Mud pies anyone? University of Cumbria’s outdoor classroom helps children to enjoy playing and learning in a natural setting

Mud pies anyone? University of Cumbria’s outdoor classroom helps children to enjoy playing and learning in a natural setting name

As a graduate of the University of Cumbria, Kate Nattrass (21), from Carlisle, knows the far-reaching benefits of having access to an outdoor classroom. The university opened its own outdoor classroom in November 2015, with the aim of demonstrating to teaching students the advantages of giving children the chance to take part in sessions in a natural setting, and Kate, now a teacher at Brook Street Primary School, took her own class there recently.

It is easy to overlook the fact that many young people in towns and cities have little access to green spaces, with no garden at home, and no playing field at school. For some, the opportunity to play on grass is a real novelty. Similarly, city dwelling children may not have the same opportunities as their rural counterparts to experience interaction with nature – fishing in a pond, hiding in the undergrowth, making mud pies and watching birds hunting for food.

The University of Cumbria’s outdoor classroom, at the Fusehill Street campus, provides these opportunities in a dedicated resource that local schools can use, while at the same time introducing teaching students to the importance of the concept.

Kate comments: “So many children in our schools have few opportunities for what we would consider to be normal, recreational, childhood play activities in the natural environment. Through my training at the University of Cumbria, I was introduced to the idea of an outdoor classroom by my tutor Lisa Macgregor, who is a strong advocate of this type of learning, and now, as a teacher, I can see for myself how much the children enjoy these sessions, and how much they gain from being in this environment.”

The university’s outdoor classroom has a treehouse and ‘mud kitchen’ which the children love using. Kate said of her pupils’ experience there: “For the children, simply playing on the grass was exciting. Fishing in the pond was fun too - the children could use the nets and liked catching all the slime - we didn’t find any fish unfortunately! As it is completely fenced off, the children are safe and can run freely. I would recommend the outdoor classroom to other schools as it provides a low cost trip where children get an amazing experience, and it is filled with lots of opportunities for imaginative play and holistic development!”

Kate’s tutor, Lisa, adds: “Throughout the year the trainee teachers have been able to participate in taught sessions in the outdoor classroom. These have included planning and teaching activities to each other. Through this they have been able to gain a greater understanding of the importance of teaching and learning in the outdoors which they have taken into their placement schools. Alongside this, we have been able to develop closer links with schools and settings in our local community by letting them book sessions and use the university’s outdoor classroom with their children.”

The children’s comments certainly reflect their excitement at the experience, and the imaginary scenarios inspired by their play:

“I was playing in the treehouse - I was hiding and we were in the forest”

“I went fishing; I played in the kitchen, cooking cupcakes”

 “I was playing tea parties, I went into the treehouse and I was playing monsters with my friends”

 “I played in the sandpit, I played in the water, I played in the soil with the trucks, I went in the treehouse - it was really fun! I had a tea party in the sand and I liked seeing what was in the water”

Schools interested in making use of the University of Cumbria’s outdoor classroom, should contact Lisa Macgregor on 01228 616165 (lisa.macgregor@cumbria.ac.uk) for further information.