Today I’m going to be starting a series of articles covering ideas for 30 days wild for teachers and parents. Fairy tales and traditional tales are a key part of childhood. They capture children’s imagination, teach moral lessons and prepare them for the hardships of life. The vast majority of these stories take place outside and often in woods and forests. The backdrop of the forest makes up a large part of our fairy tales and folklore going back to a time when people were worried about the perils of the forest.This idea was well covered in gossip from the forest-Sara Maitland
Now we have the reverse situation if we don’t get people outside we face dangers for their mental well being and physical health. Teaching and taking the children out has been shown to be beneficial for children’s health and developing their education. Whether you subscribe to forest school practises or just the ideas in Richard Louv’s-last child in the woods, outdoor play is important. It promotes health, helps tackle childhood obesity, but more importantly for me it develops a love of nature and creates imaginative children.
A key message in last child in the woods is that a lot of the best imaginative play happens outside, seeing as many of the best fairy and traditional tales happen outside it is a perfect chance for going out of the classroom, out of the house to tell them. This might only be a basic as taking the picnic blanket out in the garden, to the park on the school playing field, but it changes the engagement with the story. It makes it more than just a story at hometime in school. Some parks have dedicated story spaces to go and read a story in or a story chair.York Museum Gardens have a storytelling area hidden away.
For some teachers reading in this way may be a worry. The children will be too excited, their focus will be elsewhere. At the start of the year I explain to classes these times we are going outside to learn have the same expectations as the classroom. We are still going out to learn and the same expectations to listen are still required. It is made very clear that children who can’t follow instructions will miss out next time. I am fortunate in that my school has a large playing field (it is one that hasn’t been sold off to make a new housing estate) with trees along the back giving us nice spaces to go out onto, but even going out a concrete playground will add interest to the kids.
In terms of practicalities in Summer going out to read a story on the field or playground is straightforward as most of the time the grass is dry enough to sit on. Currently though it is not. I have a large tarpaulin that we take out. The children take the edges and stretch it out and then sit on the edges while I peg it down. If you have a nice spot under a tree or maybe a stage on the playground it again adds to the feeling of the story being more of an event than just home time story.
I like telling stories orally, but that requires an element of performance and acting some teachers may not be comfortable with. For stories I don’t know as well I generally stand to read the story with the children sat on the tarp. When it’s a story I know well it can be told orally acting the story out. This allows more fluidity and movement, moving amongst the children keeping their attention better. It’s a good way to engage the children in their topic. By reading the story outside it encourages the children to continue the story during their break time as they connect their story with outside. So I find stories read or performed outside will be re-enacted during break and dinner time extending their learning into these times. Becoming familiar with stories and having the opportunity to act them out is a vital element in children becoming story writers. Pie Corbett refers to this as imitation. Through this stage of imitating stories they then come to innovate and change the stories to make their own versions. By reading and performing stories outside it widens the possibilities of a story. For example a chase between the wolf and woodcutter in Little Red Riding Hood can stretch over the field rather than being squashed in the classroom.
For parents just taking the picnic blanket to the park with a story again has an added element of excitement, taking the story beyond just reading it for bedtime.
So key reasons for reading outside:
- Create excitement and engagement.
- Extend the learning beyond the classroom, children will often continue their story games into break and dinner time.
- Time outside benefits health and mental health.
- Space to roleplay stories with no limits on running, jumping, etc that you would have in the classroom.
- Boy engagement. It always makes up an element of school improvement plans now. The boys in my class like getting out and generally end up following close behind for outdoor stories so they can spread the tarp. This then ends up with many of them sat at the front for story rather than trying to hide at the back not listening.
- Creating a love of literature and the outside.
I will be following this blog up with several examples of stories I like to use outside and what additional activities I do alongside reading the story. If you use any stories outside currently or decide to take your class or children out please comment below. I’d love to hear others experiences.