Awe and Wonder with Outdoor Learning

The 12th October saw our first school day at Moggerhanger Park, near Bedford. It was a day full of ‘wow’ moments as children from Maplecross School in Hertfordshire explored learning linked to ‘enquiry and voice’ – visit their blog here.

Despite all the planning so much learning took place in moments we had not even considered. For example those new experinces of

  • feeling a spider run across your hand
  • stepping into a wooded area and for the first time being totally surrounded by trees
  • discovering an insect you had never seen before hiding in a log.

One girl told us she had always been afraid of the woods, but now she thorugh they were “really fun”.

New experinces in learning can simply be created by recongising the value of learning in different contexts, as children grow in their awareness of how to be a learner in the range of spaces that form part of their everyday lives.

This day was full of ‘awe and wonder’ for the children and for us as we were reminded of the power of the outdoors as a tool for learning.

We are really looking forward to seeing how the children make connections between their learning in the woods and their learning back at school. More to follow….


We Must Invest in Lifelong Learning!

This week I was introduced to the Did you Know series of videos. Below is the original. It offers an important challenge to why we learn and what we are learning for. It highlights the speed of change within the world at the moment and the importance for educators (whether they be in the home, school or other settings) to recognise just what it is that we are supporting children to be part of (now and in the future).


What is clear is the need to focus on on an approach that equips the child for a life of learning.  As we invest in giving children the knowledge, skills and strategies to navigate and confidently master the changing world around them!



New Outdoor Learning Opportunities

EquippingKids are delighted to have a new Outdoor Learning Lead.


Henry Frankel (my brother) brings years of experience as a teacher with forest school accreditation, and a real passion for the outdoors to our developing ambitions to make the most of different learning spaces.


As part of our next steps to develop a base for outdoor learning at Moggerhanger Park in Bedfordshire we have planned some test events. If you are in the area – please join us!


Are children blank slates?

The new school year has started.  Tied up in the midst of all that is happening  are those staff training days.


This new academic year I was inviting staff to think about their ‘attitude’ towards the child. What image or view of the child did they have?


It is a really important question. How we think about children matters. Indeed the view we hold of the child will shape the opportunities we create for them and the nature of the practices we create. In turn that will define their experience of being at school!


So how do we think about the children in our schools?


Assumptions about children are everywhere. With adult assumptions (a view of the child that we believe to be right without having explored that with children themselves) framing so much of how we come to do school?


It is therefore important to stop and think about how we view the child or indeed how we might view the child in order to support them in making the most of their learning.


One frequent view that staff had of children was as ‘blank slates’.


Philosopher John Locke back in the 1770’s introduced the idea of the child as a blank slate. The adult’s educational role was to fill that slate in in the most appropriate way. What was entered on to the slate would thus define the adult that that child would become.


However, Locke’s view of the child was rather one dimensional. It is that way of thinking that can be dangerous in our approach to education today. If children are shaped by adult input alone it is very easy for education to be seen to be about children being ‘taught to be’, with a focus on the universal child and their ability to perform in adult generated tests.


Are children blank slates? Or when they arrive in that classroom do those slates already have something on them, indeed aren’t all those slates themselves of different shapes and sizes? What children bring with them to school and what they carry around at school might both aid and hinder their learning, but it is important to be fully aware that it (that baggage) is there.


Children are not blank slates. They not only carry experiences and knowledge but they are also actively involved in interpreting the learning opportunities they have at school. Staff in schools are therefore there to help facilitate those experiences and to allow children to make the most of them, as together adult and child contribute to the person that they are and will become.


Our attitude towards the child in school should therefore encourage children to ‘learn to be’ – as we focus on the individual child and the processes linked to developing the skills of a lifelong leaner.

Children have something to say about school too!

Policy making in schools (and other settings too) can never be fully effective unless children are included in the conversations.


In preparation for the new school year we are looking to develop a team of children who can comment on educational policy adding a much needed voice to the continuing discussions about schools.


EquippingKids approach is based on the need to engage with the individual child. That means that we have to talk to children for only then can we start to look beyond so many of the assumptions that pervade the way we do ‘school’. It is an overwhelming reality that the practices in the majority of schools are based on adults doing what they think is best. This is not to be rejected, but surely it has to be mixed with what children think as well.


In July the results for the national SATs testing in primary schools were released. On the one hand SATs are lauded for their effectiveness in raising standards for children and on the other hand for the stress and strain they place on children’s school experience. In a very simple but telling review I looked at 15 newspaper articles published in the same week as the SATs results (3rd-10th July) – based on a search on their news websites of ‘SATs Results’. These articles were from 4 UK news papers, – The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Mirror.


Out of 15 articles only 1 included children’s voices.


The one article that did refer to what children had to say was written by a parent. This parent told of how her child’s words influenced how she thought and then acted. Her response to her child’s education was, therefore shaped by what her child had to say!


This was in stark contrast to other articles that offered  adult opinions and views that were not directly linked to the voice of children. Articles related how the tests were ‘controversial with parents, teachers and school leaders’ but what about children? One head teacher decided to boycott the tests after consultation with ‘parents and governors’ but what about the children? These adults concerns are recognised by the government. In one article Nick Gibb, minister for School Standards, highlighted how he was keen to move beyond such concerns by encouraging conversation. Through a consultation, which closed in June with findings to be shared in September, he pointed out that their aim was ‘to establish a stable, trusted assessment system that supports children to fulfil their potential’. But notably this consultation did not invite children’s input. If we truly want children to fulfil their potential then don’t we need to engage with children too.


Such consultations, like the comment in these news articles,  whether for or against SATs, will remain hollow and limited without input from those who are most directly affected.


Including children’s voices will only add to our understanding of their experience and therefore our ability as adults to shape the right policies and practices. We look forward to welcoming children’s thoughts on these issues and any others that they see as being relevant to their experience of school.


The new school year will also see us sharing findings on research with just under 1000 children on their experience of school as well as analysis of a joint project with schools in Canada on belonging.

Hydroponics – a project in need of collaboration

An exciting visit yesterday to Moggerhanger Park in Bedford. From September we are going to be running experience days for primary schools that will allow the children to engage with some of the amazing opportunities that Moggerhanger has to offer, from the rich history and connections with William Wilberforce, to the beauty of the land and woods to the amazing work that is being developed as part of a hydroponics/ aquaponics projects based at the Moggerhanger Park Farm.

In just one ‘greenhouse’ a very small but impressively dedicated team are demonstrating how a hydroponics project can be set up (and work!) with very limited investment. From an educational perceptive the journey that the team have taken offers so much potential, from understanding plant growth, to making the most of accessible resources, through to using and sharing skills to turn an idea into reality.

We hope that through our work with schools, children can ‘collaborate’ and be part of generating ideas that furthers this kind of sustainable environmental ‘technology’ in a practical and relevant way. As well as supporting through focused activities the efforts of the team at Moggerhanger. 

Our blog is back!

No entries for a while does not mean we have not been busy. We have been waiting for our new branding before sharing more of the exciting work that has been taking place. So from now on there is lots more to follow…


Resilience : exploring ideas with children in Years 2 and 5

In this School the Centre worked with three Year 2 classes and  two Year 5 classes. In Year 5 the Centre repeated the activities outlined in the blog entry date 13th February however the focus then moved on to coaching.

In the three Year 2 classes 3 different activities were developed to engage the children in aspects of resilience. The focus was on:

  • recognising and acknowledging the importance of both negative and positive emotions on learning, (Capture emotions)
  • the need for ‘calmness and reflection’ as part of the learning journey, (Pause and Mindfulness)
  • the need to reengage, refocus and/or redirect learning. (Reengage, Refocus, or Redirect)

Three ‘challenging’ activities were used to engage the children in learning.

  1. Reflection
  2. The swamp
  3. Spy

There needed to be a degree of ‘impossibility’ otherwise you can not address the notion of resilience.

Reflection : The children did find the 1st activity relatively easy however this did create a greater opportunity to explore the three elements outlined above (Capture, Pause and Redirect) The children were able to explore both the negative and positive emotions linked with learning and we were able to talk about how there is a need to recognise the negative emotions such as ‘embarrassed, angry and frustrated’  and that it was OK to feel like this. However, we were also able to explore how these emotions did not help with future learning and that the 1 2 3  strategy could then be used to ‘power up your brain’.

The Swamp : The children were very engaged with the Swamp activity. A number of the children did not carefully read the instructions and therefore thought they had completed the task until it was pointed out to them they had not. The first and second challenges are relatively easy, however task three onwards needs children to think in a slightly different way. During the session we stopped several times and focussed on the third element which is to refocus, reengage  or redirect learning. The children found it difficult to move away from the ‘trial and effort’ method and rethink a way forward.

Spy : The children again were very engaged with the Spy activity. In terms of success this was probably the most successful in that it allowed greater time to explore some of the three key elements. Children were able to think of many different strategies that might enable them to be more successful. If more time had been available we would have talked about a grid method, working from left to right, using colours ect. In addition the way the children worked collaborative was very positive. 

‘A small example of what I was looking for was when one of the children came back from the box and had forgotten what she had seen. Obviously she felt upset so; we are able to recognise and acknowledge the child’s emotions, take time out to calm down (123) and then think of a strategy that she might use the next time she visited the box.’ The next visit was a success.

Resilience : steps to an action research project

This entry relates to one of our schools that we have been in for almost a year. Initially the work was round supporting the headteacher by facilitating discussion around ethos; our first building block. As a result the school has created a framework focusing on 10 elements of learning. The school decided to move forward by modelling an action research approach that can then be evaluated, modified and replicated in September 2017. Below is a summary of the steps they are taking in developing the action research project;

1 Agreeing the focus 

  • Developing children’s knowledge, understanding, use and application of ‘resilience’ to support and enhance their learning.
  • Developing aspects of oracy with a focus on; enhancing the ‘breadth and depth’ of ‘emotional language’ and developing the language of ‘resilience’ to ensure children can communicate effectively this aspect of their learning.

2  Identifying tangible outcomes 

  • A ‘set’ of learning attributes to underpin ‘resilience’.
  • An explicit visual model to support children’s learning.
  • A ‘set’ of sentence starters to support both children and staff.

3  Defining intended impact 

  • Children recognise and manage their emotions more effectively.
  • Children’s; language developed to enable them to more effectively articulate aspects of their learning, with a focus on resilience and an increased understanding of the ‘concept of ‘resilience’ and it’s importance in their learning.
  • Children’s use of a visual ‘model’ to enhance resilience.
  • Children become more resilient.

Based off this the school have agreed some focused actions (March 2017)

a) Developing emotional language

  • Consolidate ‘graded emotional washing line’; using words, pictures and/or diagrams.
  • Use ‘bucket dippers’, Giraffes cant’ Dance, a Bag Full of Worries or similar text to extend the breadth of language on the ‘graded emotional washing line’.

b) Carrying out an audit

  • Carry out a baseline audit by adapting Appendix A from : Bouncing back : how can resilience be promoted in vulnerable children and young people Believe in children. Barnardo’s by Jane Glover Published 2009. Evidence to be collected from individual modified questionnaires, semi structured interviews and observational notes for a sample group.

c) Introducing the notion of resilience

  • Use power point to explore the children’s initial understanding of resilience.

d) Experiencing resilience

  • Develop activities to explicitly ‘test’  and ‘experience’ resilience.

e) Making sense

  • Create a classroom display that ‘captures’ and helps children make sense of ‘resilience in context’; using annotated photographs, diagrams, pictures and children’s and teacher’s comments.

f) Sharing the process

  • Create opportunities for the action research project to be shared’ step by step’ with other staff.

g) Developing our own understanding by exploring the following

Glover, J. (2009) Bouncing back : how can resilience be promoted in vulnerable children and young people, Barnardo’s: London. 

Public Health England (2014) ‘Building children and young people’s resilience in schools’,  Health Equity Briefing 2 : September 2014,  Public Health England PHE publications gateway number; 2014334

Building resilience in Young Children Booklet for parents of children form birth to six years Best start / meilleur depart by / par health nexus sante

Being a Scientist: language and skills

This is Part 2 of a blog posted on the 12/1/2017

The Centre had the opportunity to follow up and review the initial impact of ‘developing the language and skills of being scientist’.

Children from Years 1 to 4 brought their collaborative ‘science journals’ to the review meeting where they were ‘interviewed’ by us and the subject leader. It was ‘observable’ that the children:

  • were able to articulate their learning in great detail,
  • used scientific language, both technical and process based,
  • could identify and illustrate the skills that they had used in science,
  • could identify and illustrate aspects of their agreed ‘learning attributes’,
  • were able to demonstrate their abilities to be ‘collaborative learners’.

Children in Years 5 and 6 demonstrated all of the above, however, they faced two additional challenges.

Firstly the children were asked to sort the eight elements of being a scientist in terms of which element was most significant in terms of their learning in that particular topic. The discussion was of a very high quality; the children were able to effectively collaborate and easily sought consensus. It has been great to see how this schools social learning attributes have played a part in supporting them in furthering their science curriculum.

The second challenge was to create a video explaining ‘how we learn science’. This is in the process of being edited and we hope to publish on either our or the school’s blog. Watch this space…