowers to contribute to the landscaping. He also created a vegetable plot.

Simon involved the children in the work, getting them to help construct a system of ropes, pulleys and water channels so that they could move water around the site. A firepit was added so that the children could cook the produce they grew. Next, they built a mini-beast shelter and a bird hide.

Today, the school grounds offer a range of habitats and growing areas that can support children’s understanding of the world, as well as developing their physical development in negotiating the different terrains.

Make it muddy

When Simon created a mud kitchen from recycled materials, the children were again actively involved at all stages of construction. They sawed and hammered shingles, and laid membrane and pebbles on the floor. Simon asked for donations from the local community and the kitchen now contains every old pot and pan in the village, as well as a proper workbench with real tools and safety equipment.

The process was a fantastic opportunity for pupils to learn about appropriate tool use and develop risk awareness, whilst contributing to a real and meaningful project. The mud kitchen has also been an inspiring addition to the outdoor area, offering lots of creative opportunities for learning and development.

One day, several children were role-playing the idea of cooking for some trolls. They picked herbs and grasses, sourced mud and water, and drilled and sawed wood to make sawdust for pepper to add to a stew. Others joined in and began setting the table for trolls, and soon the whole class wanted to be involved.

Each day, the children wrote letters inviting more trolls. Lists of ingredients were written, as well as recipes. Children were weighing quantities, counting and sorting cutlery and plates. The trolls even started writing messages back and leaving them in the den!

The children went on to interview people about the trolls, write newspaper reports and create posters and models of the trolls and their world. A host of learning outcomes came from this one child-led project.

Outstanding outdoors

Simon’s work on the outdoor provision has had a huge impact on pupils’ learning and development. A report on the early years provision by Bucks Learning Trust remarked that, “Early years outdoor learning is inspirational. This has impacted on the quality of writing in Early Years where the quality of writing is outstanding and there is a good range of work on display.”

The hard work is still ongoing at Long Crendon Primary. In January 2016, the school was awarded LOtC Mark (Gold) – national accreditation that recognises good practice in learning outside the classroom across the whole curriculum.

Getting Started

Simon’s advice to others wanting to follow his example and develop their grounds is…

1. “Look at your provision and try to find a patch of land (grass, if possible) that you can adopt as your outdoor learning area. Ideally, it should be somewhere you are able to access daily, but you may have to be creative and develop outside storage such as an old shed to house some equipment if your area is out on the school field, for example.

2. “Once you have a patch (big or small), let the children help you to develop it into a space that is theirs. Give them a sense of ownership by digging and laying underground pipes, creating small mounds and undulations, sowing seeds and building dens with tree branches collected from local woodland. Ask the school community for old pots and pans, and see if there are any skilled tradesmen that are willing to help you build a small kitchen or den. The more you get people involved (especially the children) the more the space will develop and evolve.

3. “It has taken three years for our wild area to become established, and it is still a work in progress. It takes time and motivation, but it didn’t cost very much at all. Almost all of the resources have been donated and ‘child-made’, making the space the children’s. They know what they want and how to use it much more than we do as adults. The skill is to help them manage their own risks and build on their own ideas and interest, so that they can become more independent learners and better equipped to tackle the demands of a more formal curriculum when they need to.”

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is a national charity that supports and promotes all aspects of LOtC; its Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Learning Outside the Classroom are presented each year in November, with nominations opening in May. For more information, visit lotc.org.uk or follow @CLOtC

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