Building bridges

As an example of an interesting link for Learning Outside the Classroom, here are some photographs from a recent half day event with a Year 6 class. Their topic was the Second World War and they wanted to do some Design Technology to go with this.

The armies used tanks in the battlefields during WW2 but needed to enable them to cross rivers to advance and the bridges were often demolished to stop them. Building portable bridges which would have to be transported and built quickly was carried out by army engineers. Alongside making the bridges the students were introduced to an exciting computer programme. Westpoint Military Academy in the USA has produced an excellent FREE piece of software which supports their annual Bridge Building competition. This software is brilliant for getting pupils to think about various aspects of design, simulations, forces and data analysis. Suitable for Y6 upwards.

What I like is the fact that the students can download the software at home then work on designs independently and share their findings back in class. Can get very competetive!


We used a large remote control truck as the object to test the bridges with as we couldn't find any small tanks!!

The students worked in teams of 4-5 to design and build their own bridges. To make it a little more difficult we charged them for materials so they had to deal with the engineering, budgeting and the collaboration.

Here are some pictures from the day.






The Growing Schools website has been designed to support teachers and practitioners in using the "outdoor classroom" as a resource across the curriculum for pupils of all ages. 

Register to get the excellent and informative enewsletter, look for Places to Visit using the interactive map, check out supporting organisations in your area or look through the extensive and developing range of teaching resources.

Shirehampton Primary Green Space

Old allotment site transformed into stunning new outdoor learning space.

Shirehampton Primary school is rapidly moving forward in their development of an unused piece of land off St Mary’s Walk. The aim for the 1000 square metre site is to provide a welcome green space for learning at a school which has predominantly tarmac playgrounds. Having been used for allotments from the 50s to the 80s, the area gradually became neglected and overgrown. Set behind a circle of houses with gated access, the site was not accessible easily, and had become a dumping ground for rubbish.


Site view before work commenced in October 2012

The school had the site cleared and maintained as a grass field but wanted to do more with it. A belief that the area could be very valuable led the Governors to request transfer of ownership over to the school. A successful National Lottery bid provided the financial backing to get the project moving.

The school’s Eco-Council carried out a ‘needs and wants’ analysis to develop ideas with Best Education Limited (specialists in ‘Learning Outside the Classroom), who are project managing the landscaping of the site, providing a range of curriculum based activities and developing community partnership opportunities.

Work starts on pond and gazebo

The area now includes a large pond with dipping access, a Gazebo with seating for use as an outdoor classroom, a security shed for storage of equipment, bark paths, a pole forest, tables and benches. Woodland areas have been planted by Year 4 children using native saplings. Raised beds for planting of edible gardens have also been established. A selection of plum, pear and apple trees provide the centre point for a produce section. Blackcurrant, redcurrant and raspberry bushes will contribute to the harvest. 300 donated daffodil bulbs will look fantastic once they flower alongside the paths in the Spring.

Support has come from a Community Payback team

The range of activities across all year groups includes: building an insect hotel, a Mini Golf course, designing gates for the entrance, making bird and bat boxes, planting herbs and vegetables and creating outdoor artworks.

A major planting schedule will begin in March to create wildflower zones, wildlife corridors, a specialist butterfly garden, another 105 native saplings, herbs, vegetables, marsh and pond plants. Also on the cards are an outdoor musical trail, a giant sundial and a range of sculpture and outdoor artwork.

The local community have been kept informed of plans and are very supportive of the project and the transformation of the area from its sad state.

The School has joined the ‘Seeds of Change’ project in collaboration with the University of Bristol, Bristol City Council and the Arnolfini. Activities will involve planting sessions supported by post graduate students from the University and workshops for children at the University Botanic gardens and the Ballast garden in Bristol docks.



The gazebo offers suitable outdoor shelter


Future plans for the Shirehampton Green Space include inviting Cub, Brownie and Scout groups, local playgroups, community support groups and other schools to use this fabulous safe play and learning environment.




Trees and shrubs were used to screen create wildlife zones. The area already has lovely wildlife corridors running around the perimeter, an extensive slow worm colony and a mature dense shrub area attracting many different varieties of birds.

Playground fixtures were not considered as the children wanted a wild area where they could make up their own games and activities. The nearest thing to a game area is the log forest. A large number of poles provide an interesting feature around which the children can create their own games. Tag, Tall pole/short pole….or how about a tarpaulin cover?



Why create Green Spaces

• ‘Being outdoors has a positive impact on children's sense of well-being and helps all aspects of children's development.

• Being outdoors offers opportunities for doing things in different ways and on different scales than when indoors.

• It gives children first-hand contact with weather, seasons and the natural world.

• Outdoor environments offer children freedom to explore, use their senses, and be physically active and exuberant.’ RHS - Download PDF

Outside also has a higher concentration of oxygen in the air (25% more than indoors even with all windows and doors open). Oxygen is vital for all cells to respire in the body, but particularly for brain function to aid the process of learning. Encouraging children to be active outdoors is vital for their health and wellbeing.

Research has noted that children are much more motivated and engaged with learning when outside the classroom. Opportunities to use ‘big behaviours’ such as running and jumping are vital for keeping children healthy.

Studies by the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) have shown that children are happier and learn better if they attend schools that encourage gardening.

Researchers for the drinks brand Ribena questioned 2,000 parents of children aged from three to 15 across the UK for its Ribena Plus Play Report.

The figures showed that 59% of fathers and 42% of mothers were so busy that they had fewer than five hours a week to play with their children.

Just under a third of parents said they felt guilty for playing with their children instead of doing housework.

Outdoor play

Only around a third of children played with household objects, like pots and pans, and a similar number regularly climbed trees.

By contrast 90% of children watched DVDs and 70% played video games.

Keywords: community projects, gardening, allotment, anti-social behaviour, environment, food, plants, healthy eating, agriculture, food miles

Science, maths, literacy, engagement,

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