Sarah Seaman

Sarah Seaman’s Story (The First Muddy Puddle Teacher)

A little introduction to me, author of The Muddy Puddle Teacher: Creative curriculum for Early Years Setting, owner and founder of MPT, podcaster, vlogger, a weekly feature on BBC Radio, writer, speaker and living the teacherprenueur dream. All with two little sweethearts, my daughters, Sienna and Florence. 

But how?  Where did all of this come muddy madness come from? Well, here you go! Right from the beginning. 

I’m Sarah Seaman, a mum to two beautiful girls, a wife and I was a class teacher for around 12 years. So how did I get here? The fact is, I was a very ordinary teacher who adored being in the classroom with the children. Over time my job became a passion and I spent more and more time experimenting, trying new things and offering the best I could for my class, with the support of some fantastic headteachers, fellow teachers and out-of-this-world teaching assistants.

After five years of teaching, I developed a particular interest in outdoor learning and completed a Level 3 Forest Schools course. I loved everything that the Forest School approach promotes, and it opened my eyes up to the many advantages the outside space brought to the child and to the quality of my teaching. However, there was a need for an outdoor learning approach that was curriculum linked.  I know, you know, us doing Forest School is the dream but it isn’t going to happen any time soon. I knew there was a need for kids to be outside and if we covered curriculum links in fun ways at the same time, we are onto a winner.

In 2018, while raising my two small girls Florence and Sienna, I decided to start experimenting with this idea of blending the outdoors with the curriculum. I rented a bit of woodland behind my house from the council and started to run a little outdoor toddler group for parents. I had the best time doing this and it gave me the creative freedom to teach just the way I wanted. The children got so much from my sessions and the parents just loved it. I did Muddy Maths and Muddy Phonics sessions and held imaginative play days such as Dino and Unicorn Day. One parent said to me ‘It’s a teacher gone wild’. It literally was. I felt amazing! Imagine it, you can create sessions anyway you want how you want. However, what this time experimenting did show me is that there is not one area of the EYFS I can not take out! I once held ‘A bug’s life’ day and on this day I covered the whole EYFS curriculum in one day!

I ran the group for a year because I wanted to teach in all four seasons.  I learned and experimented with the vision now that this needed to be used in educational settings. I thought of my own children, I thought of children I have taught in the past, I thought of me as a struggling dyslexic child. This approach needed to happen because it’s going to help lots of children. I made mistakes for sure, I learned, I tried and re-shaped knowing what life was like for a teacher and how I could make this as easy to master, set up, put down but to not lose any of the benefits the outdoors gives us.

This is how our ethos was formed:

  • Mother Nature – We will aim to use natural materials as our teaching resources
  • Mental Strength – We will make this time inclusive and supportive
  • More Kids Playing – We will make our sessions more active,fun and playful.

With my new found realisation that I do not have to teach inside, from a board, using and throwing away lots of glue sticks and whiteboard pens I took to spreading the word. I created my approach into a four stage CPD accredited training format for early years providers on outdoor learning. It would be a lie if I told you I haven’t dreamed it would come to this. I did. I dreamed the whole thing and I continue to dream the growth of it. Regularly, I get emails about the learning you are all now implementing, the benefits your seeing from teaching happy confident kids, and it makes me beam from ear to ear because I know how good you feel for doing it and what a wonderful time the children will have had. Please don’t stop sending me your emails. I love it!

Let’s address the myths. You may be creating a picture of me in your head as someone that is incredibly ‘outdoorsy’. I am not! I’m like you and most other people who need a nudge to get outside more often. Like many people, I also have kids who love their technology and yes my kids have iPads and yes I need help getting them off it (and me) too and no they do not wander around barefoot, hugging trees. I actually love technology! Something many people are always surprised about to hear is I had a career before teaching. My first degree was in Multimedia and I used to work for the BBC on Cbeebies as a VT runner. As a dyslexic child I just found computers easier than writing and I suppose I grew to use it more because of that. So I do see why children like it, its something they can be successful at and that feels good. I believe the indoors and technology have purpose and value but it has to be balanced with the real world. Balanced well with going outside more and having a relationship with nature, not to just walk past it and ignore it like it has no purpose for us. Without it we can not survive. This is why I am so passionate about schools embedding that routine on our children. Time in, needs to be balanced with time out. We descend from cavemen and women and we physically and mentally need outdoor time. These are young children who need to be active and naturally want to explore so let them! This approach is your golden ticket into giving children their childhood back. 

Consider this approach merely as an extension of what you do indoors (with a few muddy twists) which you can take outside and do quickly and easily. You don’t have to be a professional survival expert, regular mountaineer, or regularly found outside dancing in the rain! The muddy puddle teacher approach is for educators who want to up the time they teach outside to benefit the children, feel better, and do so at their own pace. Go out for ten extra minutes a week or 3 hours. I created this approach purposefully with no guidelines because life has no guidelines either. Where there’s a will, there’s a way as my mother often said to me. I know you will do what’s best for you and the children. It is what education lacks so pitifully and that’s trusting the professionals. We have trained, we got our qualifications, degrees and have had the year on year experience, yet we are still told what to do, constantly observed and our professional judgement ignored. Not here, not with me, I have your back!

Another reason why I’m not a fan of creating too many boundaries for our approach or teaching in general is because ownership is an essential ingredient to good practice. Making your way, having your stamp on this approach is imperative for teachers if they’re going to inspire the next generation. When a child has ownership they flourish, so why do we ignore this for our early years teachers? Too much control surrounds teachers, and I, for one, am letting you go! You all need to do what feels right for you and your children. If you do that, I know, you’re going to enjoy going out more, enjoy your job more and the kids will grow with you. Teaching is teamwork, you and your class should feel like one. 

Take small muddy steps. Start with one 10-minute session a week for maths or phonics. Then build up to a couple of sessions a week and gradually take your teaching outside more. Even if you increase going outside by an extra 10 minutes a week, it will make a difference. Naturally, you may go out less in cold months and more on fairer days, all is fine with me. Don’t put pressure on yourselves, and know that just by being here, reading this book, you’re making a start. I, for one, am proud of you!

Almost time to start but before I do let me take you back to when you were young? What kinds of things did you do? When I was young, I used to play outside all day and all night, remember that? Only returning when I was either hungry or when it got dark. We had no mobile phones and no way of getting in touch. If you were lucky, you had a bike to navigate the world! We taught ourselves how to play outside safely, fall out, make friends, solve problems, negotiate ourselves out of sticky situations, fall over and enjoy the simple things of life. We played Kerby (bounce your ball off the kerb game), made petal potions, mixed up mud pies and dug for worms. We must recognise these what seemed like ‘typical’ childhood things to do, were actually cruitial on our development. We socialised, we negotiated, we imagined, we played, we laughed, we cried, we worked out who we were and what friends we wanted around us. Am I right? Remember that? Children today don’t have as much free, unstructured time away from adults to develop as individuals and get to know who they are. Many children right now, all over the world are on computer games, Ipads, mobile phones. Deadening their senses to the physical and real world. Therefore it is imperative and will be my life goal to get more of you outside and muddy.

Viva La Muddy Revolution

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