Stories of Connection – Out to Play with P5, 6 and 7 at Scotstoun Primary

Written by Saffron Gillies.

I had the pleasure of working with Scotstoun Primary School once again in the winter/spring term of 2023. This time around I worked with Primary 5, 6 and 7 classes and their teachers. Reflecting upon previous residencies I have delivered, I decided to develop a new framework and a slightly different approach to the planning and delivery of this residency. In this blog I’ll outline my approach to working with these classes, and include some wee moments of magic that I noticed while delivering the sessions.

In approaching working with these classes, I decided to take a step away from my “Going on a Quest” framework which I have utilised in a lot of primary school residencies – it sees me delivering in-role as an adventurer, decked out in a cape, and inviting children on an ancient quest. 

For this residency, I wanted to put the focus on the role of stories in allowing us to understand our natural world and our potential place within it. I have been so taken with the ways that people in the past used stories to understand their natural world, and to encourage respect for it, whilst also seeing it’s magic. 

So, I started with a question for myself:

How can stories help us to understand and connect with nature?

For this residency, I presented myself to the classes simply as a Storyteller – and explained that I was interested in stories from the past that could help us connect to nature, and in creating some future nature connection stories with their help. 

Sharing a Story

Sparking Wonder

Beginning with a question for myself then inspired me to begin sessions with questions for the pupils. One of the things I was keen to do with this residency was to create opportunities for pupils to have their voices and ideas heard, so I incorporated provocation questions at the top of each session – 

“How connected to nature do you feel?”

“What’s something you’d like to know about our world?”

“How old do you think the oldest tree in Scotland could be?”

“What animal do you think is the most important?”


We had some really interesting responses! I feel that part of our learning for sustainability should be focused on allowing learners to really consider what a vast and exciting world full of wonder we are living in. I hoped that through open questions like these pupils would be able to open their imaginations and consider their place in our world, and their relationship with it, beyond simply thinking about climate issues. 

Some lovely pupil questions inspired by this included:

“I wonder what it would feel like to be a bird?”

“How did the first person who saw a tree react?”


“I wonder how many animals are living right now?”

I love wonder!

Investigating the Trees

The Stories

This has been the first residency where I didn’t have to learn a single new story! Having now worked on the project for over 18 months, I have built up a nice repertoire of stories, and it was lovely to be able to tailor my telling of these tales to suit older children.

 Why the Sky is Far Away – we kicked off with a focus on the Earth as a provider of nourishment. This Nigerian tale tells of a woman so greedy that the Sky, which as the story goes once fed the people all they needed, drifted far away in disgust. The Earth steps in benevolently, offering the people everything they might need, if they can learn to work the land and treat it with respect.

Tiddalik the Frog – a very popular Aboriginal Dreamtime story. Tiddalik the gigantic frog drinks all the water in the world, and the animals band together to try and make him laugh so that he will spit it back out again. This is a story which I had previously only told to younger children, but I feel that it is one of those universal tales which can delight any age.

Auld Croovie – a Scottish tale with a bit of a dark twist! On special nights ancient trees may dance away from their birth-spots and down to the river. If you look in the space left behind by them you may find treasure in the earth, but take too much or linger too long and you might get trapped – as the greedy Laird discovers in the story!

The Magic Garden ­– A Kazakh story of friendship and caring. Another story that I had previously only told up to P6, never to P7. The story tells of two friends who share a field, when one finds gold in the shared field neither can agree on who should keep it – both sure it is the other who should take it all. Eventually, a young student suggests they use the gold to buy seeds to begin a community garden. This student is trusted with taking the gold to the market. At the market however, they discover a great many birds being treated with cruelty, and impulsively use the treasure to free the birds instead. As an act of gratitude the birds gather seeds and drop them upon the village, and the garden is created for the people, and the birds to share.

A Garden Imagined by Pupils

This residency has allowed me to explore adapting stories for different groups – a P5 student and a P7 student might be at the same curriculum stage, but that doesn’t mean the telling of the tales should be identical for those classes. The beauty of traditional storytelling, where tales are told from memory and are never quite the same each time, is that there is always room to tailor that story to its audience in terms of language and delivery style. I particularly enjoyed adapting my telling of Tiddalik the Frog for older children – and in the P7 classes pupils really seemed to enjoy watching a classmate take on the role of Tiddalik, the greedy and stoic frog, as part of the story.

Stories can be a lovely way to implicitly share ideas around sustainability and respect for our world, but what I love about storytelling is that it can leave room for the listener to draw their own conclusions. At upper primary level it can be a great way to encourage pupils to consider their actions and the actions of others, and to empathise with their world. I observed the ways that older pupils responded to the stories – at the beginning of sessions I was quite often asked what the story would be, or when gathering the class to share a story I’d occasionally hear a “yes!” which was so encouraging!

One P5 pupil even wrote his own folklore inspired story about an Emperor “as greedy as a pig”, who stole gems from trees, upsetting the balance of nature, and a chipmunk who teamed up with a witch to stop him.

All of this served to reinforce my belief in the power of stories to inspire and captivate us at any age!

Exploring Nature Themes

Within this residency I explored themes of Earth, Water, Trees and Biodiversity. Earth and Water sessions drew upon work I have delivered previously, while my Trees and Biodiversity sessions were new creations. As such, I thought I’d write a little about each one.

Trees – I have been so inspired by conversations between Scottish conservationists around Scotland’s Temperate Rainforest. As I researched further into this, I began to form in my mind a session which could introduce pupils to Scotland’s forests, with a focus on the Celtic Rainforest and the Caledonian Forest. Scotstoun Primary is blessed with lots of trees in their playground so I set up a scavenger hunt, hiding facts about these two forests among the branches for groups to find. We then used image theatre to create freeze frames which demonstrated these facts. Pupils learned about deforestation in Scotland over the years, and the ways that our changing use of the land has shaped our forests and what remains of them. 

One of the things we talked about in relation to the Celtic Rainforest was Lichen – and I found a stick in the playground which was covered with it! This is something most of us probably see every day even in Glasgow, but perhaps don’t notice or take the time to appreciate. Pupils were fascinated by the shapes in the lichen and this simple object, found for free in the grounds of the school, went a long way to supporting pupil’s understanding of plant life in the Celtic Rainforest.

After telling Auld Croovie, classes split up into groups to get creative. While P5 and P6 created short scenes and movement pieces, I asked P7 to create nature murals titled “The Last Tree”. Pupils had very deep discussions while making their artworks, and I was struck by how many of the pupils chose to highlight the connections trees make with their roots underground – some images of the Last Tree poignantly showed a tree stretching out its roots and finding nothing to connect to. Looking at their artworks I was reminded once more of the power of storytelling and arts-based learning to create an emotional connection with our learning, and to allow pupils to consider things from not only each other’s points of view, but from the point of view of nature itself.

Biodiversity – I wanted to use the 4th week of the residency to explore biodiversity, bringing together all of the topics we’d explored over the residency. We discussed the need for different creatures and plant life, and also the role of humans in our world. 

We then took part in a process drama task. I set up the idea that they had been awarded a plot of land, and presented them with a deed to it. Groups of children were asked to be responsible for the management of different areas of the land: farm, forest, beach, river and garden. They then had to work together to create a map of their area and plan how they would run it. Then, in role as the mayor I began to upset their plans, introducing more and more ways to make the land profitable – clearing some of the forest for a hotel, swapping all of the animals on the farm for as many cows as we could fit, etc. The children in role as the custodians of the land really took issue with the mayor’s suggestions – and could clearly and persuasively point out why the changes being suggested weren’t in the best interest of the land itself, and the creatures that would live there. 

Process drama can be challenging to fit into a session which also includes stories, games and nature connection but I was really pleased with the outcome of this activity. Pupils were able to use their voices, and challenge the mayor’s authority. In particular, one P7 class collectively resigned as a result of the mayor’s suggestions! 

Wee Magic Moments

  • New Experiences: When passing a large seashell around the circle, for pupils to see if they could hear the sea, one P6 pupil told me they had never listened to a shell before, and found it “calming”.
  • In depth discussions: a P6 pupil asked me “can the planet run out of water?” opening this up to the class we had a really interesting discussion about the hydrological cycle, wasting water, water treatment and water scarcity in the Global South.
  • Innovative Ideas: I asked P5 pupils to create an advert for an invention that could reduce plastic waste in the sea, one group came up with the novel idea of edible packaging for online shopping purchases!
  • Connections Outside of School: When we discussed trees being connected through their root systems, one pupil told the class about a group of Palm Trees they had spotted while on holiday which were dying. It was really interesting to see them make this connection.
  • Imaginative Fun: A group of P7 pupils spotted a very large seagull sitting on the roof of the school, when I had asked them to look for signs of animal and insect life in the garden. One pupil shouted “That’s a penguin!” and the whole class got on board and started to tell myself and their teacher that there was a penguin on the roof. A nice reminder that the imagination can still create magic even in P7.

Teacher Takeover

Once again I have been thrilled with the ways that participating teachers have embraced this project. In week 5, I handed things over to them for a teacher takeover, and unsurprisingly their sessions were fantastic! I’ll definitely be pinching some ideas from them…

Fairies in the Garden

Mrs Glover took her class into the garden, and grabbed their attention by telling them about the famous Cottingley fairies. We passed around the pictures taken by two young girls which they claimed to be evidence of fairies, and pupils were asked to consider if they believed them or doubted them. Then, after hearing tales of the Dione Sith and Ghillie Dhu, pupils built fairy houses around the garden and used iPads to take pictures of them. Mrs Glover then challenged them later on in the classroom to see if they could use technology to convincingly insert fairies into them.

The Web of Life 

Mr Boyd and Mrs Welch introduced their classes to the concept of the Web of Life, and shared Indigenous American stories as part of their sessions. I particularly enjoyed their methods of supporting their pupils to devise theatre pieces – Mr Boyd gave groups each a different eco-superhero character to devise a scene about, and Mrs Welch gave her pupils chalks to allow them to visually map out devised short stories about animals in peril, before staging them. Meanwhile, Mrs Rae supported P6 pupils to explore the need for animals to have a healthy habitat and for her collaboration task she cast pupils as different types of woodland animal, and asked them to create pieces of performance where their animal needed to find a new place to live. I thought this was a really effective way of allowing the pupils to be playful while exploring sustainability – it’s hard not to be silly while playing a worm!

Teamwork and Interconnectedness 

Miss Palmer drew inspiration from the connectedness in nature to promote team working. We played some sports games which she adapted really nicely to reflect nature, e.g. being birds transporting a seed (a football) from one end of the pitch to another in creative ways. Pupils heard a fantastic telling of the popular story Stone Soup, which complemented the theme of the session really well.

Sustainability and Respect 

Mrs Kissack used lots of different ideas from nature to promote sustainability and respect for our world, telling pupils a fantastic, interactive version of an African Bushman creation story as a stimulus for considering human impact on our environment. One of my favourite activities from this session was an interactive warm up where pupils journeyed through a portal (a hula hoop) into a time travelling vortex that changed the way they moved – some pupils spun, some jumped, some did silly walks! A reminder that imaginative and playful activities can work really well with P7s.

Thank You!

In reflecting upon this residency, I am so pleased by the reception to the project from both teachers and pupils. I had such a lovely time working with everyone at Scotstoun Primary School, and would like to finish this blog with a really heartfelt thanks to all the staff and teachers, to HT Mrs McGill and DHT Mrs Coates for all their support for the project, and of course, a massive thank you to all of the pupils who took part.

Best of luck with your playground adventures going forward!