Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mud-Slinging Can Bring out the Best in Pupils

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mud-Slinging Can Bring out the Best in Pupils

Article excerpt

Schools often overlook outdoor learning, but getting down and dirty can help to unearth disengaged students' talents

The Year 4 boys and girls laugh and dance exuberantly on the wet, sticky mass of mud. Far from telling them to stop, their teacher joins in. The children cannot quite believe it.

But the teacher has good reason to be supportive. Outdoor education has long been found to be beneficial for students, especially those who struggle in a "traditional" classroom setting. Today's group includes children with behavioural issues, and certain special educational needs and disabilities.

What the children of West Earlham Junior School in Norwich are doing is partaking in a type of outdoor education that is growing in popularity: cob building.

Cob is an ancient building material made of subsoil, water and straw and can be used to create sculptures, walls and even whole buildings. I teach the technique in schools across the country and see the impact of this work over and over again. I call it "the mud effect": children who are unable - or do not want - to learn in the classroom suddenly become engaged and want to lead the learning when they're cob building.

Unleashing latent talents

A great example of this recently was a student with speech and language difficulties. The pupil was receiving weekly input from a speech and language therapist, as well as a dedicated key worker for one-to-one time every day.

After they were thrown into the mud for the building project, they emerged transformed, as a leader. I was surprised to learn that they struggled in their relationships with other children, often "victimising" them at school. During the cob workshops, they were confident and led their peers.

It's especially rewarding when a child like this comes into their own. But it is frustrating that opportunities for outdoor learning are increasingly curtailed. Schools often fail to realise that the curriculum can be covered in more ways than just sitting in a classroom. …

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