Outdoor Adventure Kits

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I was recently asked by a colleague what I thought a useful primary ‘nature kit’ should contain.

Firstly, I think that it is worth spending time considering the container.  It needs to be easily carried by children and conveniently stored in the classroom.  I think that the ideal container depends upon the circumstances.  For example, I often used small tub trugs to take out with enough equipment for a group of children to use.

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The carrying can be shared by two children carrying a handle each and the equipment is readily accessible once outside.

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However, most of the time I used back packs like the ones shown above as they could be left permanently packed and children were able to access them indpendently when they felt inclined.  The bee themed bag is actually a lunch box which I used to make a nature pack that encouraged children to observe bees in the school environment.

Rather than giving children clip boards I put small notebooks and card index cards in the kits.  Children were generally keen to record their observations in this way.  It is also worth including a book with plain paper and encouraging children to make observational drawings of what they see.  Parcel labels are also useful to encourage children to label any plant specimens that they collect.

The reference materials included in the kits depends upon the focus of the adventure.  These keys cost £3 from Gatekeeper Guides.  The books would have cost £4 new although I paid a lot less for these secondhand.  Including text in this way can be a very motivating way of encouraging children to read for a purpose.

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Now what can this plant be?

It is worth giving children something to collect their specimens in.

On the left are some small plastic bottles.  On the right a pooter to safely collect small mini-beasts without harming them.  However, it is worth reminding children that any animals caught should only be looked at for a brief time and then returned to where they were found.  They should not be brought indoors unless you have given children permission and steps have been taken to ensure that the tiny creatures will be safe and well for the time they are indoors.

Little plastic bags can be obtained cheaply from craft suppliers.  The small brown envelopes are for cash and much cheaper than packets bought especially for storing seeds.  Both are useful for collecting plant specimens although the paper envelopes are better for long term storage and have the advantage that they can be written on.

Magnifying glasses and binoculars have the advantage that using them makes one feel like a ‘real scientist’, as well as being useful in their own right.  Do remember to spend time teaching children how to use them though; otherwise they are likely to use them as role play props rather than for their primary purpose.

Scissors can be used for obtaining small plant samples; make sure that children know that samples really should be very small!  Tweezers are useful for handling delicate materials without damaging them.

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Paint charts in shades of green encourage children to look closely at the world around them as they try and find the exact shade of green of a leaf that they are looking at.

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Strips of double sided tape mounted on card cut into ‘book marks’ enables small samples of plant material to be collected.  The changing nature of the samples makes a useful starting point to talking about the changing seasons.  They keep for a long time.  The one shown above was made over a year ago.

If you have access to cameras for children to use these make a valuable addition to the back packs too, although we only ever had one camera in class to be shared between adults and children!

What would you put in a nature back pack for your children.  I would love to hear your suggestions.

 

Recording Outdoors

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Sometimes it can seem as if there is only one path when it comes to recording and assessment and woe betide anyone who tries to do something different!

Earlier today I was asked by a colleague about my experiences of recording and assessing children’s work and learning while outside.   As I described in this post, I found playground chalks a valuable way to encourage children to record their learning; photographing any relevant drawing or writing meant that a permanent record could be kept of children’s work. (Although I always found that there was a tendency to take too many pictures due to the worry that there would not be enough evidence of what we had done).

I also liked to take photographs of what children were doing, for example I meant to take photographs when I took the children outside to make shadows.  However, by themselves I found that the photographs had little value.  Some of them looked posed and many of the pictures looked very similar even though the children in the pictures had demonstrated different levels of learning.  Annotating them helped but, to tell the truth, unless I made extensive notes during the lesson (which meant that I had to stop teaching) I often forgot what the pictures were meant to be showing!

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Instead I found that it was more valuable to ask the children to both take and annotate the photographs, perhaps adding a description of what they were doing or describing what they had learned.  One of the things that I liked about this approach was that the work showed different levels of attainment and allowed children to challenge themselves but did not restrict individuals by differentiating through task or by labelling them.  It also meant that children tended to have a good understanding of where they were with their learning and what their next steps were, especially if I found time to listen to them tell me about their pictures.

With younger children I still used to end up doing the writing, but wrote down what children said (I found a dictaphone invaluable for this).  Tomorrow I shall describe some other ways that younger children recorded their experiences outside.