Pentagon’s Marketing Manager, Dominic and Sales Consultant, Greg spent the day as teacher assistants at Didsbury Road Primary School. The morning was spent with the Early Years children and the afternoon was spent with Reception. Here, Dominic shares their experience from his point of view…
When we arrived at Didsbury Road Primary School, we were greeted by EYFS teacher and outdoor learning enthusiast, Jo Fallows who was setting up the outdoor area for the children. There was plenty of learning opportunities on display and the area was zoned perfectly for children to naturally progress through the 7 areas of learning.
The area really captured the imagination… there was a playhouse tucked away in the corner, natural dens scattered around that looked ideal for role play and there was equipment specifically designed for investigative learning. Our designed Mud Kitchen was a prominent figure and after a closer look, you could see the children had made it their own.
We went indoors to greet the children as they arrived. They gravitated to different areas of the classroom and it was interesting to see the boys naturally initiate play linked to construction and the girls partake in more creative activities that included painting and role playing in their tea room.
I closely observed a boy manoeuvring a marble shoot. Each time the marbles went down the shoot, they landed on one specific side. Eventually, he figured out how to manipulate the shoots in order for the marbles to come out of a different exit.
I then saw a boy painting, I asked him what he was painting and he replied ‘I’m painting a rainbow’. I asked if he’d seen one before and he said ‘yes, they are my favourite’.
He then practised pronouncing his name in order to sign the painting to proclaim it was his, he then knew where to put it in the rack to dry and off he went to wash his hands – very well mannered.
It was great to watch Jo interact with the children as they sang their welcoming song. She also asked the children if they knew who was absent on the day and allowed them to look around and shout out if they knew. It seemed like a great way to ensure that the class had a good togetherness.
It was time for outdoor learning and we were excited to see how the children would interact with our play equipment. Jo and her assistant, Mrs Kendrick, made the children aware of a task to create mini matchstick men.
There was an area set up for children to design them but they weren’t pushed towards the area, it was left naturally for them to come over when they pleased.
We learnt how to make 'Mud Teas' sweeter at the Mud Kitchen
I immediately headed over to our Mud Kitchen where 3 girls were already in aprons and mixing up some great mud pies. As soon as I went over, one of them asked me to grab some leaves. I asked why they needed leaves and they responded ‘it needs to be sweeter and leaves make it sweet, please grab them from the bush over there’.
I took my orders and grabbed some leaves from a bush which was by the Mud Kitchen - you could instantly see missing leaves from times gone by. I asked them about the leaves but straight away
I was being ordered together some pine cones; these ladies really did own the kitchen. They made me some ‘mud tea’ which was made sweeter with the inclusion of their leaves. I must say it was delicious.
After eating some mud pies, I headed over to the ball shoot where I saw a boy manoeuvring the shoots in order to get the balls to land in a box at the other side. He missed on the first few attempts but he then made a few adjustments and landed the ball in the box – he was filled with joy. I asked what ball’s roll well and he explained that the smaller balls roll better and the bigger ones were too slow.
I then asked him to catch the ball at the end of the shoot instead of it going in the box. I rolled the ball down and on the first two occasions, he missed the ball but on the third attempt, I saw him move back a little and he caught it. I watched him naturally figure out that he needed to move further back in order to have a better chance of catching and stop the ball flying past his arms
I then went to see which children were making the matchstick men, just by luck, one particular boy had gravitated over. He started wrapping string around the stick and he was trying to figure out how to break the string away from the ball.
Eventually, he grabbed the scissors and cut it loose. He added an eye to the top of the stick and then added a piece of red fluff as a nose with homage to a clown. Interestingly, he added a circular shape to the stick’s arm, I asked what it was in which he replied ‘It’s a shield.’
A thick bit of cotton was glued to the other arm to give the stickman a sword. He looked at the area where other children were placing their stickmen but then looked over to the playhouse with curiosity. He then ran over and placed the stickman outside the front door of the playhouse as if it was a guard protecting their home.
I looked in the playhouse to see a girl at the till; it had been turned into a shop. “Would you like a bottle of water?” the girl asked. “Yes please, how much would it cost me?” I replied. She typed on her till, and said, “That will be £100 please.” I must say, it was the most expensive bottle of water that I’d ever come across. I then asked for something to eat and she offered me a sandwich for £15. “I only have £20” I said. She replied by saying “it’s okay, here’s your change”.
As I was walking through the EYFS environment, I was approached by a girl called Rebecca who I previously met at the Mud Kitchen (she was the one barking orders at me for her mud pie). She took me on a tour of ‘her’ EYFS space and explained what each area was for.
She came across very confident and knowledgeable and she seemed proud of the area. As we walked over to some of their dens, some children were playing a game, I asked what they were playing, and she replied “Oh, they’re just playing Bear Hunt, basically someone is a bear and you have to run away and hide.”
Didsbury Road's natural way of promoting healthy eating whilst on their EYFS playground
She then walked over to the Planters where a boy was watering. She picked one of the lettuce leaves up and began to eat it. Slightly astonished, I investigated the area further to find mini pots of lettuce and cabbage for the children to eat when they liked.
Mrs Kendrick explained, “Allowing the children to grow and then actively eat the plants, helps promote healthy eating, the children love picking and eating the lettuce and cabbage which they grow themselves”.
I then made my way over to the ball shoots to see Jo and some of the boys trying to figure out how to get the balls to move faster without the need to push them. One of the boys figured out that by moving the shoot higher, they didn’t need to push the balls down, they would fall down naturally.
Suddenly the bell was ringing (a boy was chosen to ring the bell) to end outdoor play time and head back inside.
Speaking to Mrs Kendrick inside, she was amazed by Rebecca (the girl who turned professional tour guide to show me around the playground) and how she’s progressed. “At first she was extremely shy and wouldn’t say a word to anybody”. “To see her talking to you confidently and showing you around, was great to see” added Mrs Kendrick.
On hearing this, I was amazed and never would have thought she was ever shy 3 months previous, it just shows how she has progressed during her time at Didsbury Road Primary School. The environment was set up perfectly for the development of PSED, Understanding of the World and Communication and Language.
We went back inside for snack time, children were nominated to hand the snacks out which helped them understand the importance of sharing.
After lunch, we headed over to the Reception class. They had a HUGE outdoor space that included a large sheltered zone for free flow play from inside to outside. They also had den making areas, dig pits, table tops, climbing frames for physical development and various pieces equipment for imaginative play.
A fun way to learn phonemes...
As we went outside, the children lined up facing the teachers and suddenly, the sound of Bob Marley began to be heard through the speaker system. The teachers then began to lead a dance routine. Of course we had to get involved although I must say, some of the moves at times, caught us out.
This was actually a phonics exercise to help the children with their pronunciation of phonemes. They had to pronounce each movement as they did it along with the teachers who were fantastically enthusiastic and energetic. The teachers put extra emphasis on phonemes such as ‘th’ and ‘fl’.
After that fun exercise, the teachers then shouted out – “Okay, play!” The children then rushed off to play and observing, you could see that each knew which areas they wanted to go to. This was completely different from the EYFS children who gradually found their way around the area until deciding what they wanted to play.
I headed over to the Dig Pit to see two boys digging and another boy sweeping up the mess they made. I asked them what they were digging for in which they replied “We’re digging for treasure.” The Teacher explained that sometimes they hide objects in the dig pit for children to find.
I then had a closer look at the environment and could see it was themed to inspire the children’s imagination. On this particular day, it had a pirate theme and from looking around, the game children’s were playing mirrored this theme.
There was children in a pirate boat playing ‘Mums and Dads’ and children pretend playing with toy ships and re-enacting scenes. I then came across a lot of children who were enjoying mark making on the floor with water; it all felt very creative.
I spotted an excellent lady bird on the floor that a girl was proud to show me. I then asked to play a game, I told her to draw mini beasts that she had come across when learning and then give me clues as to what it was. The reason I asked her to give me clues, was to test her knowledge.
She really enjoyed it and I must say, she was extremely knowledgeable. Overall, she drew me a caterpillar as well as a worm, butterfly, centipede, dragon fly, snail and slug. I must say, my favourite drawing was the ladybird.
After that fun learning game (where others were even asking to join in), play time was over and the children lined back up to go inside. I admired the enthusiasm of the Reception teachers who you could tell enjoyed teaching the children.
We did witness a very clever child who shouted out the alphabet in both phonetic terms, the teachers were mightily impressed.
We then made our way back to The EYFS class where we got to observe more outdoor learning with Jo Fallows and Mrs Kendrick. The day ended with a story about a pig and to engage them in the story further, it contained pictures of pigs for children to choose their favourite - mine was the spotty one.
The day then came to end and after helping clear up, we had time to reflect on what was an incredibly insightful day. We observed children’s play, learnt how they interacted with different natural elements as well as our play equipment.
We also witnessed expert teaching techniques and now have a better understanding of the magnitude of a teacher’s job. I must say, teachers deserve a lot of respect and you only had to see the happy children to understand what a great school Didsbury Road Primary School truly is.
A fantastic day of learning, how do you teachers do it each and every day??
At Pentagon, our team pride themselves on innovation and service which is why we spend time with teachers to better understand how we can improve outdoor learning in schools and nurseries. Over the years, we have worked closely with Didsbury Road Primary School to develop their outdoor learning environment to better the lives and learning of their children. Feel free to Contact Us to see how we can help develop your school playground for the better.
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