Environmental Play: Summary


Supervised By: Hulme Community Garden Centre with Liz Price, Faculty of Science

In this project, we will design and facilitate outdoor learning experiences in collaboration with Hulme Community Garden Centre – a social enterprise with excellent educational facilities, and a strong track record in working with young people to engage them with nature, growing and the outdoors. Their work includes use of Forest School methods, open exploration of natural spaces, environmental arts and the use of ‘loose parts play’. The project will also draw on the expertise of Dr Liz Price, Head of the School of Science and the Environment as a guest consultant.

EdLab students will have the opportunity to support existing work at the Garden Centre, and to propose and design activities to enhance that opportunity. The centre already has a well developed programme of regular toddler sessions and community days. There are also opportunities to develop an after-school club with Rolls Crescent Primary, and to develop further activities focused on Secondary and Community education.

Through this project, you will explore environmental education; methods and approaches to engage people more closely with the natural world. More broadly, you will be provided with a platform through which to interrogate the value of outdoor, embodied, unstructured and exploratory learning.

Farewell, And Thanks For All The Fish

This is a final well done message, and a reminder about submission requirements for assignments.

Full details of your assignments and how to submit are on your Moodle areas. But here are the key links so you have them all in one email.
          And this is an exemplar.


Project Coordinator’s Reflections

This post is a final reflective piece pulling together your thoughts on the project process and outcomes. It is intended as to support students in thinking about their own learning and evaluating their contributions. I have divided this post into several categories.

boat journey

Documentation – there are photos on our Slack channel that you are all free to use in your blogs and assessments.

Context of this project

As you start to address what is needed in this project you can draw on these reports which cover some of the topics that you told me you planned to focus your assessments on.

  • An excellent article on the growth of outdoor learning in Scotland click here
  • An article about the benefits of unstructured learning click here
  • Interesting piece linking risk taking to lowered anxiety click here
  • An awesome article that you all should read! click here now!

Evaluation of our process

The key to the success of the project so far has been the way in which you as individuals have grown in confidence and begun to take control of the practical tasks. I’m sure each of you have reflections about the good parts of this and also how perhaps some of you have struggled with this rather different way of learning.

It feels to me that this is an area that really needs to be more developed by you as individuals and which would suit more regular group meetings to deepen our individual reflections through group discussions. I think the learning from these reflections will also directly relate to how you, as educators, develop the ability to step away from directing and influencing play (which is how we often naturally teach) to really letting the children take the lead. Questions that arise and thoughts on the process can then be enriched by our readings around the area. Some questions that have arisen for me are below and I’ve collated the following links to add to the existing blog posts to guide our learning:

  • Has the concept of ‘loose parts’ become so popular that it has lost it’s original worth? Teacher Tom questions this in his blog post here
  • How can we strive to ensure that play is really unstructured? Fairy Dust Teaching debate this here and their site is an excellent resource to explore.
  • How can we as educators prove that a truly unstructured approach to play can still produce the learning outcomes required by the UK curriculum? How can we use this evidence to challenge and influence policy withing educational settings and within a wider statutory context? This study from Australia provides a framework that you could use to relate observations of early years play to UK Early Years targets – wold anyone like to have a go at doing this? Reflection of S.T.E.M. Activities using resources from the Mobile Junk and Nature Playground.

Future Work

It feels to me that we have just scratched the surface with our approach to this area. I would welcome more explorations in loose parts play to be planned by EdLab students.

I want to invite you to contribute to future Garden Explorers sessions (every Thursday at 11am) whether suggesting an activity (please plan this with Holly in advance) or simply observing play taking place on site. Depending on your level of involvement in the project so far, you may need to do this project to cover your required hours of project work and to give you the opportunity to apply the ideas behind this project to practice, or you may use this to deepen your understanding to build on your previous work.

In either case here is the challenge.

Create one or more 15-45 minute activity which supports the kind of work we have been doing. This should be based on your own hunches of what feels right and inspired by the readings you have been undertaken.

You should make some activity resources and write a plan that will allow a non-expert to deliver your session. You could imagine a volunteer at one of our community events, after school setting, or a parent at home as the person you are writing it for.

Share these resources and your plan in a blog post which can be linked to from the Slack group This can be as images, word documents, powerpoint presentations or just as part of the blog post itself.

Get this to me as soon as you can and I will give you feedback on it and give you additional links to related theory which you can include in your EdLab work.

Recap on assessment

The following online resources address assessment

–          This one is an overview of the assessment requirements of the unit

–          This one talks about the common assessment that ALL the students will complete

–          And this is an exemplar.

If you are doing a 30 credit version of the unit and need to complete an extra assessment here is the briefing:


EdLab Conference #3

EdLab Conference 24th March – 10am to 3pm
Agenda for Conference #3

10.00 Introductory Lecture: Assessment Orientations (Mark Peace and Mick Chesterman) Lecture Theatre 3

In this introductory session, we will revisit the assessment principles and requirement for the unit, and give some guidance on the kinds of forms that assessments can take.

11.00 Assignment Workshops

You will then move into your project teams, to begin to interrogate the substance, focus and form your assessment submissions will take. We want this session to give you space to actually get stuff done – so please bring along a device, and anticipate making a dent in working on your submission. Groups will report to the following rooms:

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House – BR 2.15 with John Lean
Early Years Explorers – BR 2.10 with Sean Mitchell
Environmental Play – BR 2.19 with Rachel Summerscales
The Language of Clay – BR 2.16 with Elle Simms
The Oubliette – BR 2.17 with Mark Peace
Mobilise Grimm and Co – BR 2.17 with Lauren Ash
The Game Makers – BR 2.18 with Mick Chesterman

In addition, we put on an additional workshop in BR 2.18 for students who have not engaged well enough in the process so far to feel confident in producing their assignments. It is important that you have identified yourselves to Mick Chesterman (m .chesterman @ mmu.ac.uk) ahead of the day.

13.00 Project Team Meetings / Working Lunch

The final hour of the day will be given over to project teams to continue any final development work on their planned outreach activity. Bring a packed lunch so that you can continue to work through this hour!

14.00 Ad Hoc Tutorials / Focused Session for the Students ‘Catching Up’ – 2.18/2.17

The remaining hour will be given over to allow further one-to-one support for students who need it, and for students ‘catching up’ with Mick to continue their development work.

If you do not need extra support, at this point, you are free to work independently on your assignment either in the spaces we have booked, or elsewhere.

15.00 END




Practical session 8th Feb

What a great session with our Garden Explorers this morning and the feedback from parents and carers was really positive – a great trial run for Potato Day.

more cardboardleverageheave ho

Running through the schemas beforehand was a good idea as it really made me think about the way in which both children (and adults!) were playing. Here’s a good blog post about schemas in nature play Nature Play Blog but don’t forget to look back at my earlier blog post for the full paper from Susan Law for a bit more detail.

I also saw some really good loose parts play and this paper gives some good starting points for thinking about what types of play we observed in the sessions today…I saw lots of different play happening and lots of joining in too which was great Effects_of_Loose_Parts

frogsfrog relocationcardboard box play

Work in the two project groups has got off to a good start too…plans drawn up for extending the outdoor play area and we’ve started sorting out the storage in the polytunnel. I think a few new skills have been learnt and I’m really pleased to see everyone growing in confidence so much.

We can put all of our learning into practice at Potato Day on Sunday Feb 18th and also at a consultation event that we are organising at Arch 9 on Temperance St near Piccadilly Station so I’m hoping that everyone can sign up to at least one session. Potato Day is here at the garden centre and we will be setting up a cardboard play area like today and also bringing out the ‘small world’ sand boxes. We might even do some potato printing too. The consultation project at Arch 9 will see us creating a indoor Winterwood with 46 trees, geodomes to hang out in and a big play area with a pop up sand /gravel kitchen, cardboard box creation zone and ‘small world’ creations. I’ve split the days into halves and within those time slots you should be able to work on all the activities. Let’s see how many sessions we can cover eh? The doodle poll is here…you know what to do! Activity sessions to cover

Safe Guarding and Ethics of Project Work

It is a legal requirement that anybody working with children, young people or vulnerable adults is appropriately briefed on safeguarding. As such it is important that all EdLab students engage with this post carefully.

By its very nature your work in EdLab will put you in contact with external partners and individuals outside the university – and often, these will be children and young people. Whilst you should never be put in a position by which you are responsible for a group of children, it is important that you appropriate briefed and considerate of the responsibilities this brings to you for child protection, and more broadly for ethical and professional conduct.


The term ‘safeguarding’ is used to describe the processes and measures which are put in place in order to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults. This protection includes, of course, extreme instances of abuse and maltreatment – and the current legal framework was put in place in response to highly publicised failures of public bodies to respond to warning signs that children were in danger. Safeguarding does mean something a bit broader, though. The UK Government defines the term as;

‘The process of protecting children from abuse or neglect, preventing impairment of their health and development, and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care that enables children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully.’

(DERA, 2014)

This extends the reach of safeguarding beyond child protection to incorporate the additional aims of preventing adverse impacts on health and development, and the promotion of circumstances is which children can thrive through to adult life.

Responsibility to assure safeguarding lies with both organisations (in our case, with the university through EdLab) and individuals (your project coordinator and, importantly, you). There are some basic implications of safeguarding policy for you. These are very simple, and should not be complicated;

  • It is important that all EdLab students have completed a full DBS check. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have one, and our responsiblity to pay for it and to limit access to outreach activity without one. In rare situations in which it isn’t possible to gain a DBS (for some international students) alternative arrangements will be made for the student
  • At no point should an EdLab student be left in sole responsibility – the lead for the space you are working in should be the project coordinator, a class teacher or equivalent or the parents of children (who should remain with them at all times
  • If you are concerned, tell your project coordinator. One of the golden rules of safeguarding is that communication is important, and you should flag up any concern (even if you think it might be silly) about young people you are working with immediately with your project coordinator (let them decide whether further action should be taken). It is important to remember that there is no right to confedentiality in law … if a young person starts to disclose something to you, tell them that you will have to tell somebody, and then do tell somebody else, even if they don’t disclose anything.

At this point, we would like you to follow this link and confirm that you have read and understand your responsibilities regarding safeguarding.

Risk Assessment

Whilst the guidance above ensures that you are compliant with fundamental safeguarding commitments, there are additional responsibilities which you should be aware of. Most notably, you are responsible for ensuring that any participants are kept safe within the activities that you run for them. Risk assessment can sometimes get caught up in slightly silly rhetoric, but the fundamentals are pretty simple. The usual process goes something like this…

  • Identify all of the hazards associated with your work. This is anything which might feasibly pose perils to physical or psychological health.
  • Consider which of these hazards constitute risks. Hazards only become risks if they are likely to occur, and if they would be unsafe if they did. This is the process by which you ensure your risk assessment is both effective and sensible, by identifying the things that are most likely to need planning for
  • Finally, you should establish precautions which will be taken in order to prevent risks turning into genuine dangers. What will you do in order to minimise the danger posed by hazards?

Usually, risk assessments are recorded in forms that look something like this – and shared with everyone involved in running the activity.

Professional Conduct

Work on educational outreach projects also has broader implications in terms of your personal conduct. It hopefully goes without saying, but we expect you to behave in professional ways – it is very easy to accidentally damage external relationships if not, and this makes arranging future projects very difficult. Everybody involved, including the outside guests who attend your project work, understands that you may well be inexperienced and novice at ‘doing education’ – and nobody expects that things will be perfect. Equally, though, there is basic level of professional conduct which is expected of our students in how you conduct yourselves within your teams, and in your interactions with those outside the university. Critical to this is effective communication and reliability; other people are often relying on the work that you do, whether its your project team or guests who are attending your activities – and it is therefore critical that you meet your commitments and deadlines. It is also important that you keep communicating with your project team throughout the process … even if things are going entirely to plan.

Quality Assuring your Work

The final dimension of this blog post relates to the importance of taking every reasonable precaution to ensure that your activities and events run smoothly and effectively. As noted above, we don’t expect everything to always run as you expect (indeed, education rarely works like this!) – however there is an extent to which, with some careful though, you can plan for the unexpected. In lots of ways, this process mirrors that of safeguarding, in that it follows these steps (but focused on things that might disrupt the smooth-running of your work, rather than responding to danger)…

  • Work out everything that could go wrong when your run your activity.
  • Audit each hazard in terms of how likely it is to go wrong, and how damaging it would be if it did.

You can then prioritise responses according to this framework:


… In which you would have very definite fall-back plans to respond to anything red (high likelihood and high impact), and be aware of the possibility of anything yellow. The stuff in green, can be fairly safely deprioritised to give more space to focus on the more risky stuff.

The Project Plan

Good morning team EdLab,

I really enjoyed our conference on Saturday and thought we made great progress. Good to meet you Reed and also we have Alice joining us who just has a bit of catching up to do.

The most important document for you to read this week is the Project Plan here Project Plan closely followed by the HCGC Environmental Policy here HCGC Environmental Policy

If you have any questions Slack them to me – use a direct message if you like but don’t be afraid to put them in the general channel if you think others might have have the same question.

I’m seeing you all in the next few weeks but I’d like to see lots of inspiring stuff popping up on both Slack and your blogs soon 🙂

Good luck, Rach

cardboard box 2loose partsdigging



EdLab Conference #2

Welcome back to university, and the next phase of your EdLab engagement. In the first conference in December, project teams met to begin to generate possible ideas and directions – and you should have sustained this work, with support through your project coordinators blog – since this point. Our next conference will take place this Saturday (13th) between 10 and 3. Through this day, you will start to form some more concrete plans for the development and execution of your projects, set some milestones and establish responsibilities for the delivery of them.

The agenda for the day will take the following structure:

9.45 – Arrival

10.00 – Keynote: The Seven Deadly Sins of Education – Mark Peace (Lecture Theatre 3)

10.45 – Project Workshops

  • The Oubliette – 2.18
  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s House – 2.17
  • Mobilise Grimm and Co –  2.16
  • Environmental Play –  2.15
  • Early Years Explorers – 2.19
  • The Language of Clay – 2.31
  • The Game Makers – 2.07

12.00 – Working lunch: During this hour, you should work independently in support of tasks developing your project. In addition, the following workshops are available.

  • 12.00 to 12.30: Support with blogging – 3.68 
  • 12.30 to 13.00: Applying for Teacher Training (third year students only) – 2.18

13.00 – Project Workshops (various rooms)

  • The Oubliette – 2.18
  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s House- 2.17
  • Mobilise Grimm and Co – 2.16
  • Environmental Play –  2.15
  • Early Years Explorers – 2.19
  • The Language of Clay – 2.31
  • The Game Makers – 2.07

14.30 – Plenary: Briefing on your assessed work (Juliette Wilson Thomas) – LT3

Important: Please make sure that you have undertaken any preparatory tasks for your project ahead of this day.


Some Academic Context

Hi EdLabbers,

In this post I’m sharing a few good academic papers which should help you to ground your work in some theoretical or empirical contexts. If you get chance then you could have a read of at least one of these before we meet on Tuesday 9th (at 11.30am in the Brookes Foyer). I’d suggest one on Loose Parts if you’re focussing on the apothecary polytunnel project and the Schemas paper for the outdoor area.

mud kitchen

Here is the original paper on Loose Parts by Simon Nicholson from way back in 1972 Loose Parts Nicholson

Here is a more up to date review Let the Children Play


Lastly this is a good paper on Schemas by Susan Harper Schemas in Areas of Play


Reminder: Preparation for Conference #2

Don’t forget that as well as our meeting to map out project work on Tuesday we have our second conference on Saturday so please do set some time aside to get your EdLab work on track. I know some of you have started your blogs so you could add some reflections to them on Tuesday and then again after Saturday. If you haven’t yet started your blog you’re creating a bit of a thought jam! By the end of this next conference each of our mini projects will have put together a roadmap for subsequent activity and then we will be full steam ahead for a few months..

Task: Integrating Reading

Produce at least one blog post which responds to something from the texts shared above. Refer to the previous blog post for guidance on the way you should approach your reading – and remember; we’re not interested in what the paper says, we’re interested in the way you put it to work (how does it help you think about the things you’re doing in your project)

How Does Reading Fit In

In previous posts, we have discussed the pedagogy that underpins EdLab – the ways in which it encourages you to generate theoretical understandings of education on the basis of your enacted experiences running projects. There is no pre-defined knowledge, and you are not expected to demonstrate any specific understandings of content or ideas – what matters is the way in which you develop a rigorous and critical sense of what it is you are producing through your projects.

This is, however, not to say that we do not expect you to undertake outside reading in support of the unit. In part, this will take the form of sleuthing other educational initiatives from which you can take inspiration. It should, however, also involve more conventional academic reading which should be used to inspire deeper analysis of the work that you do, and provide languages to talk about that work in more sophisticated ways. Here are some quick and dirty tips for engaging with reading in ways which will support the EdLab process;

  • Its not what it says, its what it makes you think. Try to avoid an impulse to be able to describe what the author is saying verbatim. Instead, find bits of the writing that make you think things (particularly if they affect how you are thinking about your project).
  • One sentence is enough. Often, students find themselves trying to respond to the whole paper. In some cases, this is appropriate – but equally it might be that one particular thing that the author says (it might even be just one statement) is enough to provoke a useful response.
  • Don’t punish yourself. If you are finding reading hard going, don’t blame yourself! Often, it’s because it is dense (and badly written). Don’t read and reread the same paragraph over and over again if you don’t understand it – read on, and find the bit that does talk to you.
  • Stop and write – particularly if you find yourself struck by a thought. Don’t lose that thinking by finishing the paper; go and write a blog post which starts with a quote from the article, and proceeds with a brain-dump of your thoughts. Then finish the paper.

In the next post, your project coordinator will share a couple of sources that might get you started in this process … but do try to do some independent hunting for sources too!