Out to Play for Everyone!

Written by Saffron Gillies

Over October and November 2021 I had the pleasure of working with pupils and staff at Sandaig and Scotstoun primary schools. Over the five weeks of the residency we headed out into the playground for adventures where we imagined journeying all around the world, and we didn’t let the rain or cold deter us from having lots of fun!

At Scotstoun I worked with all P1 and P2 classes, and a P6 Health and Wellbeing group, while at Sandaig I worked with children from P1 all the way through to P6, almost every child in the school took part! Working across such varied age groups presented a brilliant opportunity for me to experiment with the delivery of my Out to Play sessions, tailoring them to different stages and topics while maintaining the Quest framework I had established in my previous residency with Broomhill and St Rose of Lima.

With P1-4 this time around, I invited the pupils on a quest to discover Our Planet’s Magic. Having noted in previous delivery just how much excitement was generated by the discovery of the Ghillie Dhu’s magic washing line, I was keen to expand upon this by bringing a focus on the magic of the natural world to each adventure. Meanwhile, with P5 and P6 groups, I once again invited pupils to help me complete an old quest to discover The Secret Powers of Mother Nature.

One of my main aims for this residency was to create a sense of wonder by setting up a surprise to be discovered in the playground each week, complementing the magic theme of the lower school’s residency and lending some magic to upper school’s adventure! I have found that setting up clues and surprises to be discovered in the playground can be a fantastic way to bring sessions to life, and to help children buy into the sessions and become fully immersed in the adventure – something we describe as the ‘lure’ at Eco Drama. These ranged from the washing line (still a firm favourite), to a large spiders web which appeared in the week of Halloween, to a postcard all the way from the Awongalema tree of Zimbabwe and a trail of seashells which led us to the discovery of a magic seashell.

We had lots of fun discovering each of these surprises in the playground; I felt that the postcard from the Awongalema tree and trail of seashells were particularly effective in allowing the children to explore the idea of travel. Interactive drama can be an incredible tool for promoting global citizenship, and introducing children to experiences and places they may not have had the opportunity to explore themselves. Particularly for children who have never visited the seaside, we were able to bring the seaside to them! I would stress that each of these mini playground installations were quick to set up and dismantle – with so much going on in school it could feel unrealistic to set up surprises before your outdoor lessons; but in reality it takes less than 5 minutes to wrap some yarn around a pair of well-placed trees (or perhaps a school fence or bike rails if trees aren’t available), and even less time to write a message on the back of a post card! Another quick and easy lure can be created by tea staining a large piece of thick paper on which you can write riddles and clues. Deciphering these can be especially fun for older children! Tea stain one large piece of paper ahead of time and then simply cut or tear away as much as you need each time to write a quick message on. These could also be great fun to recreate in class as an arts and crafts/creative writing activity to complement your outdoor learning sessions.

Scotstoun Riddle

The main challenge of approaching a residency spanning such a wide age range was undoubtedly ensuring that content and stories were appropriate and appealing across the age range. The idea of play and storytelling for upper primary may seem daunting, indeed in planning for these residencies this was definitely on my mind. I discussed this with Sophie, a fellow Eco Drama Artist and font of knowledge, who gave me the very useful advice to remember that even in upper primary: pupils are still children! My response to this was to consciously throw away my preconceived ideas about what may be too “young” for upper primary children. I reminded myself each week that a good story can capture the imagination of listeners regardless of age or stage of development, after all, folklore and mythology have captured the imaginations of people across the globe for centuries and they continue to do so. Furthermore, I am absolutely an advocate for outdoor creative learning and play as a tool to allow children to truly be children at any stage of primary school, and regardless of the circumstances they may be dealing with in or out of school. I found this particularly rang true with P5 and P6 classes at Sandaig, who were just as engaged when playing classic drama games like ‘Yes, let’s!’ and ‘1,2,3: What are we going to be?’ as they were discussing the intricacies of the Web of Life. Transforming ourselves into animals, different characters and even monsters unlocked a sense of playfulness and silliness that allowed us to explore sustainability topics and take part in storytelling with joy and excitement. I felt this was especially necessary given that COP26 was being held in Glasgow at the same time as this residency was being delivered.

As such, children in schools across Glasgow were spending lots of time exploring sustainability and the climate crisis in their classrooms. This was of course a really exciting time to be delivering Out to Play sessions, but I was aware that while our sessions were timely and would complement this learning really nicely, there was potential for climate crisis overload! While the work of Eco Drama has a strong focus on educating children about our natural world, and the effects of climate change, we are also aware of the sometimes overwhelming nature of learning about the climate crisis, and hope to promote sustainability and awareness in a way that is enjoyable and offers participants a sense of agency over, and hope for, our planet’s future. Play, drama and adventure can allow us to engage with our natural world in a tangible way. Why just look at pictures of trees when you could get outside and touch, listen to and smell them? Interacting closely with nature can allow children to form a caring and emotional connection to our natural world which we hope will inspire them to care for it throughout their lives.

Nature Connection Activities

Of course, all this is not to say that stories and lesson content were the same across all classes! While many stories are truly universal, I did tell a range of stories, some a bit scarier or more advanced in terms of content for upper school pupils, and activities varied too. For example, in a week where we explored the importance of water as a natural resource and habitat P1-4 heard the Aboriginal dreamtime myth Tiddalik the Frog, which is an Out to Play classic, while P5-6 pupils heard the Scandinavian folk tale King Fish in the Sea. Both stories explore the idea of water as a precious resource, and carry messages of greed, and its effect on others, which encourage us not to waste water. The version of King Fish in the Sea that I told older pupils also included discussion of the effects of the oil industry and overconsumption on global climate, and how actions in the Global North can have harmful effects on the Global South. During this lesson, we also used craft to support exploring the idea of marine life, and creating robot technology to help protect it by cleaning our oceans and seas. Younger pupils made fish puppets using lollipop sticks, plasticine and leaves from the playground, and older pupils used recycled materials to build their own robots.

Likewise, in terms of group activities, many of the games and nature connection activities we took part in worked across all age groups regardless of age or stage. Things like scavenger hunts and building imaginary campfires are almost always enjoyable! In fact, older classes had some fantastic suggestions for the different kind of foods we could cook over our campfire, and we acted out enjoying our campsite feast! Sometimes the simplest of activities can be the most effective – something as accessible as imagining an outdoor meal can be a great way to get your class participating in drama (regardless of whether they have previous experience or are totally new to drama), and help you to build towards creating more developed performances through introducing pupils to concepts like gesture, mime, reaction and facial expression which can be a brilliant foundation to further explore dramatic conventions and techniques.

How can sessions differ for P1 vs P6, while exploring the same story and theme?

In order to further demonstrate the way Out to Play techniques can be tailored and adapted over varying age groups, I will detail below a session plan I utilised for the youngest participants vs the oldest participants in this residency, which share the same story and overall theme. The story used for these sessions was the Choctaw story How Grandmother Spider Brought Fire. In the story, the animals and people live in the cold and darkness, until one day they spot something glowing in the distance – a fire. Different animals journey out and try to take a piece of fire home with them so that they can all enjoy light and heat, but their haste and lack of knowledge of fire leads to them getting burned! Eventually, clever Grandmother Spider goes to take some of the fire, but first she makes a small pot to store it in, so that she can collect it and carry it home safely. In order to create lasting heat and light, she throws a few sparks into the sky and they become the sun, the moon and the stars.

Lower school session – A Magic Web

Wonder: We found a magic spider’s web in the playground, and hunted for the spider who created it. We eventually found Grandmother Spider snoozing in the treasure chest! I used a fluffy, friendly looking toy spider for this session. Grandmother Spider’s story deals with fire, so we gathered sticks to create an imaginary campfire in the playground as a nature connection activity, and acted out eating different foods that we might cook on a campfire.

Excitement: I introduced the children to a friend of Grandmother Spider; Hickety Tickety Bumble Bee! We played a game I like to call Hickety Tickety Bumble Bee, what are we going to be? In this game the leader calls out “Hickety Tickety Bumble Bee!” in a sing-song voice, and players call back “what are we going to be?” Then the leader gives them a creature to act out. For younger classes it can be useful to prepare visual aids ahead of time to ensure children have an understanding of what you are asking them to act out.

Inspiration: We heard the Choctaw story How Grandmother Spider Brought Fire. This story included some animals which I expected the children may not have previously encountered, such as a turkey buzzard (vulture in the UK) and a possum, so I prepared visual aids ahead of time to support children’s understanding of the story. We focused on the silliness of poor vulture and possum burning their head and tail respectively on the fire, while also highlighting the need to be careful and responsible around fire.

Collaboration: Inspired by the story, which explored the idea that different creatures have different needs e.g. the need for a suitable habitat, the need for food and, central to the story, the need for different conditions to thrive e.g. heat, light, darkness, water, etc. we discussed the different things that our favourite creatures might need. Then, in response to this discussion, we created a magic nature spell by gathering up special leaves from the playground and making a wish for the creatures of the world, before throwing the leaves into the air together to cast our magic spell.

Celebration: We finished up by reflecting on our adventure. I often prompted reflection by asking younger participants to think of a “magic moment” from the adventure: which could be something they enjoyed, something new that they learned, or something that surprised them!

Upper school session – Darkness and Light

Wonder: As above. We found a gigantic spider’s web in the playground, and hunted for the spider who created it. We eventually found Grandmother Spider hiding in the treasure chest! I used a realistic, and slightly scary tarantula prop for this session. Grandmother Spider’s story deals with fire, so we gathered sticks to create an imaginary campfire in the playground as a nature connection activity, and acted out eating different foods that we might cook on a campfire.

Excitement: We used yarn to create a Web of Life in the playground. Children stood in a circle holding cards which represented different creatures, resources and habitats: we considered how they would interact, and used the yarn to link up the different creatures, resources and habitats that interacted with each other. This activity is a great way to demonstrate the importance of biodiversity, and the way that different creatures rely on each other and on our planet’s resources. Children commented on how much the web of life resembled a spider’s web – which felt really appropriate to this session as Grandmother Spider is credited by the Choctaw for teaching the people about the interconnection of all living things in our world.

Inspiration: We heard the Choctaw story How Grandmother Spider Brought Fire. As with younger classes, I made use of visual aids to support engagement and understanding. For older classes, I adapted my telling of the story, making the darkness at the beginning of the story more menacing, a little scarier (it was Halloween week after all!), and used more complex vocabulary to describe the animal’s experience of seeing and interacting with fire for the first time.

Collaboration: Inspired by the story, and the web of life activity we explored the idea that different creatures have different needs, we discussed the different things that our favourite creatures might need and then used this to consider the idea of different ecosystems. I asked the children to consider the playground as an ecosystem – thinking about what types of creatures live there, and what natural resources and habitats existed there. In groups, they then created TV advert style performances where they advertised their playground as the ideal home for creatures who may be looking for a new place to live. Adverts can be a really fun activity for children to experiment with playing different characters and using movement and voice creatively, as children are likely to have some existing understanding of the format of a TV advert. You can, of course, further support this by giving clear instructions as to what to include in the adverts e.g. you must include a demonstration, you must tell the audience the key features of the playground, you must include testimonials from current playground residents, etc.

Celebration: We finished up by sharing our adverts with the rest of the class, and I invited feedback for groups in the form of One Wonderful Thing: audience members could share something they enjoyed about their classmates’ work.

As always, we ended the residency by passing the baton on to participating teachers, inviting them to lead their own Out to Play session. There was plenty of hilarity as we explored storytelling skills in the preparatory CPD, once again proving the power of drama and outdoor exploration to allow anyone to engage in play – even teachers! Participating staff led some really varied and exciting sessions, with activities which ranged from digging in soil to find root vegetables and planting daffodil bulbs, to playing traditional Ugandan children’s games, to passing round acorns and pieces of tree branches, to going on a playground wide scavenger hunt for magic stones, to creating sculptures using found materials in the playground, to the Out to Play classic activity of creating brand new Just So style stories.

I would like to say a great big thank you to all the pupils at Sandaig and Scotstoun primary schools who participated in Out to Play, and also a huge thank you to all the teachers and staff involved for being so welcoming and enthusiastic.

Written by Saffron Gillies