Adventurous Play: Early Years Outdoors Learning


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Adventurous Play: Early Years Outdoors Learning

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Adventurous Play: Early Years Outdoors Learning

  1. 1. playnotes January 2011 Early Years Outdoors children opportunities to be excited, feel anxious, to make new discoveries about themselves, develop physically and to anticipate what might happen as a result of their actions, building on their knowledge. Adventures help children gain confidence, giving a sense of achievement and motivation to try again. For boys, the power of adventure may be especially relevant. Some research suggests that they develop concepts of movement and space first, so it makes sense for learning to take place in an environment such as the outdoors that allow these concepts to become concrete (see ‘Further resources’). enabling adventurous play Adventure for children transports them into another world. Enabling adventure is not necessarily about each day planning for special activities but instead supporting their interests. Observing children outdoors will help give you the best idea of what stimulates them. Supporting their interests may then involve reassessing the design, use and resourcing of your space. Reassessing your space Look at ways of redesigning your space or developing existing features to offer new possibilities for adventurous play. • Whether climbing up, jumping over or crawling through, children want to experiment and try physical activities beyond their capabilities. Outdoor spaces in early years settings, however, are oftenAdventurous play topographically dull – flat, mainly mown grass and tarmac. Incorporating mounds, banks and changing gradients may involve taking professional advice, but once you have clear designs the physicalIf someone said to you the word ‘adventure’ • how to tackle risk and adventurous play work could easily be carried out bywhat image or memories would it conjure • the role of the adult. volunteer staff and parents. Height,up? Climbing trees? Standing on top ofa hill, thinking about running down it?Making a camp fire? Exploring woods What do we mean byor playing unsupervised? ‘adventure’? Children need challenging play Adventurous play doesn’t have to bebut, according to early childhood expert adrenaline-packed or large scale. After all,Jennie Lindon (see ‘Further resources’), a four year old, hiding in the undergrowth,the risk-averse culture that many of our is on an adventure. You are having anchildren live in today is damaging their adventure when you are challengingability to grow physically, intellectually and yourself, pushing your own boundaries,emotionally. Well-designed and well-used being slightly the other side of your comfortoutdoor spaces can, however, offer children zone. More commonly termed as the ‘stretchthe space and freedom to experience zone’ this sits between comfort and panic,adventurous play with appropriate risk. where challenge is at the forefront. This Playnotes looks at: Channelled sympathetically, adventures• what we mean by adventure can set children off on a journey that• enabling adventurous play enriches their learning. They can offer Learning through Landscapes
  2. 2. playnotes • january 2011 for example, can transform play, giving children a different perspective on the world, while banks, slopes and hills can help develop children’s large motor skills. Opportunities should be given to children who have physical disabilities to access heights through using bridges, aerial walkways and tree houses.• Many settings already have walls of varying height. These can be used for balancing along and jumping off providing great opportunities for challenge and developing a sense of achievement. They can also be adapted into traversing walls encouraging children to learn about their own body strength, and to estimate how far they need to stretch their body to move along it.• Nooks and crannies are vital for young children, offering a place to initiate adventurous pretend play – being lost, Supporting adventurous activities challenge’ and that through play children Providing opportunities for adventure ‘can take risks and make mistakes’. and then being found, being in danger, doesn’t mean having to change your An outdoor environment that is safe then being rescued – that is secure yet whole space. enough is not one devoid of risks and secret. Fences can be used to attach challenges, so it is important to have written material or tarpaulin to and create • Simply allowing for free – rather than policies, such as a health and safety policy spaces and dens for children to hide in. prescriptive – play can make being Wild spaces – from a huddle of bushes outdoors unpredictable, exciting and and an outdoor play policy, to support to an area of unmown grass – are also challenging. Free play can unsettle staff in encouraging this type of play. valuable areas for attracting children practitioners as it lacks structure and in search of adventurous play. adult involvement, but you can still set boundaries. Introduce resources such as water, logs, crates, tyres and large pebbles – all useful, non-prescriptive,adventurous activities open-ended items that encourage• Moving through tall grasses exciting free-play.• Hiding in bushes, hedges, play houses • Small world play allows children to act• Climbing on logs/boulders/ladders out their miniature adventures. If you• Dressing up only have tarmac outdoors, fill shallow• Experiencing cooking outdoors trays with grass and water to offer more• Making dens varied small world environments.• Using small world resources in sand, grass, mud • Some activities that excite young• Using open-ended resources children have to be adult-led – such• Stories that inspire the imagination as cooking over a fire. Try chocolate• Swinging on tyres on a rope attached buttons in bananas wrapped in foil on to a tree a barbecue. This experience will provide• Playing in rock pools, puddles opportunities for discussion, feeding Assessing risk• Going on outings into children’s imagination around Well-designed and well-used outdoor spaces adventurous play. can readily offer children the space and freedom to experience physical challenges how to tackle risk and with appropriate risk. The key is to approach adventure risk assessment with a positive attitude – with young children recognised as competent Children want to experiment and try learners, so they can learn how to stay safe activities beyond their capabilities – it’s in without being limited. One of the best ways their nature, and it’s essential that they do so. Only then can they build knowledge to feel confident about providing risky play and skills through experience. In defining at your setting is to carry out a ‘risk-benefit play the EYFS (2007) says that ‘providing analysis’ (see ‘Further resources’) in which well-planned experiences based on the emphasis is placed on enabling children children’s spontaneous play, both indoors to take risks safely. In addition: and outdoors, is an important way in • have conversations with your colleagues which practitioners support young about how the space is being used, to children to learn with enjoyment and check you haven’t overlooked anything.adVenturous pLay
  3. 3. case study playnotes • january 2011Sticky Fingers Day Nursery is aprivately-owned nursery in London sharingits space with the local scouts group. Keento offer more adventurous activities –especially secret, sensory experiences –the setting, which has developed a positiverelationship with the scouts over the years– was able to agree an area that theycould develop to offer these experiences.The new area is the result of hard workby the staff and parents. It includesboulders and logs for stepping along andclimbing over, a bridge-style walk way,and planting with textured and aromaticshrubs providing secret, sensory areas. The staff have noticed how thechildren use their imagination a lotmore, and develop ways of assessing riskfor themselves – working out differentways to get across the bridge, sliding,jumping and climbing round it, forexample. They can experience differentheights and perspectives – the eucalyptustree, for example, has a branch that helpsthe children stand on the boulder – andthere are nooks and crannies where theycan appear hidden, reflect and workout their next move. Although the committee were waryof the changes to the outdoor space, theyhave seen the benefits an adventurousspace like this can bring to the children.• check accident records often to see if existing safety measures are adequate positive lesson for the children. there are regularly incidents in specific or if additional precautions need to be areas or with specific equipment. put in place. • keep calm about the incident, discuss with the children what happened and encourage them to ask questions.• consider the range of abilities of Dealing with accidents children who will be using the different outdoor areas, making decisions based It is inevitable that accidents will happen – children need to experience, for example, • point out the dangers and ask the children for solutions to stay safe. on what is developmentally appropriate falling over if they are to learn to balance rather than on the children’s ages. Use or navigate uneven surfaces. How you deal • reinforce boundaries. your judgement to decide whether the with accidents can, however, provide a • treat incidents as mistakes that children can learn from by using a ‘no blame’ approach. • comfort a child if they are upset and listen to them if they want to talk. • reflect on the accident in future planning if appropriate. the role of the practitioner Observing children at play allows the practitioner to build up knowledge of the children in their care. If an activity is beyond an individual child’s mobility skills or level of understanding, then there is potential for a risk or challenge to become a genuine hazard or danger. However, giving children opportunities to try, maybe to fail, and to try again until they learn a new skill or technique (and then celebrating their success with them) will not only boost a child’s physical capabilities but their confidence too. As a practitioner, you will also know adVenturous pLay
  4. 4. playnotes • january 2011case studyWhen Children’s Place, an early yearssetting in Halifax, decided to developtheir grounds in order to encourageadventurous play, they had to workclosely with parents and other early yearsspecialists to ensure they developed a safegarden space, offering children theopportunity for risk and challenge. To help put their ideas in place thenursery received Quality and Accessfunding from their local authority. Asmembers of LTL they were then able toresearch ideas for outdoor play beforesetting up a consultation process whichincluded a parents’ forum. Staff alsovisited other settings, encouraged thechildren to draw pictures showing whatthey like to do outdoors, and everyoneexperienced a forest school day, whichinvolved lighting fires and climbing trees. Following the consultation process itwas decided that installing a number of rocks and boulders in two areas would challenge while making the whole outdoor offer the type of physical challenge and space more manageable for staff. adventure the children needed. The staff The development of their outdoor space managed the new space by gradually has highlighted to staff the importance of introducing the children to it, devising a taking children’s ages and abilities into one-way system to avoid them colliding consideration when planning how to with each other, and developing outdoor manage change. The setting recently rules such as ‘we must take turns’. held a parents’ forum during which the Despite the setting’s best efforts, one of development of an outdoor play policy the children at the nursery did injure herself was discussed using outdoor play policy following a fall. This forced the setting to guidance from Learning through reflect on how and why the incident Landscapes. A draft policy is now in occurred and how best to progress. The process, working in partnership with issue was discussed with parents, advice parents, children, staff and the setting’s was sought from LTL, and with everyone local authority early years consultants. in agreement the rocks in one area of the This helps to inform new parents that outdoor site were replaced with low wooden outdoor risk and challenge is an posts offering a different type of physical important part of its ethos.which children can acquire new skills easily Further resourcesand those who will need support. Setboundaries and be specific about safety • Playnotes Up, over and under (Julyrules around using new resources: 2009), Boys and the outdoors (November 2008), Nooks and crannies (September• break activities down into manageable 2010), Curriculum support Risk steps by telling them what you are doing. Assessments. All available to members to download for free from our website• let children watch as you explain the safety aspects. • Too Safe for Their Own Good by Jennie• encourage them to ask questions about Lindon (National Children’s Bureau, the equipment. Show pictures or written 2003) instructions for the activity. © This resource was originally created as part of the Early Years• let them try the activity with your Outdoors membership scheme from support. the national school grounds charity• gradually allow the child some Learning through Landscapes operating in Scotland as independence to have a go. Grounds for Learning• at times some activities/actions are only (registered charity no. in England and Wales appropriate for adults. You need to 803270 and in Scotland SCO38890). explain why this is to the children. To find out more about membership call 01962 845811• allow children to try and try again. or visit pLay