Taking the Curriculum Outdoors
At Widcombe CofE Junior School, wherever possible learning experiences take place outdoors. Children are found to be more alert, engaged and enthusiastic when learning outdoors. Such stimulating environments can also help them become self-motivated and self-led. We make use of our varied playground spaces as well as a great range of interesting outdoor learning sites that are within easy walking distance of the school, such as Smallcombe Woods, Bathwick Fields, Lyncombe Vale, the River Avon corridor, the Kennet and Avon canal, Sydney and Parade Gardens and other open spaces in and around Widcombe.
A great variety of curriculum lessons are taught outside - from drama and writing to maths and science. We have a popular and well equipped Forest School area known as Chestnut Corner which includes a tool workshop, mud kitchen, tree house, fire circle, woodshed and tyre seating area. In 2022 a new timber outdoor classroom will also be installed in the school grounds.
At Widcombe CofE Junior School we believe learning outdoors significantly enriches the curriculum.
Forest School is a learner-centred educational approach which gives children the opportunity to succeed and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on activities in a natural outdoor environment. It gives children a chance to engage in practical tool work and learn challenging skills such as fire lighting, green woodwork, outdoor cooking and knot tying. This hands on approach in all seasons and all weathers, helps develop motivation, curiosity, confidence, self-esteem, creativity, empathy and communication skills as well as knowledge of the natural world and an ability to assess risk.
During the school year, every class gets a number Forest School sessions in Chestnut Corner as well as regular trips to Smallcombe Woods. We are very lucky to have easy access to some beautiful countryside and important local nature areas. This allows us to teach the children about plants and animals in the natural environment and we regularly take classes, groups and even the whole school up to Smallcombe Woods and Bathwick Fields. In Year 6 the children also have a Forest School day up at Rainbow Woods. The school maintains close links with the National Trust and The Friends of Lyncombe Vale which allows us to get involved in local environmental projects such as hazel coppicing, seed collecting and bulb planting.
Every term we select children to take part in extra Forest School sessions which are held in Chestnut Corner on Tuesday afternoons. Regular access to the outdoor environment provides these children with inspirational and challenging learning opportunities, helps them with team work and builds their perseverance skills.
OPAL (Outdoor play and learning)
Twenty percent of the school day is spent on playtimes and lunchtimes. Over seven years at primary school, this equates to nearly one and half years! At Widcombe Junior School, we believe this is too valuable a resource to waste. We want our children to be inquisitive, playful, and creative and learn to manage risks through play.
Since September 2016, we have been steadily improving and enriching our outdoor spaces. These now include a chess and draughts area, a den building area, bug hotels, an outdoor piano, a music wall and a large shed full of loose parts available for the children to use every lunchtime. We encourage traditional playground games such as cats cradle, marbles, four square, conkers and skipping. Children are given opportunities to get involved in designing, building and developing various playground initiatives such as go-karts, an outdoor theatre, an outdoor library and a puppet theatre. In June 2017 we were awarded an OPAL Platinum Award for our outstanding play provision.
The impact of OPAL has been significant across the school. Feedback from staff, children and parents is that our playground is a happy, exciting and rewarding place to be. We hold regular 'playdates' where parents and teachers are invited to come along and join the children in their play and below are some comments from parents about OPAL playtimes.
‘Last week we peeped over the playground fence to see our daughter and friends absolutely engrossed in a world of imagination and wonder. The staff have created a little corner of magic that is continually growing - tree houses, bug hotels, suitcase sledges, mud kitchens and happy happy children. With their passion and determination the possibilities are endless.’ Year 3 Parent.
‘The OPAL project has brought children together that may not have had previous opportunities to get to know each other quite so well. The activities really nurture shared interests and these cut across all age groups with no divides. Seeing OPAL open up previously ignored spaces has also been a breath of fresh air. The open afternoon for parents and carers to come in for a play date was a brilliant idea - thoroughly lovely to be encouraged to play alongside our children ad really experience what they had gravitated towards.’ Year 5 Parent
‘The playground has been transformed into a magical and quirky space where you see children zooming around in wheelbarrows and suitcases, dressed up in high heels and old washing baskets, hanging from dens made from netting, writing plays in the make-shift theatre, digging up soil.... It is amazing to see how simple it has been to transform playtimes by simply bringing in lots of 'junk' and letting the children’s' imagination run loose. It’s also touching to see how much pride they take in their play stuff and how good they are at tidying away at the end of play times. It has had a real impact on my daughters - they LOVE school and are more than ever oozing with confidence and happiness, they rarely complain of playground squabbles and often tell me what a great school they are in’. Year 4 and 6 Parent.
‘Seeing Widcombe Junior playground transform, and the playtime behaviour of my own and other children with it, has been a joy. It has been pleasing to watch the different year groups reconnect through play and see their imaginations fired up because of OPAL. ‘ Year 3 and 5 Parent
‘OPAL has transformed playtimes at school, providing endless opportunities for creative play through such an extraordinary range of different equipment. The only limit is the children's imaginations! I really value that it encourages the children to push the boundaries of what they do while learning to take responsibility for their own risk. My child recently spent a dayat another local school - and said it had been a terrible day because they ONLY had 'normal' playground equipment!’ Year 3 Parent
Every term we select children to join our gardening club, giving them the opportunity to work in small groups seeding, planting, pruning, digging and working with the seasons.