If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a great surprise – although it’s unlikely you’ll see any teddy bears this time!
In fact, it’s more likely you’ll spot eager pupils from Newmilns Primary School who have been taking part in an outdoor education challenge to boost their learning in open spaces.
The Curriculum Outdoors Attainment Challenge (COACh) helps teachers to use outdoor learning as a way for pupils to their connect classroom learning to the environment, local history, their local community and place within this.
Locally, the Bluebell Plantings was chosen for the Newmilns pupils to visit as it has a wide range of plant, tree and animal life to explore – and also contains a host of historical secrets few people know about.
Pupils from Loudoun Academy came along to support their younger peers throughout the project which helps develop their leadership skills.
Hidden deep within the woods are the remains of Arklowdun Castle, built during the Norman Era in the 12th century. The Castle survived several centuries but was destroyed during an attack by a rival family, with Loudoun Castle was then built as its replacement.
On their first visit to the Plantings, pupils were challenged to use all their senses during a walk through woods and imagine what form the ancient castle might have had, where it would have been sited and what shape it might have had, based on the remains of the walls.
Some pupils undertook creative writing assignments and wrote a diary entry of a day in the life at Arklowdun Castle.
Others undertook a creative challenge to use charcoal and produce artistic impressions of Arklowdun Castle. Another group made a map of the castle area, boosting their numeracy skills by using measuring instruments and archaeology tools to assist in this.
With the support of the Learning Outdoor Support Team and Archaeology Scotland, pupils then created a lesson plan to revisit the Big Wood and learn more about Arklowdun Castle.
In addition to the history and archaeology exploration, pupils also took part in conservation activities, building animal habitats, classifying plants and trees and cataloguing the biodiversity of the site.
The pupils will shortly share their experiences of learning with other pupils at a special school assembly.
The best news is that thanks to their efforts, the Primary 4 class have the chance to win a Heritage Hero Award, with Primary 7 pupils in line for a prestigious John Muir Award for conservation.
Daniel Jones (P4) said: “I really liked outdoor learning and the trundle wheel was really fun when we measured a trench.”
Eilidh Gray (P5) said: “Outdoor learning was great because we got to measure a Motte and Bailey Castle and then got to draw with charcoal!”
Abbie Wamuziri (P7) added: “It was so much fun measuring trees and trying to work out what type they were. I loved building the den and finding angles in it, there were a lot more than I thought there would be!”
Robbie Young (P7) said: “It was incredible learning how to make paints using natural sources and then drawing Celtic Symbols. Making bug hotels was fun too and these also help the environment! “
Alan Ward, East Ayrshire Council’s Head of Education added: “The COACh Programme demonstrates range, diversity and depth of learning experiences that can be achieved in the outdoors, connecting the children to meaningful and engaging learning opportunities outside the classroom.
“Enhancing learning experiences help build pupil confidence and self-esteem and recognising their wider achievement through Heritage Hero and John Muir Awards is a fantastic way for learning to be looked on as a fun and engaging activity, within and outwith school.”