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Outdoor learning andOutdoor activities play– plan for success early yearsBeing outdoors can transform learning and play for children. Findout how to provide the best possible experiences and be inspired to A space to thrive ingo out even more! Well-designed outdoor spaces can transform a child’s experience outdoors.There are so many great reasons for taking learning and play The best outdoor spaces take children’soutdoors. Seasonal and weather changes help develop children physical, social, emotional and learningholistically and encourage specific areas of learning, such as knowledge needs into account. Aim to:and understanding of the world. With places to relax and daydream in,and places to be loud and creative, feelings and emotions can be • provide a safe and secure area that offers shade and shelter. This willexplored. Numeracy and problem-solving can be supported with help you embrace the weather ashands-on experiences and the chance to work on a larger scale. an asset rather than viewing it as It is a great place to tell stories, sing songs and support role play. a problem.Outdoors children can manage physical risks and test their boundaries.They can create dens and hiding places and engage in experiences that • make sure, however small your space,help develop life skills such as confidence, creativity and decision-making. that it contains growing and livingAnd last, but not least, fresh air and activity are essential for children’s things. Access to trees and plants –wellbeing and health. The more children’s muscles and senses are especially sensory plants – can have aexercised, the more the brain develops its capacity for learning. have a huge impact on a child’s well- being. Herbs, fruit and vegetables, for example, can feed all the senses andWhatever the weather teach children a lot more besides.Put off by the great British weather? Don’tbe. Remind yourself and your colleagues • plan specific areas for different types of play – for example, quietthat there is no such thing as bad weather, zones for reflection, physical areasjust bad clothing! Making sure children – that promote challenge, investigationand adults – are dressed appropriately all and creativity, and seating whereyear round will help make the most of your children and adults can naturallyoutdoor environment. Ask for donations and comfortably socialise.from parents/carers, visit charity shops orfundraise so every child who wants to outside To find out more about developing yourhas easy access to the correct clothing, outdoor space see ‘Further resources’.including wellies, umbrellas and sun hats. Learning through Landscapes May 2011
Activities to inspireThe best outdoor activities are those lucky enough to have bushes thatthat can help support children’s sense of can be pruned for hiding in then takewellbeing – and therefore their potential to advantage of these as they will providelearn – by building confidence, encouraging the children with direct contact witha sense of achievement and promoting nature. Provide crates, cardboardcooperative play. boxes, sheets, pegs, clips and elastic• Feed the senses Children need lots bands to promote den creativity. Building dens also allows children to of contact with the living world and the chance to use all of their senses to find make choices, work together and Your role – helping out about the environment around learn about safety and managing risk. children learn them. However big or small your outdoor Associated activities range from role outdoors area, fill it with as many growing, living play, fantasy play, storytelling, camping Outdoors children seem to learn more and natural things as possible. Include out and decorating dens. intensely, following their own lines of features that allow exploration of all • Think big Being outdoors allows enquiry more freely, but they still need the elements – earth, air, water and children to create large art projects adult support when working through even fire (providing you take the right that they can work on cooperatively. their thought processes. For instance, safety measures). Sensory gardens Working collectively in this way not only children who are not able to vocalise especially enhance the use of all helps develop social interaction and their thoughts and feelings on the faculties, and have a huge beneficial expression, but also allows the children subject of their explorations need to effect on wellbeing. to respect each other and their individual be supported with a rich vocabulary• Get growing Planting, growing, contributions to the group project. from adults. There is a fine line, however, between maintaining and eating fruit and • Get physical It is a well known fact intervention and interference. It has vegetables help children feel responsible that feeling fit is good for the mind as and gives them a great sense of well as the body. Encouraging movement been noted by a number of published achievement (see also ‘Further resources’). in outdoor games also enhances the educators that while adult interaction is Associate activities range from caring for mastery of new physical skills which crucial in supporting and extending play, the plants, taste tests, storytime linked boosts children’s sense of achievement. any adult intervention in child-initiated to growing projects, learning about play causes that play to change to focus Activities to try include making stretches lifecycles and looking at the colours on the adult. It is important, therefore, of pavement, tarmac or grass more and shapes of different crops. that practitioners are able to build on interesting with chalk or cones to mark children’s interests – without imposing• Den building Children are naturally out runways and paths or use them an adult-led agenda. drawn to nooks, crannies and child-sized as balance lines; encouraging children In an action-research project carried spaces and love to make their own to make their own trails and to add out by Learning through Landscapes dens (see ‘Further resources’). When obstacles using sturdy outdoor equipment and Oxfordshire County Council (‘Why they engage closely with their physical such as crates, planks, tunnels, scramble are the leaves yellow’, see ‘Further environment, and turn places into spaces nets, tyres and cones; laying out treasure resources’) it was found that finding that have meaning to them, children hunts to stimulate healthy activity, the right balance between child-initiated gain a sense of belonging. If you are movement and discovery. and adult-led play depended on: • listening more and intervening less • waiting to be asked sometimes instead of always doing the asking • modelling ways of working, playing and behaving outside – such as using tools, managing risks and safety, and respecting the living world, its plant and creatures • building on the children’s own interests and what they are engaged in at that precise moment. Learning through Landscapes has developed a training module based on research from this project. To find out more see ‘Further resources’.May 2011 Learning through Landscapes
‘The best resources can be used in more than one way’Resources that really make a differenceThe best resources are those that offer the greatest play value. child will play with it and may have limited learning and languageThese are usually items that are open-ended. This means they can potential, a stick can have a thousand possibilities and uses.be used in more than one way for playing and learning. Often Natural resources to have in your setting might include stones,described as ‘loose parts’, this type of resource has a high number shells, sticks, bark pieces, pine cones and conkers.of ‘affordances’ - a term that refers to the number of potential Everyday objects This type of resource includes items likeuses that an object can have. Children naturally use their kitchen utensils, pots and pans, brooms and dustpans, buckets,imagination and curiosity when using this type of resource – pegs and flowerpots. They are familiar, and having opportunitiesoften in a way we would never think of ourselves. to play with them enables children to explore their physical worldResources for construction These allow children to construct and discover the social aspects of their lives. They also have aand change their environment, and might include blocks, ropes, multitude of purposes.crates, tarpaulins, boxes, tyres and blankets. Resources like these Resources to support the curriculum Look at how differentcan be used to support all areas of the curriculum, with children areas of your provision can be enhanced with resources that offercombining them in different ways to create new learning opportunities for the children to explore, independently, all areasopportunities. of the curriculum. For example, in a construction area, add inNatural resources As researchers on the LTL-supported research resources such as cardboard boxes, clip boards, rulers, glue, glueproject ‘Why are the leaves yellow?’ (see ‘Further resources’) found, spreaders, straws, wooden blocks and stickle bricks. Provision innatural materials have more affordances than most manufactured this area could be further enhanced with items such as maps, plans,toys. So while a plastic car is likely to largely determine how a trolleys, hard hats, tape measures and real builders’ bricks. FAQ How can I tell if them? A recent practitioner-led action research project facilitated by LTL, which • being relaxed – not showing any the children are used the ‘Wellbeing and involvement scale’ signals of stress • being open – by being approachable engaged or not? (see ‘Further resources’) to measure the to teachers and other children Positive outdoor experiences are vital for children’s levels of wellbeing and involvement • being lively – by radiating and helping children reach their full learning found that observation is key. reacting energetically potential. The happier, more spontaneous, Practitioners on the project were • expressing self-confidence. relaxed, lively and open a child is the more encouraged to look for indicators of Where such indicators are not present, likely they will have a strong sense of wellbeing. These include, for example: practitioners are encouraged to look for wellbeing, and that their social, emotional, • being happy – acting cheerful, smiling explanations, and to change the physical physical and intellectual development beaming spaces and resources, the adult/child will thrive. • being spontaneous – being oneself and interactions, the routines etc to improve But how do you know that the being expressive the experience for the child and create a experiences you are offering children • talking to oneself – playing with sounds more enabling and enjoyable environment outdoors are impacting positively on humming, singing for deeper level learning. Learning through Landscapes May 2011