Monday, 15 September 2014

Activities for outdoor learning this Autumn


Earlier this year, we published a blog post detailing some lovely outdoor activities to enjoy with your students in the Spring time. But, in case you haven't noticed, it's no longer Spring! Autumn is upon us and with it brings plenty of opportunities to get your class out in the crisp golden sunshine and kicking about in the leaves.

The resource sheets, activity ideas and online flash games featured below are all available from The Woodland Trust's fabulous Nature Detectives website. They're all completely free so we figured they wouldn't mind us sharing some of their wonderful ideas and resources with our readers! Simply follow the links to download. And don't forget that this is just a sample. We really recommend checking out their site for more Autumn activities and ideas.

ID tools and spotter sheets
Some brilliant resources here! Get your class outside and identifying Autumn leaves, fruits and seeds, twigs and more. My personal favourite resource is the hunt for animal tracks, as well as - one for the boys this one - an animal poo ID sheet! (It does stress to kids that they shouldn't touch the animal droppings). Other spotter sheets include nocturnal animals, minibeasts, birds, bramble and fungi. If you don't have access to a proper woodland in school, why not send some spotter sheets home as homework (optional or otherwise)?

Image: Rake's School, West Sussex

The best part of Autumn in my humble opinion... hunting for conkers! Nature Detectives provides instructions on how to play conkers, plus a snazzy conker champion certificate and a cool horse chestnut tree fact sheet. There's also a recipe for making realistic-looking conkers out of chocolate (no actual cooking required - all you need is a fridge) which would be great for a classroom session on cooking and nutrition.

Den building
Giving conkers a run for their money as most awesome Autumn activity, is this lovely set of tips for building a woodland den. It's aimed directly at the kids so it's all in really simple language with loads of great ideas plus helpful safety advice.

Tree faces
A brilliant resource for art lessons this, students find and draw a picture/photograph a 'face' on a tree. It's a great way to develop imagination and also empathy, as the kids are encouraged to think about how the tree is feeling based on the face it's pulling. Could you take it one step further and have them come up with reasons why the tree is feeling that way? What happened in the woodlands that day? The children could write up their stories as a follow up activity or even look at existing stories about tree people, such as the green man or dryads from Greek mythology. Don't miss the tree face 'hall of fame' on the page linked above - your students could even send in their own 'tree face' photos like the one to the right.

Cross curricular indoor activities and online games
You don't even need to go outside to enjoy all Autumn has to offer in every subject across the curriculum! 

Develop a range of scientific skills with this DIY fungus experiment in which kids control variables like temperature, moisture and light to work out what fungi need to grow best. Another science activity is the food chains game, a board game which teaches children the connections between woodland wildlife in a fun, imaginative way. 

If you'd prefer to develop your class' literacy skills, why not try the concrete poetry online flash game. Kids choose a woodland shape (or draw their own) and fill it with words (either from pre-prepared word banks or their own imaginations) to make a poem. The completed poems can be printed out. 

Another literacy game on the Nature Detectives site is called Save our wood. This presents players with plans to build a road through beautiful Badger Wood. The player navigates the woodland, looking for woodland residents. They interview each creature, collecting information before designing and writing an article to defend the wood from development. There's also a list of supporting resources including a sheet to help them develop a balanced debate (with arguments both for and against), plus a template to help them format an offline newspaper piece too. 

Another fab online game worth mentioning, this one based around developing historical knowledge, is A tree's memory. In this game, kids meet three trees - the ancient tree, the city tree and the country tree. They pick a tree and fill in its life story from a choice of images. For example, the city tree is only 50 years old, but in 1969, it witnessed something that was 'out of this world'! After selecting the correct image, the player gets a bit more information on the event, plus the tree's opinion!

Image: Rake School, West Sussex
Are you thinking of taking your class outside? Fancy a bit more inspiration or some advice on assessing the risks? This article by The Woodland Trust's Amy Williams is packed full of safety advice and inventive ways to engage students with the natural world.

Alterntatively, if you'd prefer to read about other schools who've taken the plunge and rented a piece of woodland to care for and use with their students (and that's not as outrageous an idea as you might think), take a look at this article by Patricia Ockenden of In it, she describes the amazing curricular opportunities taking the classroom to the woods offers.

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