Going outside provides the easiest set of free resources that any teacher could want, the buildings that make up the locality. Of course, if your school is set in 50 acres of rolling fields and woodlands, you might beg to differ, but they can offer an alternative environment for study.
Having a local woodland available allowed me to take an infant class to make shelters, from scratch. At the same time, we had access to a Romany heritage museum, being run by a traditional van maker, who had a bender tent in the grounds. It gave the children insights into simple structures. This was extended with a second trip, to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, at Singleton, with a collection of houses from Saxon times, some moved and rebuilt, a few built from records as examples.
Within our locality, we also have the Iron-age Farm, which started on the top of Butser Hill, as an experimental archaeological site, developed by the late Peter Reynolds. This has been redeveloped in Chalton, south of Petersfield, still with an experimental brief, but more of a visitor experience. These early buildings were a source of great interest, with exploration of the basic materials, where they might have been sourced, reflections on how they were cut and prepared with very basic tools, moved from distance to where they were needed. Working at heights without scaffolding etc. Challenging their preconceived ideas. The experimental site introduced early textiles, food storage and other basic needs.
A mapping project in another setting, looking at the village development over a few hundred years of maps, sourced from the County archive, led to a drawing and investigation walk to the village centre. The Georgian fronts of the village centre, had been established as false “fashion” fronts to earlier tenements, where inhabitants were explored through earlier histories and census returns, which showed several families in each building. Some obliging local families opened their housed to show the features of the earlier houses that still existed. Finding Roman tiles used as a part of the local church was linked to one child digging up a tile in his garden; verified by the County museum service.
Sketching was a key element of each topic, used as a means to encourage the children to look closely.
Where possible, these were supplemented with photographs; much easier now with digital. Photographs were the basis for recall and retelling, which supported poorer writers to retain some order and organisation.
Basic pictures were given to support dialogue with each other and with the accompanying adult(s), who also had some additional information sheets to share.
Drawing sketch maps secured some feeling of spatial awareness, extended with giving instructions to get from one place to another, inside school or within the locality, but also extensive use of local maps to aid orientation.
Written reports and instructions were developed, as were histories of some of the individuals who had made up part of the developing narrative; the local Lord of the Manor and his wife were buried in the church, while some of the local people’s headstones were in the churchyard.
Clay modelling allowed making bricks and creating "dwellings", which in turn became the centre for story making.
A museum of tools and building materials allowed exploration of modern approaches. Local builder dad talked about some of the issues in building a house.
Making concrete of different consistencies in margarine tubs allowed some stress testing of materials.
Creating a 3d model of the "Village with three corners", derived from a reading scheme, alowed children to picture and develop storylines more clearly, using little model people.
Just opening children’s eyes to what is around them can give them something to talk about with their parents, particularly if they walk the same areas together. This can lead to further personal exploration, which adds to the general stock of knowledge and shows that the child’s education extends beyond the classroom.