Inclusive Creativity in Nature: Middlefield School Blog

By Sophie McCabe

Magic Wand made by pupils with sticks and wool / ribbons

This blog will describe some outdoor creativity ideas which I feel were successful with a group of pupils, mainly teenage males whom were on the autism spectrum or requiring additional support needs. I’ll also talk about my experience during my ‘Out to Play’ Project residency at Middlefield school in Glasgow, led by myself and the excellent teaching and support staff.

We used a combination of: Drama / role -play, nature themed sensory play, outdoor games, nature connection, arts and crafts, visual art, messy play, creative writing, film-making and more to engage pupils in ways which were appropriate to each individual.

Easy Ways to Jazz up an Outdoor Space

Staff had said an aim for them was to reimagine their vast outdoor space, and find new uses for it. I tried a few different ideas, helped by staff and pupils, to make the outdoor space more visually creative and to encourage sensory engagement, play and magic.

Our Woolen ‘Den’ / Web

We created our biggest ever woollen spider’s web (a messy interpretation of some very cool art installations I’d seen online!). We simply wrapped some coloured balls of wool around three equidistant trees and then weaved it up and down. The pupils seemed to get right into this, calling it their ‘den’ and making up games climbing in and out of it, bouncing on the structure, adding to it and exploring the touch and sight of the bright woven threads moving in the wind and catching the sunlight. As a low cost, fun, simple idea, I was really pleased with how this went down.

You should check the environmental side of any of these ideas, such as how long can you safely leave it up before you’re in danger of discouraging tree growth, or stray bits coming off and turning into pollution, but as a semi-permanent addition to the playground, I think it worked well.

Our ‘Magical Tree’ with ribbon decorations – a quick way to create imagination and a new sensory element


We explored a different theme each week and opened up a treasure box filled with sensory props, natural materials, images and really anything that could ignite a pupil’s interest in the theme / topic. You can also read about ideas in the previous Eco Drama blogs, including residencies I have done with three ASN / CLN specialist schools.

Middlefield school’s magical adventure map and treasure box of clues


When working with pupils with autism or additional support needs it’s important to be ready to take the lead from pupils. Often a ‘way in’ to planned activities, topics or learning is to first acknowledge an interest or a hobby. Be ready to have a plan and change and adapt that plan quite drastically if you really want to work in a pupil-led way. This has honestly taken me years to get used to, coming from a somewhat structured theatre and drama workshop leading background, I understand we as artists or educators can often be very focussed on a planned aim, end goal or how an activity ‘should’ go. I often call upon my physical theatre and clown training, as well as the comedy improv training rules of ‘saying yes to suggestions / possibilities’. Be ready to go somewhere you didn’t expect and you might go on the most amazing adventure!

Loosely, we explored weekly themes of trees / nature, animals, ocean and recycling. During the residency, ideal groupings were found and I developed a format where I led individual sessions with some pupils. Each pupil worked in their own specific way and I adapted to suit them, with the help of the amazing Middlefield staff, who knew the pupils so well.

A pupil using role-play to lead a teacher on a treasure hunt for technology items, in an imaginary future – what a great idea from Teacher week!


We also ran an Out to Play Eco Craft Club, as this was part of the school day for the pupils. The Middlefield pupils are encouraged to choose from various clubs on offer and my club was added to the list of options. It was a chilled out way to engage with some fun arty activities while reflecting on how the day had gone, unwinding and enjoying socialising with other pupils.

Wood slices with different functions of trees written on both sides- a good sensory / visual learning aid and easy to make

We tried a range of nature craft activities that you could also try, including:

Clay and natural objects faces on trees

Magic ‘wands’ made with sticks and wool

Leaf collage with sticky lining paper

Chalk artwork

Autumn greetings cards

Decorating the playground with ribbons and wool

Parachute games (always a winner and great for sensory learners)

“The thing that surprised me was how engaged the pupils were. They created their own animal characters and engaged more imaginatively than I thought they would. I will now take the ideas from Out to Play and give them a go. I will do drama with the pupils now because I know it will work.



To bring stories and themes alive for pupils with additional needs, it can be a great idea to think of all five senses as your starting point.

Look through the story you’d like to tell, or the theme or topic, and list off all of the senses, thinking of some ideas for each. For example:

Story: Scottish Folk Tale ‘The Selkie Bride’

Theme: Ocean

Sight: Looking at shells, pictures of sea creatures, colourful ocean props

Touch: Sensory blue fabrics, wind while playing stormy seas with fabrics

Hearing: Sound of shells (can you hear the sea?), sea folk songs, wave sound effects

Smell : I find this often the most difficult, if you’re not already in a natural outdoor area (with plants, flower and natural air to smell) you can do all sorts of things with spices, herbs, essential oils, make smelling tubs and more. A basic scented water spray or perfume spray is easy to make and can really bring a story or theme alive. Check safety advice for different medical needs, as some essential oils can be dangerous.

Taste: Depending on whether it’s safe and appropriate to do so, sometimes you can include the sense of taste in a storytelling workshop or sensory session. If it was ocean for example, you could have something to symbolise the sea- seaweed nori sheets to taste or ice cream ‘by the sea’. Eating and exploring with the mouth are areas which the school support staff will have considerations about for each pupil, so definitely check this ahead of time.


This is the age old, simple classic that makes outdoors exciting, and generally gets young people running about and enjoying themselves. We did things like hunts for nature picture cards, natural items, gathering sticks for a pretend camp fire, gathering leaves for art work, finding hidden archaeology props and more. There are lots of tips for these ideas in more detail in Eco Drama’s Out to Play Resource Pack.

Chalk footprints from different animals around the playground

Usually Out to Play is deliberately low-tech, but in the interest of going along with pupils’ interests there have been two filmed projects linked to this school’s Out to Play experience. One pupil created his own concept, directed and acted in a mini film that was a tongue in cheek look at both the pressures young people face to follow ‘influencers’, financial divides when customers are trying to make sustainable choices and large companies ‘greenwashing’ – spending vast sums on marketing themselves as ‘green’ to hop on the trend without any actual understanding or investment in sustainability. As this pupil was heading off for a new chapter at a mainstream school, I was very pleased that we managed to get a short film made about these ideas and how many drama and film-making skills were shown in the short time he spent working with me.

Another pupil who mainly works one-to-one with staff, is taking part in a film project, and the staff came up with a clever idea to include observations of the natural environment in the pupil’s activities and re-scripted their film to create a fictional computer game all about redevelopment of local green areas and environment. This creative approach to finding a way to incorporate the Out to Play project was fantastic and we can’t wait to see the final film!


Staff are encouraged to take the reins in the final week of Out to Play. In ASN schools this can be a bit more flexible than in mainstream, but at Middlefield the staff really got involved and came up with some brilliant activities.

Making volcanoes!

“The pupils engaged well with the oceans session, which they loved. During my teacher-led session I led an activity where we made an exploding volcano. They loved it. I will definitely continue to run creative outdoor sessions.”

Middlefield Teacher
Story board for filmed project with an eco spin


Remember playing? It can feel like a distant memory for us adults since we really let go and played without having other things on our mind that adult life, or indeed our role as a teacher, artist or educator brings.

We run staff CPD as part of the Out to Play project and we were talking about how doing things like drama and storytelling can make us, especially as adults, feel nervous or on the spot. However, I also believe it’s a good reminder for us, as adults, to sometimes come out of our comfort zone, just as we often expect pupil’s to do, to take part in activities. We did some fun creative exercises to help with breaking down stories into key parts.

Go outside into your outdoor space together and have a think, practically, creatively and financially what can be done to reimagine it for your pupils. It’s not always about buying expensive new equipment. Have a think about low cost ideas. At Middlefield, school support staff had started a gardening club and got pupils involved in decorating recycled hub-caps and CDs to decorate outdoors, alongside the changes I had made to the playground.

Staff coming up with creative ideas for their sensory garden during the CPD session

“Pupil C is very dramatic. He loved the maze. I watched him work with Sophie and was amazed at how well it went and how he embraced the creativity. I’m going to incorporate using creative maps into my lessons now. I’ve got a better idea, after seeing him with Eco Drama staff, what he’s actually capable of. I got so much out of the project.”

MiddlefIeld teacher
Pupils in their nature masks playing in the den

A huge thank you to all the Middlefield School staff and pupils who took part in Out to Play – we had a blast! Happy adventures!