So what did you do at school today? ‘We were outdoors and had fun!’ replied a member of the bubble. And that was my educator intention.
When I asked the question ‘did you spend time outdoors in nature with your families?’ the reply was ‘a little’ or ‘no’. Many of these 5 to 7 year olds said they played by themselves in the garden or patio but went for a walk or bike ride some days with a family member. I asked ‘are you glad to be at school today?’ and ‘yes’ they were, listing ‘seeing friends’ and ‘talking to teachers and children’ they knew as the most important event.
It was as I had expected from reading about children’s experience of isolation. Boredom and limited opportunities to interact with their peer group combined with a narrow selection of activities to pass the time if parents were occupied. For some, the disadvantage of not being at school also means no routine, irregular meals and limited learning opportunities. I was completely aware of these struggles for children and parents alike when preparing for the first day of school in our bubble group: a mixed aged group of key worker children. I noted:
Challenges: social distancing rules and being a cohesive and happy group
Essential: must provide opportunities for positive social interaction, developmentally engaging activities and interested grown ups that answer questions about our time away in ways we can engage with
Learning: create a normal school day routine and combine activities with outdoor learning and nature.
Note: In the UK the government guidelines do not stipulate that staff or children wear face coverings. This is a marked difference from images seen in schools across Europe, and welcome because it normalises interaction with young children as long as distance and hygiene rules are followed.
What we did at school
First we went into our growing garden and saw the tallest foxglove you ever did see. Did you spot the bee? A long discussion about pollination followed.
Wow! Our strawberry plants are doing really well. All took turns to use the watering can. More talk on how to keep the strawberries healthy and what plants need to grow.
We couldn’t work out if it was a butterfly of moth having a rest in the rain gauge? Insect hunt took off. Spotted ladybirds, spiders, woodlice, earwigs, worms and a snail.
How can a plant be so big? We measured using string and then compared it with our heights. Lots of maths language used practically.
Listened to sounds outdoors and drew these. We used the sounds to tell a story in a circle under a lime tree. Lots of imagination and joining in.
Indoors we relaxed to music while we had a break and a drink. We tried various yoga sessions on YouTube and a fun dance routine.
And finally we wrote a poem about sounds – all about the sea, and made pictures using sand and paint. All this was done while being aware of our spaces. Being outdoors was easier because we had more chance to cooperate in a group. Handwashing was constant throughout.
Being outdoors as much as possible was beneficial for the flexible play opportunities, interaction, day dreaming even, and of course hygiene. It makes the lining up, floor markers and table spaces all the more bearable. It was a fun and purposeful day completely appropriate for our times. We all went home happy!