Building Connection to Place and Learning Culture Through Outdoor Classrooms

June 24, 2021
Trudi Bennett
Fiona Boath


School: Glendale Primary School

Year Group: 2/3

Teacher: Fiona Boath

Creative Practitioner: Trudi Bennett

Creative Practice: Nature Connection

Building a new Outdoor Classroom space at Glendale Primary School is more than just design and placement of logs, it is about understanding students and using that understanding to build a new culture of learning.

Our Creative Schools project in Term 3, had very set adult goals of consulting with the year 2/3 students to design an outdoor classroom space. Through this project, we wanted to link as much as we could to the skills and content set in the Western Australian Education Department Curriculum. The class teacher, Fiona Boath, and Creative Practitioner, Trudi Bennett, set the tasks to be completed by the students and monitored their work in the outdoor space, to create a proposal for the school management on how the Outdoor Classroom should be built. The students, however, in this new space had a different curriculum for themselves, they wanted to climb trees, build with sticks and create a space that was theirs. This tension between adult and student needs meant that either the adults were stressed that the needs of the curriculum or project goal were not being met, or the students were stressed about having to do school work when their bodies and souls were calling them to climb trees and play outside.

For our Term 4 project, we wanted to give the students the opportunity to build and explore how we could set a new culture of learning in the Outdoor Classroom. The challenge set for the students was to build a primitive village that provided a service for the community, was safe and took into consideration the position of the sun. Through offering this more open challenge the students could build in a way they wished and we could touch on curriculum areas of Humanities and Social Sciences and Earth Science.

The most important learning for us as the adult directors of the project, was how to present learning material as useful resources for the students’ goal in building. We started with creating tasks to be completed in the outdoor areas before they started building but we found that the students were unmotivated and took a long time to complete the tasks outside and so were left with very little time to build.

Instead, what we found that worked for us and this group of students, was a short 15-30 minute session in the classroom that presented a skill or idea that the students could use in the Outdoor Classroom. We reminded the students that the quicker they could settle and listen and the more efficient they could work, the more time they could spend outside. We presented a building technique from around the world and then either practiced that in class (like tying knots) or discussed how it could be used in their situation (like cob).

Resources such as shoelaces, fabric, containers, clay, coreflute and cardboard were provided in the Creative Schools Shop. To purchase an item, the students needed to write a sentence on how this item was going to help them or their clients to be more creative. Their work was then a valued asset which could be exchanged for a material they wanted.

Through these techniques the students were given space to fully engage in creating a space of their own, with strong connections to each other as a team and the physical space they created. They made services of a hospital, market garden, bed and breakfast cafe and gaming centre. When we suggested inviting the pre-primary students to come and be their community of customers they were very nervous about them wrecking the place and destroying what they built, proving their strong connection to place. Through problem-solving and encouragement, the pre-primary students were invited with a code of conduct to follow and the year 2/3 students successfully shared their special spaces with their young buddies.

This project helped the teacher, Fiona, see the value of play as a way of learning and created a flow that worked in the Outdoor Classroom. This flow included having an open-ended challenge with small learning sessions in the indoor classroom and the potential for a natural exchange in the outdoor classroom.