By Saffron Gillies.
In the Winter Term of 2022 I was lucky enough to return to Broomhill Primary School to continue delivery of the Out to Play project. I worked with P1, P5, P6 and P7 pupils, carrying on my work with the school, which began in 2021 with their P2, P3 and P4 classes. Every class at Broomhill has now had the opportunity to take part. In this term I also got to work again with some P2-4 pupils who had taken part previously, this time in smaller Health and Wellbeing groups. It was truly lovely to be able to explore ways in which to develop the Out to Play experience further for these groups, with a focus on care for the environment through listening to, and being aware of, the world around us.
In this blog, I will summarise the work that pupils took part in, highlighting some things that I felt worked particularly well, and reflecting on our experiences.
Creating Magic with Primary 1
Primary 1 pupils joined me on an adventure to find Nature Magic in their playground. On our first adventure we found the Ghillie Dhu, who has been making a habit of visiting Glasgow’s playgrounds of late! I have found that using something as simple as a mini fairies’ washing line can be a really effective way to encourage young children to look at their playground through an imaginative lens, if we can have visits from fairies and other magical creatures, then anything can happen in our outdoor space!
In the subsequent weeks we got a message from the magical Awongalema tree of Zimbabwe, whose story inspired us to care for our natural world by treating it with respect and ensuring that we don’t take more than we need. Then we found a fairy house hiding in part of the playground we called “The Magic Garden,” and heard the tale of “The Elf and the Slop Bucket,” inspiring us to think about the ways we get rid of our rubbish. Finally, we found a magic seashell that we could listen to the ocean through, and we heard the Aboriginal Dreamtime Tale “Tiddalik the Frog,” which prompted us to think about sharing natural resources, and being grateful for the gifts our world can give us, like drinkable water.
The story of “The Elf and the Slop Bucket,” was new to me for this residency. I chose it to be part of a session all about earth, soil and planting. It tied nicely into practical actions that the children could take, telling the story of the creation of a compost heap! The story is about a meeting between a farmer and an elf – it turns out that the farmer has unwittingly been dumping his vegetable peels and dirty dish water all over an invisible elf village. The farmer tries some different ways to get rid of the slops, but eventually hides them beneath one of his rose bushes – when that particular rose bush grows much bigger and more beautiful than the rest, he realises that the slops in the bucket have been feeding the soil, in turn making the rose bush stronger. We engaged in imaginative dramatic play, acting out being on the farm, planting seeds and making soup. The fairy house we discovered in the playground during this session was especially exciting – at the end of their session one child even came to tell me that they’d spotted the door opening and that they had seen a fairy going inside!
Wonder like this can also be created through simple, free materials that you may find in your playground, or be able to gather in your garden or local green space. I asked children to find a piece of nature magic in the playground, and they collected leaves and sticks – we enjoyed looking at all the different colours and shapes we could spot. Activities like this are a great way to promote nature gratitude; by encouraging the children you work with to recognise the natural beauty all around us.
Planet Guardians with Primary 5, 6 and 7
With the older classes I once again invited the pupils on a quest, but this time to discover how to become a Guardian of our Planet. My intention with this framing for our quest was to acknowledge the high level of climate literacy the pupils already had, and to use the goal of becoming a Planet Guardian to support pupils to share their existing knowledge, and to allow us to consider and share new ideas on how to care for our world. As I introduced our quest, I mentioned that some of them may already be Guardians of our Planet, as teachers had told me about some of the steps the children they worked with had already been taking to help care for our natural world, and combat climate change through individual actions and activism.
While some pupils took to the adventure straight away, it would be fair to say that some were definitely unsure if this was something they would enjoy, or if it would be too silly for them. Particularly for Primary 7s I can understand this, at the same time as they were taking part in the residency they were having visits from High School teachers and preparing for their transition to S1 – could this really be a time for play? I am happy to say that by the end of the residency I got the sense that a lot of the pupils who weren’t sure at the beginning had discovered the joys of being outside, doing drama and engaging in play! My advice to any teachers or practitioners keen to try out this kind of work with older children who may be new to drama or learning outdoors, or who may face other challenges in terms of getting involved, is to give it a go – after all we can never know until we try. Have a clear learning objective behind your lesson plan so that you can be confident in what you are delivering, and be patient with your pupils. It can take time to get used to something new, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. After all, we know the benefits that taking part in outdoor learning can provide: including increased focus; improved mental and emotional wellbeing; improved physical wellbeing; and a sense of connection to nature. Plus, the benefits of taking part in drama and other arts based learning which can include: increased confidence; development of team working and collaboration skills; and can give pupils an opportunity to have fun and to flex their creative muscles, taking control of their own learning. With creativity increasingly being recognised as a skill of the future, it’s something every child should have the opportunity to nurture and explore.
We kicked off with the Scottish story “Auld Croovie,” sometimes also known as “Jack and the Dancing Trees”. In the story, a greedy Laird tries to steal treasure from a great, ancient tree called Auld Croovie. The treasure is left unguarded when the trees journey to the river to dance – a shepherd boy named Jack hears of the treasure and tries to take some too, but quickly realises that with each piece he takes he sinks further and further into the earth, and so is careful not to take too much. The Laird on the other hand is so blinded by greed that he doesn’t notice how deep into the earth he has sunk until it is too late! The trees return and Auld Croovie settles back into his usual spot, trapping the Laird underground for good. We discussed the role of folklore in many different cultures’ understanding of, and respect for, nature. Using this as a stimulus, groups worked together to create their own mythical Nature Guardian character who had the power to guard or protect an aspect of our natural world. From the get go I was impressed with the fantastic team working skills the pupils demonstrated in their group work throughout the five weeks, and I feel that allowing them, where possible and appropriate, to work with their friends played a role in letting the pupils to embrace the experience and have fun through drama.
Something that one of the P7 teachers mentioned to me was how they noticed that children who would usually refuse to present work in front of the class were more confident in sharing their work while participating in the project. Presenting or performing outside can potentially feel less intimidating due to being in a more open space, without restricting walls – but this could also perhaps be because we were having fun while creating!
Throughout the weeks we looked at stories from around the world, including two of my favourites “Amarita’s Tree,” an Indian story, and “King Fish in the Sea,” a Norwegian folk tale. One thing that I noticed upper school children really enjoyed as part of the process was the opportunity to take an active role in the storytelling and to play characters from the stories. I was particularly excited when a boy who struggled to engage in the sessions to begin with put their hand up before the story had even began and asked to play the king of the Fish!
Teachers at Broomhill were brilliant at ensuring that children whose cultures we shared stories from were included in our discussions and given an opportunity to tell their classmates anything they wanted to add to the story, and I felt this really enriched everyone’s experience. For example, after hearing the “Amarita’s Tree” story we discussed the Chipko movement, and one child was able to tell us what they knew about it after hearing about the Chipko activists from a grandparent, and they told their class that “Chipko,” meant “to cling to” or “to hug” in Hindi. Exploring folklore can be a really effective way to promote Global Citizenship, and, as storytellers in Scotland sharing stories from around the world, it is so important to be respectful and accurate in the sharing of different stories, folklore, and religious beliefs and customs.
One key reflection for me from working with upper school pupils in this block of residency delivery, is that when working with imagination and creativity as our tools, sometimes less is more when it comes to additional information and materials. I asked upper school pupils to create news reports about issues facing water on our planet: from over-fishing, to water wastage, to the vast amounts of litter currently in our oceans. As I imagined this activity at the planning stages, in my mind this would be a great opportunity for peer learning – I would hand out different fact sheets to each group so that they could pepper a selection of facts into their news reports. This way, when they were performed, the audience would get to learn about their topics as they watched. In actuality, in many cases the fact sheets stifled creativity, and the exercise became more of a reading aloud task than a creative devising task. As a result, with some classes I instead verbally passed on some key facts for groups to consider, and let the groups know that if they wanted additional facts they were available, but they were welcome to devise around their topic using purely their imaginations if they preferred. Removing the fact sheets allowed the children to be more creative in the presentations of their news reports, and I found that their creations were more centred around emotions. For example, news reports created included interviews with fish to find out their perspective on litter in the oceans, and reports on climate demonstrators. One of our key aims with the Out to Play project is to utilise drama as a tool for children to connect emotionally to their learning, which has the potential to aid retention, and to encourage children to enjoy and connect to the topics they are exploring. So, in going forward, I am reminded that in an arts based approach the imagination is our most powerful tool. We don’t need to rely on giving children lots of facts and figures to incorporate into their scenes. When equipped with the key facts and ideas we can let them fuel our imaginations, too many can overpower them. Following on from this I am keen to further explore the ways that giving children more creative freedom to explore an idea can contribute to their overall connection to their learning.
A Whispering World with P2-4 Health and Wellbeing Groups
I had the absolute pleasure of working again with some P2-4 pupils who I had previously worked with during the first stage of Broomhill’s Out to Play adventure in September and October 2021, plus some pupils who were new to the school and as such also new to Out to Play! My challenge with these groups was to meaningfully develop the project following on from their previous experience, where we had searched for the Secret Powers of Mother Nature together.
This time around I invited the groups to help me learn to listen to the world around us – telling them when we initially met up that I had noticed some whispering trees! We began by hearing the Seneka myth “How Stories Came to Be,” the tale of a young boy who learned to tell stories by listening to a great mountain, which became our inspiration for exploring the messages we could receive from the world around us. From discussions with teachers, I knew that confidence building was one of the key objectives for these groups – and we identified that one of the best ways to build this up would be to encourage pupils to speak to each other, and build up their confidence to work together and share ideas.
As such, in designing my approach to these groups, I chose to begin with lots of turn taking drama games, where pupils could suggest their ideas and also give the ideas of other pupils a go. Games like “Swap Places If,” “Yes, Let’s” and “1,2,3 what are we going to be” gave pupils the opportunity to play together in a structured way, which I felt was important as they came from a mix of classes, so didn’t initially know everyone in the group all that well. After building up structured play opportunities we then moved forward into including more opportunities for free collaboration, with the aim of encouraging pupils to have conversations with each other as they worked together. I found that activities like nest building were particularly successful in this regard. We discussed the types of things different creatures might need to make a cosy place to live, and children were given the opportunity to work in groups if they liked, or to work independently if they preferred, to build a nest for an animal to come and live in their playground. Through this activity we explored the needs of animals, and use of natural materials to build things, which supported pupil’s nature connection. However, the activity also allowed the pupils to work together in a relaxed way – we had lots of time to create our nests, and pupils could use whatever they could find, so children were able to use this opportunity to speak about their favourite animals and their ideas without lots of time pressure or any pressure to have rehearsed something for us to watch. When finished, pupils were given the opportunity to tell us about their choices for their nests if they wanted to.
Working with pupils who had already taken part in Out to Play also gave me the opportunity to research and explore new stories to bring into my repertoire. I was keen to explore topics which would be different to their previous experience with Out to Play. In the end I settled on exploring the following topics, with the following stories:
- A Whispering World, with the Seneka Myth “How Stories Came to Be”
- Consumption and Greed, with the Dominican Republic tale “The King Who Wanted the Moon”
- Earth, with the Indian Folktale “Dirty Earth”
- Birds and the Sky, with the Peruvain Story of “Tassoo”
I really enjoyed this opportunity to explore new stories, and also some new ways of telling. For example, with the story “The King Who Wanted the Moon,” I brought along a crown and gave everyone an opportunity to have a go of being the greedy king, and demanding something from their servants. This was lots of fun, and I found that providing a fun piece of costume allowed children to feel more confident in stepping into character and speaking in front of their peers. When telling the tale “Dirty Earth,” also known as “The King with Dirty Feet” I encouraged children to use their facial expressions as I described the smell of the king who refused to have a bath. And, following the story of “Tassoo,” a beautiful and very short story about a brave little hummingbird who saves a burning forest, we sang songs about birds.
I should mention that a book that has recently been incredibly useful to me in sourcing new stories has been “The Natural Storyteller,” by Georgiana Keable.
Passing on the Baton to the Teachers
In the final week, I was thrilled to take part in a series of excellent teacher led sessions.
Primary 1 teachers Miss Mawell, Miss Pacitti and Mrs Sinclair worked together to plan a session which took children on an interactive adventure to the Arctic, inspired by a story they were exploring in class. Children interacted with some adventuring equipment as their session lure, before journeying across the playground imagining trudging through snow and slipping on ice. Along the way they met different Arctic animals, and made snowflake pictures from natural materials. The P1 sessions were wonderfully interactive and I loved how much we moved around the playground during the adventure. I must say a huge well done to Miss Maxwell and her class who dealt with some very heavy rain during their session – but still had lots of fun playing and exploring!
In Primary 5, 6 and 7 we had a really wide range of sessions; from exploring the rainforest, to Victorian mines, to WW2 evacuees. It was lovely to see the ways that staff were able to explore their class topics through the lens of drama and creativity, but especially the ways that they were able to promote nature connection while exploring their chosen topics. For example, in Ms MacLennan’s session on Evacuation, pupils explored the idea of moving from city to country, and were encouraged to create their own outdoor games using natural materials as the evacuees may have done. While in Mr Duncan’s session exploring Victorian mines, his class imagined what being in the mines might have felt like; what smells could have been there etc. and interacted with a piece of coal. In their sessions exploring the rainforest, Mrs Pitblado and Ms McLeod had their children journeying all over the playground taking part in fun activities like making gigantic chalk drawings, and team scavenger hunts. Mr Harrow designed a session exploring the changing nature of our world, starting with an “X” marking the spot where an old oak tree had once stood in the playground, prior to the constructions of the new school building. This was such a lovely way to promote nature gratitude, to encourage the children to be aware of the nature surrounding them, and to consider how they could celebrate it – children went on to create mythical Playground Guardian creatures who would protect the nature in their playground, and the children playing in it.
One P7 class had a real treat, it snowed heavily the night before their session! Mrs Hannah quickly adapted her session which was originally set to focus on Aboriginal culture and art, to explore Inuit culture and Igloo building. We even got to head onto the pitch, covered in a thick layer of untouched snow. I’m sure this session was one the pupils will remember for a long time!
Finally, Health and Wellbeing groups explored Weather and Animals. Mrs Bush set her group a challenge – in teams they had to hunt around the playground for rainbow coloured scarves, but they could only collect them in the correct order. A bit of friendly competition worked really well for her group, and it was lovely to see teammates working together! She supported the group to make rain shakers from easily recyclable materials, and then encouraged them to use their rain shakers as percussion while telling the African Bushman tale “Elephant and Rain Spirit.” Miss MacLean chose to explore animals, as we had noted how much her group enjoyed discussing and pretending to be their favourite animals. We made forests from sticks, heard the Chinese folktale “King of the Forest,” then played lots of drama games exploring animal movement, and finally took part in some reflective drawing – another fantastic opportunity for children to have conversations with each other in a relaxed and fun way.
I have been so lucky to have now worked with every class at Broomhill Primary School, and I have certainly learned a lot from everyone who has taken part. I would like to say a big congratulations and thank you to all of the pupils who participated – thank you so much for coming out to explore with me! Teachers and staff at Broomhill have been fantastic to work with, I can’t thank the them enough for being so welcoming and for all their wonderful support and input into the project. I hope you all continue to enjoy getting outside, getting creative and connecting to the nature that surrounds us.