What can we see, feel and smell on our sensory walk? Photo © Sarah Sprake
This resource builds on pupils’ natural curiosity to create an unstructured walk, where pupils can use their senses to explore their immediate environment at a slow pace, noticing details and creating their own routes around spaces. Pupils plan their own route then use their senses to learn about their environment. By collecting some natural and found objects, pupils can make a collection to represent their walk and encourage them to recount and retell their experience.
Links to Understanding the world
- Support children to make sense of their physical world and community
- Build on children’s personal experiences to develop knowledge
- Explore the natural world
- Notice similarities and differences in the world around them Developing understanding and knowledge about the lives of people around them and in the wider community.
Links to other areas of the EYFS
- Physical development: moving through space, using senses
- Communication and language: opportunities for new vocabulary and back and forth interactions, retelling and recalling experiences.
You will need:
- School or settings grounds, or a short walking route
- Magnifying glasses, insect nets – optional
- A paper bag or tub to collect treasures or natural finds to take back to school
Activity idea: A sensory walk and collection
Using a simple map or aerial photograph of your outdoor area or school grounds, plan a simple sensory walk. This may be pupils’ first experience of fieldwork; they are using their senses to collect information about the world is like. If using your school grounds, you could plan a route in advance or follow a more playful “geographical drift” approach where instead of following a predetermined route, you decide the route as you go: for example, you could choose to follow a colour such as finding yellow in nature, or a theme such as “cold” or “crunchy” to find items which feel cold or sound crunchy (Witt, 2013).
Ensure pupils understand some of the ways they can find out about the world around them – sight, hearing, touch, smell. Some examples are listed below all of which are great first fieldwork experiences and enable pupils to really engage with their route:
- Taking shoes off to tread on soft grass
- Running to explore a new space
- Jumping on a new surface
- Exploring textured bark or leaves
- Comparing the feel of stone, to the feel of grass
- Comparing the feel and properties of surfaces such as sand and water
- Brushing through longer grass or crunching through leaves
- Noticing the sound of walking on different surfaces
- Listening to bird song
- Smelling herbs, flowers.
As the walk continues, pupils can add to a sensory collection box with natural and found materials to help them remember their route, this could be done as a whole group, or in partners or individually. Pupils should have ownership of this, with gentle guidance, and choose what they would like to include to remember the walk. Pupils will need reminding about what is safe to collect and what to leave behind. These boxes can become a multi-sensory reminder of the walk, and once back in the classroom you can use the boxes to retell the journey many times over. You could also repeat the walk each term or more frequently, to see how your collection box has changed to reflect seasonal changes. An Autumn sensory walk collection might contain seedheads twigs, fallen leaves.
How to make this successful
- Plan ahead to ensure you have time for your walk and that any necessary risk assessment or extra support is in place.
- Use the outdoor place you have, this could work equally as well in a very small space, noticing details.
- Display and use the sensory collections to recall the walk, and repeat the experience to notice changes.
- Notice opportunities to introduce new vocabulary.
- Sometimes sensory experiences can be overwhelming, you may need to mindful of this when planning your route.
- Every pupil’s walk experience and collection will be slightly different, we all notice different things.
Ideas to build on knowledge
- This approach might be useful when conducting an educational visit or trip
- Share this idea with your wider community through home and school communication
- Vocabulary planning: plan which new words might pupils need to know and record ideas for developing interactions
- This begins a foundation for pupils’ geography fieldwork in key stages 1 and 2.
Primary Geography/Teaching Geography/Geography articles
Owens, P. Rotchell, E. Sprake, S. and Witt, S. on behalf of the GA Early Years and Primary Phase Committee (2022) ‘Geography in the Early Years: Guidance for doing wonderful and effective geography with young pupils’, Primary Geography, 109, pp. 19-22.
Witt, S. (2013) ‘Chance encounters of the playful kind: exploring places’, Teaching Geography, 38, 3, pp. 114-15.
This Teaching Resource was written for the Geographical Association by Sarah Sprake.