A flight of fancy – The final wander at Sandwood and Haghill Park Primary Schools

by Dan Serridge

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

By Emily Dickinson

Birds of feather, flock together and as the five week Out to Play project at Sandwood and Haghill Park Primary Schools comes to an end, the pupils of each have been swooping, soaring, gliding and diving like birds. The final wander on this project took us up into the sky to see who could be the king or queen of the birds. Of course, we didn’t really journey into the sky, much to the relief of one pupil who was very concerned about falling and hurting themselves, instead I brought the sky to them in the form of a large blue parachute. Our final session at both schools saw pupils explore all things birdlike, they put on the hawk eyes, slipped on their owl ears and tried to discover the world of birds, searching for the answer to the question, ‘why do birds matter?’

This marked the end of my five week residency at each school, what a whirlwind it has been and what a shifting array of weather systems we have encountered! From cold crisp mornings to dark blustery afternoons, the residency has shown me just how much you get in a Scottish November. After our first two weeks of stillness and stepping we moved on to explore animals. Creating new tales of how certain animals got their unique traits, how the elephant got its trunk, how the cheetah got its spots, how the zebra turned into a giraffe!

Once pupils had decided on their story they then bravely stepped forward and performed their stories to the rest of the class. A whole animal menagerie was born in front of our very eyes!

Then, week four saw the teachers step forth to lead the pupils on an Out to Play adventure. And I can tell you, we got such a huge array of different activities and themes that it seems only fair to name as many as I can right here, big deep breath. There were; plastic bottle puppets, farting frogs, hundreds of crisp packets, marvellous magpies, an escaping brain, a king who wanted the moon, busy bees, saber toothed yompers, mysterious footprints, litter picking, scavenger hunts, tickle toads and silky smooth seal skins!

Such a huge amount was covered by the teachers that I was left in awe of the work and energy that they had put in to make these marvellous ‘Out to Play’ sessions. I was suddenly struck by how much Out to Play encourages teachers to come out of their comfort zone and try lots of different new ideas and concepts, from outdoor play to storytelling, from drama to nature connection. The teachers all produced hugely exciting sessions and did so with their own unique style, responding to the needs of their class and exploring some hugely diverse and interesting issues. We covered water consumption, problems with plastic, the importance of nature to the brain and recycling! I want to use this opportunity to say a huge well done to the teachers who each received a highly coveted Eco Drama award that came in the form of a certificate.

This project has been a fantastic opportunity for me to see how schools respond to the combination of drama, storytelling, outdoor play and nature connection. Each class has been hugely different with such a vast array of diverse pupils with differing needs and at different stages. However, what is clear to me is that within all of these different core concepts all pupils have found something that they want to explore. Seeing them step outside, no matter what the weather is, and begin to see the connection between themselves and the natural world was a wonderful experience.

At the end of each final session this week, I encouraged the pupils to go off and pick a leaf and bring it back to the circle. With that leaf I encouraged them to think of a wish for nature, a hope they had for the future of the natural world. As they made their wishes they threw the leaf to the wind, some were caught by the breeze, others floated back down to earth, but in either case the children managed to articulate something of what they’d like to see more of or less of in future. My final wish for all of them was the hope that they’d each spend more time in the outdoors, heading off for wanders to discover and uncover some other secret worlds that we’ve found over the course of the project. For me, that is what Out to Play is all about, leading by example and demonstrating that there are so many more opportunities outside than cooped up on your computer at home.

Final quotes from some children:

‘It has inspired me to make longer and better stories’

‘Fun, adventurous and beautiful’

‘I learned a lot about nature and the animals’

‘Nature is important because: ‘It is a human but it doesn’t talk, walk, open their mouths and doesn’t have arms’.