21 May 2020

For the last few weeks, like many of us, I’ve been engaged in the challenging, head-spinning world of combining a working week with home-schooling our children.

And I’ve learned a lot. It’s why that short opening paragraph contains a fronted adverbial, alliteration, metaphor, and an expanded noun phrase. Please go back and underline all the examples for full marks.

Woodrow High House Outdoor Classroom Day QuoteAfter eight years working with London Youth at Woodrow High House and Hindleap Warren and 12 years involved in Scouting, you may imagine that my home-schooling methodology would be expertly intertwined with the outdoors. But in truth I’ve not been teaching place value charts with beechmast and bark or practising times tables with an array of twigs. Instead, going outdoors has provided a crucial pressure release valve for us all.

I reminded myself that at school the boys would naturally spend all their break times outside. At home it was too easy for them to spend a morning break having a drink, playing Lego or reading a comic; or at lunchtime, asking to play computer games. It takes a bit more effort to turf them outside because they want me to go along with them. Without their classmates to play with, just being outside isn’t enough – they need some cajoling, some accompanying, to get into things or else the inevitable complaint bursts forth, “I’M BORED!”.

With some encouragement things will often fall into place – one of them finds a baby grasshopper and looks at it intently for ten minutes; the other is astounded at the cloud of tiny larvae swimming frenetically in the pond. We all gaze on together, watching tadpoles slipping through the protein mass, open-mouthed, like mini basking sharks. Woodrow High House Outdoor Classroom Day Quote

Full disclosure – it’s not all about connecting with nature. We also spend time playing catch, or aiming stones at empty plastic flowerpots, or setting cycling challenges with balls and bits of wood.  And all the while the stimulation levels are high and the prospect of a normal bedtime feels more achievable.

There have been days when we’ve not managed it – I’ve got through the spellings, literacy and maths work in the morning, wolf down a couple of slices of bread, hand over to my wife and then get down to work. At the end of those days my mood is undoubtedly lower. And if the boys haven’t got outside, we find it necessary to stave off bedtime and force an evening walk or bike ride. There will be complaints for five minutes, struggles over putting on shoes and questions about why we make their lives so awful. But push on through and it gets good again.

Woodrow High House Outdoor Classroom Day QuoteThe important simplicity of all this reminded me of a couple of past experiences. One was on a group camp at Gilwell Park in Epping Forest. While taking an evening walk around site, we emerged on the edge of hillside looking down over a reservoir; the bright lights of Enfield drew the eye. “Wow, it’s like New York!” gasped a Cub Scout. She’d never been to New York, just seen the Manhattan skyline pictures. More to the point she’d never been to Epping Forest.

And then I think of all the young people I’ve seen at Woodrow and Hindleap over the years, saddened by the last day of their trip because it’s time to go home. They’ve had fun, they’ve pushed themselves and their friends, and most importantly they’ve created long-lasting memories – on which they will reflect for years to come.

While London Youth’s outdoor centres remain closed, I remain hopeful that we’re not too far away from being able to offer these experiences once more for children and young people. Expanded noun phrases and fronted adverbials are important, but they’re hard to digest unless accompanied by a healthy swig of pond water.

To find out more about Outdoor Classroom Day and how you can get involved, you can visit the website here. Make sure you’re also keeping an eye on our Facebook page here, as well as our #StayHome activities page here for some great activity ideas (both outdoor and indoor) to keep you entertained during lockdown.

Written by Martin Curtis, Director of Residential Centres

Banner photo credit @jsphotographyd33