Outdoor Education

Hooray for Pott Row First School in Norfolk!

They have realised the benifits of allowing children to run around outdoors and and fill their lungs with fresh air.

Some forty four years ago, I was a teacher in Pimlico, in Inner London. ‘Outdoors’ as far as our kids were concerned consisted of a tiny rooftop playground, seven stories up, or a bus trip to Wimbledon. Every child spent one morning or afternoon every week either on the playing fields there or, when the weather was too bad for games, walking or running on Wimbledon Common.

I was an assistant teacher of Remedial English. In an effort to improve the reading age of some of the poorest readers. I was asked, with another member of staff, to accompany 25 or so youngsters to Ewehurst in Surrey to Sayers Croft Rural Centre for a month for an ‘Intensive (Residential) Remedial Reading Course’.

Sufficient changes of clothing were provided for all the children. They slept in dormitories, with a teacher (Yours truly!) in the small room at the end. There was a constant supply of hot water in the spacious shower rooms. Excellent food was provided in the dining room three times a day. A dedicated team of ladies collected all the dirty laundry whenever necessary and replaced it with beautifully ironed substitutes… sometimes twice or even three times daily if necessary.
So where did the reading come in?…. In the classroom, after dinner in the evenings!

Each day was spent out in the open air, perhaps ascending Leith Hill, or visting Guildford cathedral, or conquering three hills, or climbing trees, or building a dam across the stream using natural materials found on the banks, or sliding on their bottoms down the mud slide they had built. This resulted in their landing in the pool which had formed when they built the dam.

Swimming fully clothed in a muddy pool in November was a really exciting pastime (or so they told me, I didn’t fancy it). A brisk trot back to the bunkhouse and those hot showers was then called for before they donned their freshly laundered clothes and went in, rosy-cheeked, to scoff their eagerly anticipated dinner.

The evenings were spent in a classroom… with my colleague & me listening to the boys and girls reading specially written books about the adventures they had pursued each day. As far as I was concerned, it was well worth giving up a month of my social life to watch the improvement in the reading standard of those children.

Each page successfully read was ticked and signed and we had both individual and overall wallcharts to record everyone’s improvement… gold stars galore! There were also letters to write to parents, siblings and classmates left behind in the city…. and their replies to be read too.

At the end of the month, when they went back into school, their reading ages had leapt forward stupendously, and this was doubly confirmed by comparison with the ‘control group’ of children who had been left behind… even though these had had extra tuition from the very committed Head of Department.

However, in addition to the vast improvement in reading age, it was very noticable that another change had occurred. The children who had been away and spent time out in the open, enjoying fresh air and ‘perceived’ freedom, had matured and developed socially to a remarkable extent.

Sayers Croft is still running, but I am not sure if they still cater for remedial readers. I really hope they do, though from their web site, I have the impression that they tend to be more high powered these days.

So ……Well done Pott Row, for allowing kids to explore outdoors and get muddy, and ‘well done’ also the parents who are willing to let their washing machines work overtime to keep up with them!

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