16 October 2012
There is a fear, universally acknowledged it seems but I am sure there are exceptions, that if you let a group of children into the outdoors then they will be sucked into some kind of child vortex and will immediately ping at high acceleration into the farthest corners of the available space.
It is almost as though we think we have a Jekyll and Hyde issue going on. Those nice children who exist inside the classroom and who are generally fairly well behaved and can be trusted to sit down, focus on the teacher and conduct themselves in a manner becoming to young learners undergo a metamorphosis on exposure to the fresh air.
Bracing though this worthy element is, fresh air does not in fact contain high levels of stimulant and is not likely to transform your cohort of pupils into an unmanageable whirligig of unguided human missiles.
You do not need huge numbers of additional staff to go outdoors with children, nor do you need reams of risk assessment documents or some kind of accredited crash course in 'Survival in mid-Winter in the Outer Himalayas Alone Without a Yak'.
I completely accept that there will be one or two children (and maybe even a few more) who on the first intrepid exploration of a space bigger than the confines of a classroom during lesson time may well indulge in a bit of running around, a bit of letting off steam and a bit of bouncy behaviour.
This is not a reason to round them up and herd them nervous-shepherd like back into the pens.
This is a reason to take them out more so that they get used to it.
If you prepare both yourself and the children then you will cope with everything that the outdoors has to offer and you will grow to enjoy it as much as them and may even begin to feel a little bit bouncy yourself.
Be clear with the class about what behaviour is expected. Be clear about what the sanctions will be if the expected behaviour is not forthcoming.
Know why you are going outside and what you intend to do there and how you intend to begin the activity.
Have the children help you carry any props and equipment out with you - give them a role and a purpose in this new experience.
Make sure that you have an agreed method to get everyone back together when it is time and make sure everyone knows it.
Know the space - if you are confident in it and you know all of the potential 'hidey holes' then you will feel much more confident that you have the control that you need to keep the children safe.
There will always be a few children for whom going outside is a greater challenge, and this is where any additional staff should be deployed. Those who exhibit and act out poor behaviour in the classroom are highly likely to exhibit and act out poor behaviour in the outdoors. As long as we keep them in school we should also make the outdoors available to them. For some of them you may get some unexpectedly positive results, they may feel less trapped, more able and more in their comfort zone, they may bother the other children less, they may be more interested and more engaged in what is going on.
Let's begin to help each other build confidence - if you have had a bad experience taking children outdoors, let us know. Let us try and suggest ways in which this might be better for you in the future. Let us ask other professional colleagues for their views. Let's talk. firstname.lastname@example.org