How Do Young Children Learn: Outdoor Learning and Play


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How Do Young Children Learn: Outdoor Learning and Play

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How Do Young Children Learn: Outdoor Learning and Play

  1. 1. How do young children learn? This resource was originally created as part of the Early Years Outdoors membership scheme from Learning through Landscapes. To find out more about membership call 01962 845 811 or visit Curriculum to meet their desire to move and be actively involved, such as role-play contexts that allow movement and action. Look for Support ways of extending activities that encourage whole body involvement, such as in sand and water play. How do young children learn? Using all the senses As adults we rely heavily on our eyes and When planning for outdoor opportunities and listening to others talk. Young children use all experiences for your children, it is important to bear their senses to find out about the world in mind how young children learn. What learning around them. Their brains act like sponges, environments work best for young children? What soaking up everything around and building experiences will ensure that learning will be literally millions of connections. It is only later that satisfying and successful for them? the filtering process takes place that makes us In this Curriculum Support, we will look at some of focused and direct as adults. It is important that we these key areas. The outdoors offers some of the support young children during this phase to develop things young children need for learning such as all their sensory receptors, interpret this sensory room for movement and ample opportunity for information and integrate this in their body and brain. hands-on activity. Think about providing small, quiet Recent research on prioperceptors – sensory nerve places, outside as well as indoors. In your short, endings that sense changes in body position – shows medium or long term planning include these elements how we learn to store this knowledge for immediate or and features to create the conditions young children future use. For children, whole body movement need to thrive best in their learning and development. opportunities and physical challenges are essential to Many of these elements interact and strong experiences hone these skills. They also listen to every sound and with a lasting impact can be planned in quite simple seem to be alert to tiny details in what they see that we ways. The best provision links experiences across the have learned to filter out. Plan experiences that give indoor and outdoor environments, making use of what children sensory input, rich in things to see, hear, smell, each has to offer. taste and touch and in which they can move all parts of the body. There is no shortage of sensory opportunities Doing, movement and whole body involvement in the outdoors: ensure rich sensory content, such as Young children like to move and some children, growing in real soil and playing in the rain. especially many boys, seem to need to move most of the time. It is now well known that movement helps Real and first-hand experiences learning and that young children learn through doing Until they have learned through concrete and direct and moving – they are ‘kinaesthetic learners’. Brain- hands-on experience, children are not ready for abstractAll photographs ©Learning through Landscapes unless otherwise stated. building in young children actually takes place through thinking or second-hand knowledge. What does a movement of the body, so the more active the child can metre mean unless you have travelled along many lines be and the more parts of their body they can use at with your body and got a real feeling for the idea of once, the better the child understands and learns. distance? What does weight really mean until you have Plan for experiences that encourage and enable children held something in your hand? Young children will get deeply absorbed in real experiences, often for surprisingly long periods of time, and gain hugely from everything that experience has to offer – the benefit maybe quite different from that which you had originally planned! Their experiences will help them make some wonderful connections and theories about how the world works. All questions and ideas are valid and an important part of learning. Children work like scientists, who don’t assume they understand something until it has been thoroughly tested through experiment. The outdoors is rich in possibilities for real and first-hand experiences and you will have many to choose from even in a small outdoor area: nature, the Digging in deep sand with a long-handled spade provides elements of the weather, digging and growing, a whole-body immersion in the concepts being explored exploring running water, sand and natural materials, and is a richer experience than reaching into a sand tray, woodwork, running and going up and down slopes or using only hands and arms. steps, the list goes on.
  2. 2. Imitation Watching and imitating is a major way of learning for young children. We can teach young children through how we behave. Role modelling curiosity and enquiry will bring children’s attention to something interesting without needing to call them. Behave in a confident and careful way towards challenges to give children a positive approach to risk-taking. Value the outdoor environment, show this in planning creative activities and making it genuinely available. However, because of the sponge-like way young children absorb their surroundings, impressions haveThe importance of planning for play unconscious but lasting effects, includingYoung children are self-driven learners and are adult behaviour that give clues as to howconstantly curious and exploratory and discover through they feel about being outside today! For those childrenplay. Although they love adult attention and who prefer to be outdoors, the perception that adultsinteraction, they also want to follow their own ideas and do not really value it can damage their self-esteem.find it hard to do what adults want them to for very Children of the same age and older children can belong. Children’s play is often based upon what they excellent tutors for play, communication and behaviour;know about or are interested in – making sense of so planning times when ages mix in outdoor play is wellexperiences they have had by playing with the ideas, worth consideration.often repeatedly. The experiences could be from homeor the setting. The best outdoor provision supplies Repetitionplenty of play opportunities. Plan for ample time for Young children like to repeat an activity that interestschildren to be able to process ideas at their own pace, them again and again, until it is fully understood ormaking the outdoors available every day for long mastered. They often like to return to something inperiods. This will have a beneficial impact on children’s order to practice and refine their ideas and skills, orlearning and development and reward your planning. simply to feel a sense of familiarity and competence. Plan for children to be able to go back to activities orSocial learning experiences over a long period of time, giving them theYoung children are very sociable and learn best by chance to work at their own pace and repeat as much asinteraction with other children and adults. By sharing necessary. Plan for long periods of time outdoors andinterest and talking about what they are seeing and for all weathers, so that children know they will be abledoing they build their thinking abilities and their to carry on the next day. Plan also for children to accessunderstanding of how the world works. Encourage resources themselves so that they can get involved inchildren to play and work outdoors with other children what they want to do without the need for adults to setand with adults. Give time for long interactions to occur, things up for them.supporting a ‘social co-construction’ of knowledge.Activities that genuinely interest practitioners will offer Making use of these suggestions and ideas in yourmany opportunities for sharing the focus (sustained setting will give you more time for the important tasksshared thinking) where both parties are genuinely of interacting, talking and supporting children’sinterested in something and find out about it together. learning.Future issues of Curriculum Support will offer more detailed guidance for planning effective outdoor play.Suggested ReadingA Shared Vision for Outdoor Play poster in your Early Years The Potential of a Puddle Claire Warden , 2005,Outdoors pack. Mindstretchers, ISBN 0954488350. Moves: why learning is not all your headCarla Hannaford, 1995, Great Ocean Publishers, Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years,ISBN 0915556278. 2004, Research report No 356, DfES. hand experience: what matters to childrenD. Rich, D. Casanova, M.J. Drummond,A. Durrant and C. Myer, 2005,Rich Learning Opportunities, ISBN 0954968301.