In a previous post, Let's Get Writing Outside, I discussed resources and ideas for writing outside. These suggestions work well in any outdoor space. However, if your school or setting is considering improving its grounds, then here's some ideas for encouraging children to write outside through the use of specific features.
Firstly do not confine writing activities to one part of the grounds. Traditional seating and tables make a lovely place to write, but this sends the message that we only write at a table when sitting on a chair.
So let's look at some other features that can inspire or enable writing outside.
Blackboards, noticeboards, etc. On the walls, have places where children can write and draw. These can be black boards or white boards. Noticeboards are useful too where children can post their own messages and announcements. Mirrors also make good drawing and writing surfaces outside, as does Perspex.
Create a storytelling seat in the school grounds with logs or other simple seating arrangements around it. You may only sit in the seat if you are willing to share or tell a story to other children. Likewise, this can be the perfect place to share stories that children have written.
Performance spaces or decking are useful for writing. As adults we will text, use netbooks whilst having a picnic in a park, or take notes as we lie around. Such spaces are useful gathering places. Often a whole class can fit on a decked area. It is a cheaper solution than buying lots of outdoor seating. Below is an example of a decked area surrounding a tree that was created by a local joiner.
Consult children about etching words and phrases into fixed structures. For example, a friendship bench may have words of friendship in different languages painted on or chiseled into the wood. Etchings can be used for taking rubbings using waxed crayons and paper.
Many features can have a variety of purposes. In the photo below, the wooden stumps and border of the sandpit can be used for mark making. Children can chalk or paint directly onto these surfaces. Alternatively children can seat on these features to write. Or, by sitting on the ground, the stumps and border can be used as mini tables.
Outdoor displays. Have work laminated and put duct tape in the corners as reinforcements for hole punches. Soft anodized wire works well for attaching to fences. Types of display may include:
- Information displays, e.g. about your wildlife garden.
- Signs and advice written by children
- Just like indoors, the displays can be children’s stories, poems or other forms of writing
- Cross-curricular project work
- Three dimensional displays such as sculpture or artwork which include language.
Outdoor shelters can be useful for inclement weather. If your school is in a windy place, then have walls or fences as part of the structure to reduce airflow. Try to avoid a dark shelter where it is difficult to see and where views are limited. A Perspex roof and windows can help. Alternatively, make the structure from recycled bottles. Erecting a shelter where parents who are collecting their children can gather makes the space even more versatile.
Nooks, crannies and scattered seats. Some children like writing in small groups. Look at creating secluded areas where children have space to be alone to write. By careful pruning, it is still possible to maintain a degree of visibility for supervising staff.
Develop different habitats which can be used for comparative work. The greater the variety of trees, shrubs, flowers and surfaces, etc., the greater the opportunity for developing knowledge and understanding. For example, having long and short grass growing works well for exploring the different senses, plants and minibeasts that will live in each place. These habitats are springboards for writing.
Look at opportunities for having different surfaces that can be used for writing. Sand can be used for making 3-D letters as well as writing into the sand itself. Grit and mud also work well.
Finally, consider how features that enable writing outdoors impact on the ethos of your school or setting. For example, if your school aims include maximising learning opportunities for children, have a think about how this works outdoors. Often entrances to schools can be improved through the use of text that sends a clear message about the school values.