What stories does the soil tell us?

An outdoor observation between the interaction of children with the environment and soil.

Project author:

Project summary:

An observation study on the way that the imagination of 7 year olds works at a primary school in an outdoor environment.



The project looked at ;

  • children’s’ imagination and creativity
  • the impact of manufactured/natural/outdoor environment on children’s imagination and creativity
  • children’s desire to be outside and function either freely or after setting them a certain question


This project takes into account that the school participating in this project is located at the province of Greece known as a “tourist”’ destination, many of the children spend time outdoors but also are exposed to technology through laptops, smartphones etc. The project is important because, as a new teacher at this school teaching theatre, both observation and results will help me understand what motivates children’s imagination, causes their enthusiasm and be able to use it in my teaching.


When I started teaching in this school, I discovered that many children had never seen a professional theatre show or even amateur projects. From the first days of my teaching I understood that for them theatre was just memorising words, going on the stage and saying those words. They were not used to theatrical playing, with the main aspects of theatre such as transforming, exploring, “getting out of one’s’ skin”. It was difficult for them to form a circle and stay in that form. Also it was challenging to “wait” their turn for every other activity. At the same time they showed great enthusiasm about my teaching, about me wanting to teach them something new, about revealing to them that theatre has a lot to offer. I was almost unable to teach freely, calmly and in a way that would really express me, my feelings and also my creativity. Taking into consideration Froebels’ main idea about children’s freedom in education made me think that maybe an outdoor activity and soil is the answer for the issues in this classroom.

I informed my colleagues and the Headmaster of the school about this project and that my stydy would be completely anonymous. We all agreed that I can conduct the research and carry out the necessary activities.

Secondly I thought about the group of pupils that I wanted to work the project with and realised that the second graders are more likely  to participate with enthusiasm and eagerness. I also took into consideration the specific issues that all groups have and decided that the two groups of second graders will benefit from the project.

I explained the project with simple words to both groups, clarified to them that no names are to be used and no data are to be exposed. Some from the first group didn’t want to participate.They would rather participate in their normal class of theatre, explaining to me that they don’t want to miss our lesson. It’s only one hour-45 minutes-every week. I rejected the idea of explaining a second time to them and carried on with the other group. 

We visited the outdoor environment of the school two times and on the second visit  I challenged them with the question, what stories does the soil tell us?

Both times I observed the pupils and then recorded what they had to say to me.  I also took pictures of their findings and of their gifts to me.

“I like it a lot now that we are outside. It’s nice.” The quote above made me understand that there is room to develop children's imagination and creativity in absolutely natural ways. Taking them outside and letting them free is an important stimulation for creativity, imagination and knowledge.

Mary, age 7, participant.


The front yard of our school has  trees, soil, basketball and football courts. In the backyard one can find the remains of a small building, broken branches, garbage, a lot of grass, many trees, some ropes, mud and bathroom tiles.

The group headed straight for the backyard, very eager to interact with the environment. Some headed straight for the remains, while others observed the trees, the mud, the flowers, etc.

They were also very eager to bring me the things they found, give them to me as a gift, break even further the sticks that were already broken, gather flowers, tiles “because they were shiny”or “reminded” them “of a shoe”, go near the trees and observe some of the creatures that they found there and imagine “how they live”.

The second time I let them be free in the backyard and reminded them of my question, what stories does the soil tell us. They repeated the exploration of the first time but after a few minutes gathered things or observed and were coming back to talk to me. “I found worms in a tree and can’t understand how they got there because I know that worms live in the soil”. Another informed me that “trees and soil are friends, so it’s only natural to find worms in the trees and the tree called me to dig in the mud”. “The grass reminds me of the rabbits, because this grass is straight”. “…from one side the soil is straight, from another is wobbly, and it’s funny because I saw soil on trees and tried to clean it so that the birds will not fall”. “The soil told me to meditate, and feel calm”.

I intentionally did not ask any questions as I wanted to record their initial thoughts and also not to force “confessions”. I wanted the whole process to develop calmly,spontaneously and gently.

I believe that their imagination set to action. I could understand it by the way they talked to each other, sharing information, making suggestions etc.So their main goal was to explore the environment and bring back what they found to me, the teacher, the “outsider”. 

At the same time it was as if they kept my question in consideration and their narrations were more about how those things got in the backyard, what they think, what they do. 

The observations above made me realise that what I have in my mind as story structure, is completely different from stories the children imagine, think and tell. In my mind a story needs a start, a development  and an ending. 

It is important to stimulate with questions and thoughts – I intend to do so next time-, also include natural environment when scheduling lesson involving storytelling, traditional  fairy tales, myths etc. I will certainly use the ideas on https://www.teachoutdoors.co.uk/outdoor-learning-for-national-storytelling-week-4-ideas-to-take-your-learning-outside/, especially the Story stick, as it would set the ground for developing stories. In the spring, I intend to repeat the whole process by creating mythical creatures from the findings outside, so that we develop not only a story but also a short improvisation.


I am absolutely sure that children need to be outside more and  need to interact with the environment. A lesson conducted outside is far more interesting and provocative than a lesson indoors.

Adults need to understand that children’s world is completely different from theirs. Children think and talk  in a different way.  It is also essential for adults to leave children outdoors for free play even though they think it’s not safe. We, as adults, have to overcome our fears.

I already take advantage of Greece’s good weather and teach many of my classes outdoors.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

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