3 ways to have fun writing outside with children

outdoor poetry workshop

Going out into a natural environment is essential for children to get to know some of their fellow species and to enjoy being part of nature. There is great freedom in nature, and writing outdoors can be a wonderful way to help both children and adults to free up their own creative powers. Writing outdoors does not need to involve a major expedition to a wild landscape; a park, the school garden or a bit of rough woodland are all excellent venues for writing. Here are some ideas you can try with your pupils.

1. A taste of nature: Give each child five green leaf-shaped bits of paper. While walking, encourage the children to use all of their senses and write down on the leaves words or phrases that describe what they sense. Encourage the children to touch lots of different textures (stone, moss, furry leaves, prickly stems, smooth bark...), to smell flowers, leaves, bark, the soil, and to listen to any natural sounds (running water, wind in leaves, birds, insects, footsteps...). If possible offer them things to eat – dandelion leaves, wild raspberries or brambles – what is available depends on the season. Alternatively you could take something that grows wild to offer them, like hazelnuts, cherries, or a drink of elderflower cordial.

Get the children into a circle and gather their leaves together into a bowl as a 'word salad'. Pass the salad around the circle, each picking out a leaf and reading what is on it. Keep passing the bowl around until all of the leaves have been read out – it can work beautifully as a kind of randomised poem. You may like to take the leaves back to the classroom and let the children organise them into a tree, with similar words together to form branches.

2. If you were as small as a bee, a heather bush would be a great big tree: Ask the children to shrink. A spoonful of magic heather honey can help with this and if they don't already know Alice in Wonderland you could share the part of the story where she drinks from the bottle with the 'Drink Me' label, and eats the 'Eat Me' cake.

Once all the children are imagining themselves to be as small as a bee, ask them to look around and think about what life would be like here in nature. What animals would they encounter and what would they be like? What could they build their home out of? What little things might be useful to them? Could they sleep in a flower?   Could they take their pet ladybird for a walk? Ride on a snail? Fly with a bird? Encourage them to write and draw some of their life as a tiny part of nature.

3. Get to know a tree: Go out for a walk and focus on one of our native trees. First make sure that all the children learn how to identify it, looking closely at its bark, buds and twigs, as well as leaves, flowers, fruit or nuts if it’s the right time of year. Stop under a tree and hand out little pieces of paper, each of which has a snippet of information about the tree. Each child reads out what is written on their slip of paper. This is a nice interactive way to share facts and folklore about the tree. On my website there is a page for each of the trees in the tree alphabet with lots of titbits of folklore, ecological facts and practical uses for the tree. Feel free to use this resource.

Now ask the children to imagine that they are the tree and write from its point of view. What does the tree want to tell us about itself? What is the tree dreaming about? What does it want to happen to it? If, for example, one of the uses of its wood is for boat building, is the tree dreaming of sailing away to some distant land, and if so, where does it want to go? If the tree can be used for a magical cure, who does it want to heal? Ask the children to write the tree's story, letting their imaginations go wild.

You might like to read a tree poem - there are lots in this anthology!

Looking for more? Encourage your students to embrace the great outdoors with our lists of 8 Great Outdoor Adventures and 9 Books About our Environment

Mandy Haggith

Mandy Haggith is a poet, researcher and activist with an interest in the environment. She also mentors other writers and delivers workshops on creative writing. You can find out more about her work on her website.