Blog Outdoor Learning

I saw the wild geese flee

This post started life as part of my own reflections of how better to tell stories and ‘capture’ and ‘record’ the spontaneity of outdoor learning.

On Easter weekend the family was up north staying with my folks in the wee Angus village of Edzell. On the Monday we visited St Cyrus beach and nature reserve, a serene stretch of white sands home to Peregrine Falcons and one of my favourite places in the universe. The North Esk river completes its journey and spills out into the North Sea at an estuary further along the coastline. The heavy winter rain and storms had washed a considerable amount of wood and debris down the course of the river. All along the beach was strewn an incredible array of driftwood, including railway sleepers and one fully intact round hay bale. It was a den builder’s paradise.

Within seconds I watched my two children burst open with spontaneous creativity as they soared over the sands. In less than an hour they hand etched sand art; walked log tightropes; constructed stick canons; drawn train tracks; built dens; chased the silver tide; ran with the white horses; sculpted sand angels and told tall tales of magical stones and a new sea creature called a starfish spider. Armed with my iPhone, I ran around collecting snapshots of photos, sound and video. Their combined creativity was unrelenting and their joy extraordinarily simple. So too was their readiness to strip off, put on their dookers (swimming costumes) and run in to the freezing North Sea waves!

In the RSPB centre at the beach, someone had left a wonderful photo book which was full of similar adventures and creations made on the beach.

Later, as I sat down with the different bits of media, I reflected on how motivational, flexible and diverse that environment (context for learning) was and how deeply it had stimulated their imagination and ingenuity. There was no effort needed to enthuse them and no learning intention to guide them. In less than an hour they had covered a multitude of curriculum areas, unhinged from any sense of accountability or fear of failure. Both my kids were completely lost in the world(s) they had created. How often does that happen in the classroom? Or even in their house?! And I emphasise the word ‘created’ as in creativity. OK, you may not think it can be systematically taught or assessed but it definitely needs space to breathe.

As I started editing the footage it began to feel more like a poem, a visual collage of thoughts, sand and wind. I edited it on iMovie but none of the free music really fitted. It just didn’t feel right. Three days later it was still unfinished. Then I found myself humming a favourite folk song of mine – The Norlan Wind by the Angus folk singer Jim Reid – an adaptation of a poem, The Wild Geese, by Violet Jacob. The poem is a wistful conversation between the poet (self exiled from home) and the North Wind, carrying tales and descriptions of the northern lands that the poet is dearly missing. And the melody is beautiful melancholy. I ending up using a version which is a collaboration between the Scottish bands Frightened Rabbit and Lau. It fitted perfectly. For my narrative, anyway. I think if my kids had chosen then they would have probably opted for the Scooby Doo or Spiderman theme tunes!


What started out as a rough sketch experiment of how to capture and evidence learning using my own kids as guinea pigs, ended up as a very personal visual poem. Just like the adventure on the sands, the most exciting learning is found in the spaces in-between what you think might (or should) happen and on the border crossing between control and spontaneity. If you dare to look and dream, that is.


By Athole McLauchlan

Dad / primary teacher / literacy / technologies / outdoor learning / M.Ed student / #MIEExpert / #AppleTeacher / #ScotEdChat / #hatecelery /#rubbishatcartwheels

4 replies on “I saw the wild geese flee”

Fantastic, cherished moments in the sand…. I run a nature nursery and the best learning always occurs by chance, outdoors, using natural materials and an open mind. Your children are wonderful, inspiring, imaginative, creative and free – the next generation’s entrepreneurs.

That’s lovely, Helen. Your nursery sounds amazing. I assume you are in approval of the Upstart Scotland movement?
My children are also wee monkeys. They need space and high doses of fresh air on a daily basis!

I am very interested in the Upstart Scotland movement Athole. I have always discouraged parents fron sendng their children to school too young but I fear we are a long way from changing things.As a primary teacher, I have taught many 4 year olds in schools north and south of the border who quite frankly shouldn’t have been anywhere near a school. My answer was to get them outside with lots of arts and crafts / creative / problem solving projects using natural materials – you could see the change in their wee faces instantly. I could discuss this for hours but sadly I think schools and nurseries are looked upon as childcare establishments for many nowadays as so many parents work full-time, I think we are putting parents’ and the governments’ needs way ahead of our children’s needs. What is the answer you may ask ….. who knows, but perhaps compulsory parenting skills /outdoor learning and child psychology classes as part of secondary education coupled with the government paying a parent to stay at home with their children for the first few years. This would be money well spent and much better than asking nurseries to consider opening from 6am until 8 pm and schools to open in the holidays. Sorry for the rant Athole – I just think we are going the wrong way with our education nowadays. Would be really interested to hear your views……

I think you speak from the heart but also the head. The aspiration for the type of education we wish to see (and obviously share) is still a long way off. But I also think that something like the smoking ban showed how quickly mindsets and behaviours can be persuaded and altered.
I really like the Upstart campaign, but as yet have not been able to to attend any meetings or such.
I think decision makers, parents and teachers too are too easily distracted by short term results or failures. The clamour for National Testing is just proof of that for me. I think the whole early years set up is the most criminally underpaid and over looked of the 3-18 curriculum. And as you say, families and children need support before then.
My own boy defines what he does in school as ‘work’ and all the other times as ‘play.’ That shouldn’t be the case, age 6.

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