Wee Faeries Out to Play at Crookston Castle

Written by Sophie McCabe

A Wee Sprinkle of Magic…

In autumn 2021 the P2s and P3s of Crookston Castle Primary School sprinkled some fairy dust on the nature around their playground and went on a five week imaginary adventure with ‘Out to Play’.

What I loved about working at this school was not only the staff being welcoming and enthusiastic about outdoor learning, but working exclusively with this young age of children allowed us to really focus on imaginative play and the magic of the outdoors and nature.

Crookston Castle is lucky enough to have a playground with a variety of green space, outdoor play spaces including a mud kitchen, willow den, outdoor classroom and a forest-walk style hill that leads up into the trees looking out over the local area and school.

Having areas with greenery and nature in a playground, for today’s city kids, is one of the best teaching aids and wellbeing resources a school could ask for. The sheer joy the P2s and P3s got from simple nature activities like collecting leaves to make something, finding things (real or imaginary) in the forest walk, treasure hunts in and around the trees, was lovely to see.

Pupils playing ‘Framing Nature’ outdoor game, “Find something the colour…. orange!”
Playing a Character

Having played an explorer of some sort with most of my Out to Play Schools, with this young age group I decided to turn up on day one wearing a flower crown and tell the children I was a ‘friend of the forest fairies’ who had learnt how to speak to / listen to nature (and the magical creatures in nature) on my adventures. This seemed to work really well as an outsider coming in, the kids were on board with the magic already!

If you work with young children I really recommend trying a small prop or piece of costume to hint at being a character. You can still be ‘you’, the teacher, but you can say, “Today I am going to turn myself into (character)”. It’s a really simple way to spark imaginations that will lead you into new creative worlds.

Using an ‘explorer’ style map of the school play ground is now a favourite in Out to Play and the pupils really enjoyed this simple visual props, they were really excited to read it, talk about what areas of the playground had ‘turned into’ and what they could find there.

Magical Map of Crookston Castle Primary Campus

If this Tree Could Talk, What Would it Say?

(Week 1)

We started by using our explorer’s map to role-play being a team of adventurers, going in and around the playground’s natural areas, using our imaginary cameras to take photos of nature that we saw. The children were overjoyed to discover a wee house underneath a tree, so I used my magical listening power to ask the tree who the house belonged to. We then heard the UK folktale of ‘The Elf and The Slop Bucket’/ ‘Stink Water’ which is a magical story that lightly introduces ideas about food waste, compost, caring for our planet and each other, via a magical elf character.

Stories are not just ‘sit and listen’…

With a young age group, especially if you’re telling stories outdoors, you need different ways to engage and keep the children’s attention, certainly in a city school where you can have anything from police sirens to Scottish storms to compete with!

Here are some of the most common ways in which an outdoor story can be made more interactive for young children:

Movement and Actions – A simple technique used for nursery rhymes. Tell the children they are going to be your helpers and do actions at different points in the story. Hand gestures, simple movement, a clap, a stamp, anything to keep it active (and keep warm), e.g. “The old man threw the slops out of the bucket – everyone show me your bucket action – 1,2,3, whoosh!!”

It makes children part of the storytelling, it’s also much harder to lose focus if you’re physically moving and muscle memory means the points of the story will be easier to remember.

Question and Answer – Stop and check who is listening by asking a question, or take suggestions for parts of the story, e.g. “What do you think was in the elf village?”

Act it Out – Choose volunteers to come up and act out parts of the story, bringing it to life before your eyes.

Props and Visual Aids – If it’s outdoors- Keep this minimal and simple. Paper flying about in the wind and rain can be a distraction, so you might need to consider laminating visual aids (if you’re going to get more use out of them term on term, this could be more environmental than plain paper visuals being reprinted over and over).

Incorporate Environment Around You – e.g. “Amarita sat under her favourite tree, like this one we’re sitting under…”, or “the tower was as tall as that tree!”, or “a black crow, a bit like that one on the roof of the school”, makes the outdoors a part of the story, rather than a distraction.

Music, song, rhythm, repetition and more storytelling techniques are expanded on in the Out to Play Resource Packs.

The Children Listening to the Tree, as we had a magic way of talking to nature!

“I saw the elf house light up!”

“The tree told me a fairy lives inside the house.”

“I just saw a wee mouse hiding in there!”

“It could be a house for a hedgehog.”

“I think it’s a home for a worm!”

Primary 2 and 3 pupil comments, when they found a fairy / elf house under a tree.

If This Egg Could Talk, What Would it Say?

(Week 2)

Children made birds with Plasticine, found leaves and wooden lolly sticks

In our second week, children found some eggs and a nest in a special box made of twigs. They also felt a bird feather and role-played different types of local birds, as well as spotting real birds all around us. Hiding small props around the playground is a sure-fire winner and the wee explorer’s loved finding mini robin toys in different hiding spots and shouting ’round robin’ to encourage classmates to see what they had found.

We also brought the story ‘The King and Queen of Birds’ to life, which allowed children to use drama presentation skills to show the different characters in the story, which tells of wee wrens winning a race using a clever idea, over the biggest, bossiest eagles.

Hands-On Activities

Younger children tend to have shorter attention spans generally, so I find hands-on creative tasks are ideal for towards the end of an hour long session with this age group. I gave the pupils a simple challenge to make a bird with modelling clay, leaves found on the ground and a lolly stick. The activity went down a storm. This task combines art and craft modelling skills with drama and role-play, as children created a character and took it on an adventure, reporting back afterwards on where their bird had flown to.

Messy is OK sometimes!

When teaching any sort of art and crafts, I’d argue a level of mess is unavoidable, but working outdoors gives you space to make mess and also brings challenges due to things like wind, rain and dirt getting involved in any materials you take out. As much as possible, see what you can do with natural materials already found outdoors, or ones that won’t harm the environment if dropped. This also means less cleaning up for you.

Process Vs Product

In the arts, we often talk about whether the imaginative and problem solving skills used in the process of making something, is more or equally important than the end product. I think, if teaching anything artistic, it’s important to focus on not only the fun to be had, but what children are getting out of the journey.

In this simple model making task, I explained to the pupils that their model probably would get a bit dirty. The leaves were wet from the rain and not that easy to stick into the plasticine, because previously I’d seen that young children especially could easily give up and get upset if they thought their model wasn’t ‘right’ or ‘perfect’. Once they realised it was also about enjoying getting a bit messy and role-play with the creature, they were happy.

Robins found in the playground by the wee explorers

If This Puddle Could Talk, What Would it Say?

(Week 3)

In week three we ran around finding beautiful sea treasures, discussed who could live in the shells and used blue fabric for parachute style games, using our own sound effects and movements to create fish under the sea in different weathers. We also made mini freeze-frames to show the different stages of The Water Cycle, using some Story Spoons I’d painted for a previous ASN school residency. I find small visual stimuli really helpful for infants, as you can’t assume that children living in the city have all had a chance to visit the seaside.

I’d highly recommend bringing in things like sea shells and sensory fabrics for any water or ocean themed lesson. Their eyes light up when listening to sea shells and hearing the sound of the waves magically inside them.

Children enjoyed the Indonesian story ‘Grumpy Gecko’, which is set in the jungle and explains how all creatures have a part to play and rely on water to survive. It also features a dung beetle and pile of poo, so you can imagine that was quite hilarious for P2 and P3 pupils!

Pupil – “Sophie, we’ve not even done any work while we’ve been out here.”

Sophie – “You just learned about and acted out the water cycle.”

Pupil – “Was that work? It was fun!”

This Shell was once home for a sea creature

If This Planet Could Speak, What Would it Say?

In line with pupils learning about the COP26 summit which was happening during my Crookston Castle residency, our fourth week was all about Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. Pupils found a letter from the playground’s Nature Fairies asking them to help stop people ruining the playground with litter, and went on to act out the Story of Plastic and discussed ways we can be more sustainable with our waste habits. I was amazed by young children having such a grasp on big global topics – thank goodness they are the future!

Teacher Tales…

The class teachers at Crookston Castle took over Out to Play sessions in week five, although we unfortunately were up against quite a lot of illness and absence that week. We had three staff members run fabulous sessions, and the other staff planned Out to Play sessions they could use for future lessons.

The teachers explored a fairy themed adventure with the Tale of The Ghillie Du, a festive adventure with The Elf on the Shelf and a story about a robin who travelled through lots of wind on a journey from Scandinavia to Scotland. The children absolutely loved this experience with their teachers, and I hope those who were not able to run a session that week, will get a chance in future, as the ideas and prep that staff did for this were really creative.

I gave out awards at the end by way of positive feedback, as we grown-ups can do with a bit of a pat on the back at times too!

Thank you to all the pupils and staff who took part in Out to Play at Crookston Castle, including the various cover teachers who got stuck in with very little warning. I hope you enjoyed our adventures as much as I did!

Written by Sophie McCabe