In 2013 we were very fortunate to receive funding from 'The People's Millions,' following our campaign to improve the wider curriculum for our pupils and make it more relevant to their lives in rural/coastal Cornwall. Year on year we have invested to create an amazing outdoor learning environment at Connor Downs Academy that we know as 'Cultivating Futures.' We have a poly-tunnel, large pond with dipping bridge, animal rescue areas with rabbits and chickens, raised planters and beds, learning pods, an outdoor amphitheatre, a fire pit, a practical nature trail and a Cultivating Futures outdoor classroom. We use water butts to recycle water and have a composting area. The Cultivating Futures area was designed for our children by our children with the specialist help of an outdoor learning architect and they have excitedly watched it come to life since 2013.
Mr Costello and Mrs Pedley work in Cultivating Futures and lead a wide range of activities to enrich the science national curriculum from Year 1 to Year 6. Mr Costello has a specific focus on deepening and extending children's experience of atmospheric science, especially meteorology and climate change and zoology. He is supported by members of our local community who have interests in outdoor learning and he has developed strong links with the RSPB through one of our expert parents and with Feadon Farm Wildlife and Education Centre.
Mr Costello works with small groups of pupils, carrying out practical investigations to support their scientific knowledge and understanding. He teaches all pupils across the school with a focus on environmental studies, science, sociology and geography themes such as globalisation, weather and climate change, living things and habitats, plants science and horticulture. Reception children use the Cultivating Futures areas each week in 'Welly Wednesdays' where they enjoy learning about science and animal care. They are supported to access the EYFS curriculum and develop an early scientific awareness through fun, practical activities.
Children across key stage 1 create 'learning journeys' to record their experiences and learning. In key stage 2 children use exercise books to record their Cultivating Futures activities. The outdoors team also use video and photographs to record learning experiences, including practical investigations.
The Cultivating Futures team also run an outdoor learning themed 'nurture group' over lunchtimes and an after school club called Nature Detectives. They are very active in their aim to reduce, reuse and recycle. They make water filters from recycled materials and create habitats for visiting wildlife, including in our large pond. Children grow our own vegetables and fruit from seed and then the children use their produce in their food technology sessions with Mrs Pedley.
Mrs Pedley is an experienced teaching assistant and is currently attending college to qualify in Level 3 animal husbandry. She teaches the children how to care for animals, using our own rescue rabbits and chickens. Children are responsible for feeding, grooming and giving health checks to all of our animals. Mrs Pedley also helps children understand the story of food, from farm to fork, and enjoys making recipes with our children using our home grown produce.
A range of educational visits and visitors are organised by the Cultivating Futures team, such as travelling to the Lobster hatchery in Padstow to learn how sustainable fishing is being used to guarantee a supply of lobsters in the future. Children enjoy a Farm and Country day to experience how farming impacts on the lives of humans and animals and visit RSPB reserves to identify and classify birds. Year 6 children enjoy visits to Nexus, at a local secondary school, to learn about science and technology through workshops led by specialist teachers. Children take part in 'The Bloodhound Project' where they learn about the world land speed record. Groups design their own mini rocket car from a foam block using various advanced tools, including a hot wire cutter. Their design must ensure that the car is as aero-dynamic as possible. The finale involves a 'race-off' against other schools with cars travelling up to 40 miles per hour. This is a scientific activity that also develops children's imaginations and inspires the next generation scientists. Children also consider future careers as designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and leaders. Mr Costello uses this project as a launch pad to explore physics more deeply in preparation for secondary school transition with topics such as friction, aero-dynamics, speed, gravity, distance and time.
We use these Cultivating Futures experiences to develop children's personal learning and thinking skills such as leadership, patience and teamwork. Children are also developing morally and socially as caring, responsible citizens of the future. They demonstrate enhanced personal and social communication skills, increased physical health, enhanced mental and spiritual health and enhanced spiritual, sensory, and aesthetic awareness. Children are very aware of the long term impact of their choices today on the future of our planet. We know 'Cultivating Futures' is having a positive impact on our children because of their outstanding personal development, strong learning behaviour and their enhanced wellbeing, reported by teachers, parents and our community. A research paper on our development of this outdoor curriculum was undertaken by researchers from Goldsmiths University because they found it to be truly unique.
To find out more about the benefits of outdoor learning click on the link below.