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Angela: Kids usually master the typical set by four or five, and then they lose interest. At our house, my husband built a playset higher than usual, with spinny things and see-saws. A rope swing is also great. Parents worry about kids falling, but they quickly learn to regulate their body. Meryl: How old do you think kids should be before we let them go outside away from the house? Creative ways of making kids sit still longer cannot replace outdoor play. Wow, very eye opening! I appreciate how Angela was able to address parents fear in a practical manor.

Your email address will not be published. August 23, , One Comment. The schoolyard is filled with students in grades September 16, , No Comments. August 26, , No Comments. August 20, , No Comments. The concern? No Comments. June 4, , One Comment. Back to previous. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. Get monthly tips and activities. Yes, please also send me the biannual AfL Pro Newsletter for educators, coaches and rec leaders. Newsletter archive. Getting outdoors gives children the opportunity to take part in activities that extend their knowledge, understanding and skills and lay the foundations for future learning through a combination of free and structured play.

Children will experience the wonderment and excitement of the outdoor environment whilst establishing a healthy attitude towards an active, outdoor lifestyle. The well-structured outdoor play activities suggested in Chapter 9, which utilise a wide range of existing resources to make the most of the outdoor environment, if they are selected with care for planned activities in each of the Early Years Foundation Stage EYFS learning areas, will give children the opportunity to meet challenges in a variety of ways. Children need free play to extend and deepen learning and in Chapter 6 there is a section which suggests practical ideas for setting 8 Introduction up the outside for free play.

Presenting and setting them up in a stimulating way will entice the children to make best use of them. Children need to experience a variety of situations, and the outdoor space is as important as the indoor one. It needs to be neither too daunting nor too lacking in challenge, and to look attractive if it is going to stimulate the children. Most settings have some outdoor space which is suitable for children to run around in freely and use wheeled toys and small games equipment such as balls and beanbags.

There should also be some safe way in which children can climb, swing, hang and balance. A grassy area will provide many opportunities for outdoor play where children can exert themselves as they run up and down and push, pull and carry portable loads. An undulating surface, preferably a grassy one with some natural features such as bushes, will provide children with exciting challenges. Whatever the size, shape or surface of the outdoor play space, it can be made attractive and inviting by the way it is set up for the children to play.

Any unsightly areas can be disguised, bare walls can be brightened up and stimulating markings can be drawn on the ground even if they are only temporary chalk marks. A large outdoor play space, well endowed with natural features, will stimulate activities such as running, jumping, balancing and climbing.

With a little imagination and planning, even a small concrete yard can be set up to encourage goodquality outdoor play. With supervision, all children need to know how to carry outdoor equipment and how to set it up safely to suit their own needs. As the children become more competent outdoors, wheeled toys can be extended to become part of imaginative play. Fixed climbing frames can be very versatile if they are not always used for climbing.

Provide a variety of props to transform them into imaginative play bases such as dens, boats or rockets. Patches of garden can be designated for digging. Provide children with a range of items such as buckets, spades, old flowerpots, sieves, moulds and wooden planks to use outdoors. Access to water for dampening things down and for washing dirty hands and equipment provides many opportunities for extending outdoor play. Encourage investigative play by fixing up pulleys, water trays and planks of wood to make gradients.

Outdoor resources need to be set up with care to avoid dangerous situations. Children need to help clear away messy activities so that they learn how to clear up after themselves. Keep a set of outdoor-only child-sized dustpans and brushes for this purpose. An adult may need to intervene to prevent any dangerous activity from happening and explain why it was necessary to intervene. In addition, the adult should compliment children or show delight in their accomplishments. The adult must always be careful not to take over an activity to the extent that a child loses interest.

The adult may be a passive observer, an interested listener, a leader of the activity or game or there to help the children move on from a plateau by using open-ended questions to make them think. Demonstrations are useful to illustrate and reinforce the task or activity but should be used with care so that children still have the confidence to find their own ways of doing things.

By fully exploring the possibilities of outdoor play with children, the adult will realise that its potential for early learning is on equal par to any other type of play area. Introduction 9 Resources and storage The main resource is the outdoor play space itself. This needs to be swept or washed down regularly. It needs to be well maintained and checked regularly to remove any dangerous hazards. All other outdoor props need to be collected together from a variety of sources.

Reclaimed materials should be cleaned and made safe as young children are apt to put things into their mouths. Change the resources regularly to provide new experiences and challenges. It is important to have a set of resources which are used just outdoors. Duplicate indoor resources so that the children will not be disappointed when they want to play with them outside. The outdoor resources need to be collected together, cleaned and checked for safety at the end of each day.

They need to be stored separately from the indoor resources so that there is no confusion. Outdoor resources should be stored safely in labelled containers, near the outdoor play space. Make a note of the number of resources put out and count them back in at the end of each day. Wash and store them ready for use again. Organisation Ideally the inside space should open directly onto the outdoor space so that children can have free access to it. For this to occur, the outdoor space needs to be constantly supervised. If this is not possible, you need to plan a time when you can take the whole group of children outdoors together.

If there is another adult available for some of the time, small groups may be able to play outside. The children may be playing freely or they may be taking part in more structured activities. Group sizes will vary according to the activity. Children might be playing individually, in pairs, in small groups or taking part in a whole group activity. Care must be taken not to overcrowd the outdoor area with too many children or too many resources because children need room to run around and use their bodies in a more energetic way than they do indoors.

Many outdoor activities invite bold body movements or involve the use of large-scale equipment. The type of equipment and materials provided for children to play outdoors will determine the range of activities which take place. Children will often make their own decisions about what equipment they need for their play, solving their own problems in their own way, but they need to be reminded of all safety issues, ground rules and boundaries each time they go outdoors as it is very easy for children to forget them once they become involved in play.

Young children should spend as much time outside in the fresh air as they spend indoors and need well-designed, well-organised, integrated indoor and outdoor environments which are available simultaneously. The indoor and outdoor environment should offer experiences which are significantly different from each other but at the same time offer young children unique complementary experiences which allow them to play, learn or just be.

Many children relate well to the learning experiences offered outdoors because the freedom of being outside enables them to move about without the restrictions often in place in the indoor area. Children can be more active, noisy or messy and use all their senses and their whole body in ways which are not possible inside.

They can engage in the outdoor environment to explore, and make sense of life and the world around them, as well as expressing feelings freely and being creative. To make the most of the natural resources outdoors the early years curriculum should be offered through a wide variety of holistic experiences which range across the continuum from active to calm.

In order for high-quality outdoor play to take place, where children are involved and deeply engaged in activity, children need to know they have time not to be hurried so 10 Introduction Figure 1. These ideas need to be supported by sensitive adults who respect that some things need to be left in place for more than one session. The nature of some play sees children go in and out of playing over a period of time as they create scenarios and develop resources and play spaces as they are driven by the need to problem-solve on a big scale until the play idea has been exhausted.

This play can go on for days or even weeks, depending on the interests of the children at the time, and needs uninterrupted time. To help practitioners new to working outdoors feel more confident, they need a progressive induction, starting with the opportunity to observe more experienced colleagues, followed by a period of team teaching.

With agreed ground rules and a defined area that children know to come back to, it will not take long to convince them of the value of working outdoors. Distraction to others Some practitioners feel children playing outdoors will distract those still inside. This can be avoided by carefully choosing the location and setting clear guidelines before the children go out. Children should be taught that noise levels must be kept down to reasonable levels near the building but further away they can make more noise.

Setting up zones for quiet play near the building and those inviting more exuberant physical play further afield will alleviate this problem. Discipline There are often concerns about how to cope with the discipline needed to work outside.


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Once children are used to going outside to learn, their behaviour is often better than it is inside as they are more self-motivated. This is particularly true for kinaesthetic learners predominantly boys because the physical movement that naturally accompanies outside activities will aid concentration. These concerns will cease by the end of the academic year because the progress the children make will justify the decision to move outdoors for learning and remove any doubts that might have existed at first. You will be able to relax in the knowledge that not only has outdoor education yielded the desired results but the children have had the most enjoyable start to their formal education possible and it has been good for you too!

Case study When I first joined a nursery school as a physical education specialist, being used to working outdoors on a daily basis I quite naturally and unthinkingly opened my doors from start to end of each session to give children free choice of equal access to the inside and outside. I never fully understood the complaints from colleagues that it was easy for me because my class never did any proper work as we were always outside. Fortunately, I had the backing of what I now know to be an insightful, forward-thinking head teacher who fully encouraged outdoor play.

The children were much happier when allowed to follow their natural instincts to be outside in the open air to learn through play. I too felt happier to be outside with them as it suited my natural instinctive style at the time. Several years later, forced back inside the classroom by the different policies and routines introduced by a new head teacher who had difficulty in seeing the value of outdoor play at that time, the children, and I, their teacher, would stand waiting by the doors. Looking out until that magic time halfway through the morning after the so-called real learning had taken place, I was allowed to open my classroom to let them out to play.

Since those days there has been a whole new movement that appreciates the value of outdoor play, so it is much easier to encourage outdoor learning and to foster a deeper understanding of the value of getting children outdoors for learning. Gradually, when other colleagues experience the benefits of getting outdoors for themselves, there will be a change in attitude. In settings where there is any real resistance it may be necessary to hold a staff meeting or In-Service Education and Training INSET day to raise the understanding and to create a meaningful policy to ensure that outdoor play happens for every child, not just the ones whose teachers enjoy it themselves.

Unpredictable weather The notion that the weather is too bad to go outside is no longer a good enough excuse to stay indoors. Outdoor play should be available all year — there is no such thing as unsuitable weather, only unsuitable clothing! Unpredictable weather is often cited as a barrier to going outside. Interestingly, countries with less mild climates, such as Norway, have always had more outdoor teaching and learning than we do here in the UK. This issue was discussed during the initial meeting with the parents as many of the children involved in the programme were too young to take on this responsibility for themselves.

Healthy, Active and Outside!: Running an Outdoors Programme in the Early Years

The leaders provided outdoor clothes for any children who might have forgotten them on the day or were from families who could not afford to wash extra muddy clothes or provide them for their children in the first place. The first year the outdoor programme took place was the coldest, wettest on record but due to the time constraints of the research design we could not wait for good weather. Most sessions were held in wet, rainy conditions and there were times when we were outdoors with very young children in what can only be described as blizzards!

Children were always dry, safe and warm and thoroughly enjoyed what could only be described as slithering around in the mud during many of the activities. We put up temporary shelters at the start of every session, lit a campfire to keep warm, took soup and hot drinks, and had stocks of wet weather clothes, mittens and hats and spare dry, warm clothes waiting to be changed into when we got back indoors. By the end of the first programme, the children had experienced the changes of all the seasons during one of the wettest years on record whilst learning to stay within firm, consistent boundaries see Figure 1.

As a bonus, the children had great fun and were fully engaged in learning throughout the programme. How to use this book The chapters in this outdoor play book are organised into areas which will help you learn about the background of the programme Chapter 1 — Introduction and find out about the evidence to support the use of the programme Chapter 2 — What the research tells us.

There is a chapter that will show you how to go about creating a suitable outdoor environment Chapter 3 — Creating the outdoor environment , a chapter that covers the important aspects of safety when setting up an outdoor programme Chapter 4 — Safety for healthy outdoor learning , advice on taking the steps Introduction 13 Figure 1. The next chapter Chapter 8 — Links with home demonstrates how to involve parents in the whole process of setting up the outdoor programme, and is followed by a detailed explanation of the practical activities that can be used throughout the programme Chapter 9 — The planned activities.

Finally, the concluding chapter Chapter 10 — Final goodbyes shows how to bring the programme to a satisfactory conclusion. The activities embedded in the chapters are designed to take place in a variety of outdoor play settings. All the outdoor play activities described in this book are directly linked to the six areas of learning in the EYFS framework QCA, Many of them can be adapted for use in other areas, including the indoor space. Each activity is based around a key learning objective.

For each activity, advice is given about the size of the group, what resources are required, how to set up the activity and how to carry out the activity with the children. Each activity includes extension ideas to follow up the activities, showing cross-curricular links where appropriate. There is also a section containing suggestions for questions to ask relating to the activity. Also embedded in the chapters of this book are photocopiable sheets which are cross-referenced and related to a specific activity detailed in other sections of the books, and which can be photocopied or adapted to suit the needs of the setting.

Figure 1. It highlights the problems some children have regarding the early transition from home to school and how this outdoor intervention tackles difficulties appropriately when they are developmental and before they have become embedded as habits. Case studies are used to demonstrate how the outdoor programme has helped individual children, families and schools. Although there is a wide variety of literature related to children and physical activities, respectively, there is very little written about very young children or to unite these areas.

Research shows that children find lessons outdoors more relaxed, more interesting and easier to understand, and they also think their teachers are friendlier towards them. Key issues There is major concern about the physical health of children in the UK. Much of this concern focuses around low levels of physical exercise.

Alongside this, there is a growing view that good play experiences are not only an essential part of every childhood, but also a key public responsibility and an expression of our shared social obligations towards children. There is a growing concern about children becoming more sedentary, spending progressively more time watching TV and electronic media, and that the majority of school activities are performed whilst seated US Department of Health and Human Services, After looking at published studies on potential health risks of television viewing, Dr Aric Sigman, of the British Psychological Society, recommends that children under three should be banned from watching any TV, and older children, aged 3—5, should be restricted to viewing one hour a day of good-quality programmes.

Children spend more time looking at screens than they do outside doing real things, which is detrimental to their health and well-being, particularly in the long term. He recommends that children should be outside experiencing real life and real things Sigman, There is a growing concern about children spending more time indoors instead of playing outside Reilly et al. The natural environment affords possibilities and challenges for children to explore their own abilities through physical activity Ouvry, , and studies have shown that outdoor experiential education works well for all ages Edgington, ; Ouvry, Over the last 25 years, huge technological and cultural changes have transformed the lifestyle of people in the developed world — largely for the better.

Healthy, Active and Outside!: Running an Outdoors Programme in the Early Years - CRC Press Book

This has all happened so fast that we have failed to notice that the changes which benefit adults are not always so good for children. Parents who buy electronic games or toy computers to boost learning for babies, toddlers or the very young are wasting their money. A government-funded study set up to examine the role of technology in the lives of three- and four-year-old children found that these high-tech devices are no more effective than traditional ways of learning but are more useful as aids to imaginative play Plowman and Stephen, We need to replace on-screen interaction with real play and swap solitary computer game sessions for real games which are preferably outside, physical and fun.

These days, when danger seems to lurk around every corner, we all wrap our children in cotton wool. But we must resolve to be less protective as children need to be out in the real world, exploring and interacting with it, and, more importantly, interacting with the people who live in it Palmer, The freedom to explore outside is out of bounds for many children.

According to research by Entertainment Rights, half of the parents interviewed felt that their children had no experiences of traditional childhood activities such as hopscotch, conkers and chasing activities. The freedom to play outside was seen as a thing of the past by nearly seven out of ten parents; so were activities such as hide-and-seek, building dens and climbing trees. More than half of the 4, parents who took part in the survey wished their children could enjoy a similar childhood to the one they had had.

The outdoor environment provides an innovative and creative learning and teaching setting, which can be very effective in providing good-quality learning experiences Hayes, As many children find it hard to learn in a classroom, the outdoors may be a practical way for children to learn through other means of education.

Why the outdoors? Integrated Provision for Under-Fives. A well-designed outside environment with a range of opportunities and experiences is essential to healthy growth and development and can never be replicated inside a building, however well it is designed or resourced. It is generally accepted that the outside environment is an essential element of a good early years setting and its importance should be reflected in the quality of the space provided and in the skills and training of staff DfES, Outdoor provision for young children is a necessity, What the research tells us 17 not a luxury, particularly in the light of concerns about childhood obesity, inactivity levels and states of mental health.

There are many good reasons to incorporate physical activity and movement into the school curriculum. Movement increases heart rate and circulation and therefore arousal. Studies show increased performance following arousal activities Tomporowski and Ellis, Increased arousal also narrows attention to target tasks Easterbrook, Productive movement activities such as stretching increase oxygen levels to the brain and provide an opportunity for the eyes and musculo-skeletal system to relax Henning et al.

Activity can also enhance spatial learning Fordyce and Wehner, The chemical messengers called neurotransmitters play a primary role in our mind—body states and receptivity to learning. If the activity is compelling, adrenaline will be released. Quick energising activities increase energy levels, improve storage and retrieval of information and help learners feel good. Activity and its relationship to well-being are the focus of work by Goddard Blythe and Nuttall As we know, learning can happen in the sedentary fashion seen in the more usual classroom setting but the typical notion of keeping children in chairs for long periods of time may be misguided.

The human body has walked, run, skipped or squatted for the last 50, years but it has not spent long periods of time sitting in chairs. Sitting in chairs for more than ten-minute intervals reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue Cranz, These problems reduce concentration and attention and ultimately result in discipline problems. In the usual classroom setting, children spend too much time sitting in chairs which do not offer enough flexibility to optimize learning Rittel and Webber, What is so surprising is that this concept is not new.

The main emphasis is to incorporate active learning and movement activities. Flexibility is built into the programme so that the children have posture choices and the freedom to move as their mind—body state requires. As far back as the early s it was proposed that children create and learn about the world through play Piaget, It is through play that children explore their physical and emotional worlds, discover insights, and create hypotheses and experiments with their newly found knowledge.

The programme gives children regular opportunities to learn through active play, and two of the many by-products of this play are adaptive learning and pleasure. Young children do not have a clearly defined transition stage from motor development to cognitive development. These developmental periods are so intertwined that each movement increases perception, which increases cognitive capabilities Bushnell and Boudreau, The National Curriculum DfES, for physical education states that physical education should involve children in the continuous process of planning, performing and evaluating.

The programme lends itself to teaching and learning styles which match this requirement. Interventions which use stimulating physical movements such as spinning, crawling, rolling, rocking or tumbling lead to subsequent significant gains in attention and reading Palmer, Researchers have explored whether being mobile influences cognitive development, or understanding of the world, and it appears that being able to look at the world from different angles does improve other aspects of development Karmiloff-Smith, However, some studies of interventions using physical activity as a base for learning suggest that there may be a strong influence prescribed by a particular teacher or practitioner and that the children may merely be benefiting from extra attention, which in itself can enhance learning Khalsa, ; Sifft and Khalsa, Sensory integration is another benefit of play.

Some children have difficulty in registering and processing sensory information Ayres, It is important to realise that these children are just doing what comes naturally to them and that they are not acting out or being impulsive, indolent, hypersensitive or generally difficult out of spite. They just cannot help themselves.

The programme is ideal for children who display some form of dysfunctional focusing behaviour. Much of the fidgeting and moving around that happens indoors goes unnoticed outside as there is no pressure to keep such tight control by keeping children still on seats or on the floor. Many children in schools today are laden down with problems and increasing trauma Jensen, ; these heavy emotional issues either get addressed or impair learning. Many of the children are in no state to learn and should have more movement incorporated into their lessons. Evidence suggests that exercise is the best overall mood regulator Thayer, Teachers who have children sitting on chairs for too long, at any age, are creating problems for themselves.

This is a process where the brain links up information permanently, or binds one element to another. The teaching is done with enthusiasm, in a concrete, try-it-out way, followed by feedback usually through social rewards such as the thumbs up for success sign, cheers or smiles. This binding of cognition, emotion, meaning and context works because it makes use of the elements of implicit learning, which are feelings, movement and space.


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Content information alone is not enough to engage long-term memory, as the design of the human brain is such that it cannot continuously learn an unlimited amount of new information. Teachers need to forget the pressure to cover the material, slow down and incorporate physical activity into their lessons to give children the time for new learning to settle.

All children need more movement breaks than they currently have in the normal classroom setting Jensen, , and young children in particular require more breaks from seat work Bjorklund and Brown, The mind—body state is important to learning and if the children are in a good state of both body and mind they will interpret what the teacher says in a more favourable way.

Children will be able to learn more through movement activity, which we already know is the best way to manage learning states, and if we teach them how to manage their own states. The brain learns best through action and activity and maintains maximum efficiency when the organism is actively engaged in exploring physical sites and materials and asking questions to which it actually craves an answer Gardner, The programme study This study of this HAO programme concentrated on several groups of children aged 3—5 years on the premise that providing experiential education through an outdoor environment would have many constructive benefits.

The aim of the study was to adapt traditional teaching approaches to the outdoor programme to meet the needs of children in early years settings and to demonstrate the effectiveness of the adapted approach. There are data available on least ten outdoor programmes but because of financial and time constraints only the results of one programme have been written up, because the research in question was carried out by a practitioner for a doctoral degree.

Analysis of the other programmes would provide a deeper understanding of how they work. The results show that children who are able to go outside are more likely to have higher attendance levels than those confined to the indoors; they are more active and better behaved than the other children taking part in the study. They are more likely to be active when they play outside than when they play indoors even with similar curriculum content. Analysis of the observations of the children taking part in the programme revealed that there were more incidents of positive actions and behaviours than there were of negative ones.

The evaluation also shows that the intensity of negative and aggressive behaviour was greater when the children were indoors than when they could play outside. Fewer incidents of aggressive behaviour were recorded outdoors than inside, indicating lower intensity levels of stress or distress for children when they are playing outside. There was a significant change in child behaviour as a result of participating in the programme. By the end of the programme all the children moved from the clinical to the normal range regarding emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties.

The findings show that all the children attending the outdoor programme have improved levels of perceived behaviour, physical activity and positive behaviour patterns compared to the control group of children. The study supports the efficacy of the programme and identifies many ways in which it can act as a facilitator to improve the lives of the children taking part in it.

It shows that for the group of children studied, the environment can influence their development and that the programme is a valuable tool to scaffold and support this development. The results are very encouraging, to say the least. Transferring the indoor curriculum to the outdoors through the programme is a clear example of research taking theory into practice, both to improve the learning environment and to give children the opportunity for the more active daily lifestyles needed to improve behaviour, lifestyle, and physical and mental health.

It appears to show significant levels of success for those children with behaviour difficulties who struggle to cope with the more passive teaching and learning styles most frequently used in the indoor classroom. Benefits of the programme This investigation shows that there is potential for all children to gain benefits from attending an outdoor programme regardless of age, gender or social background.

Success of the programme has occurred in a variety of ways. The uncommunicative appear to find the space, support and encouragement to give them the confidence to call out to friends as they explore the outside or tell about their experiences during the review of each session.

The passive or inactive child soon adapts to the physical element of the programme and is soon running around happily, slipping and sliding in the mud or carrying or pulling heavy objects up and down slopes. Even the more academic children can learn to be creative and more socially aware as they experience working together as a team. This chapter begins with information about using the outside environment for a better quality of life, and on the importance of sustainability and of creating the right first impressions to the success of the programme.

In addition, the process of setting up the outdoor programme is explained, as is how to engage people into the idea of trying something new. It shows them how to get young children outdoors to encourage them to become more active and used to the idea of a healthy active lifestyle. Finally there is a brief section on the importance of being an effective leader.

Using the outside environment for a better quality of life The outdoor programme recognises the importance of sustainable development and the concepts documented in the UK Government publication A Better Quality of Life Defra, , which is the government strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom. Sustainable development is based on the idea of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone now and for generations to come.

Consequently, in the UK and the world as a whole there are four concurring objectives, on the first three of which the programme bases its underlying philosophy regarding the use of the outdoor environment. The strategy acknowledges that the Government cannot achieve sustainable development on its own and identifies actions that could be taken by business, local authorities, voluntary groups and individuals. There are key issues relating to quality of life that could be applied to the development of an outdoor programme for young children.

The outdoor programme ensures that all who take part in it receive their entitlement to a balanced programme of environmental education alongside the planned physical activities. Education from the environment is where the environment is used as a familiar and relevant resource for educational purposes.

In this way, a good deal of knowledge and understanding as well as the skills required will be developed by pupils. Education about the environment should be with the purpose of developing knowledge and understanding about values and attitudes. Education for the environment should lead to the inculcation of responsible actions in the environment, taken with an understanding of statutory and accepted codes of behaviour.

What nature teaches children - Nilda Cosco - TEDxRaleigh

Underpinning the outdoor programme is the notion that environmental education is the process of recognising values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the interrelatedness amongst people, their culture, and their biological and physical surroundings. The theme of environmental education running parallel to the physical aspects of the programme gives children practice in decision making and helps them to formulate a code of behaviour about issues concerning environmental quality.

Challenges of developing the outdoors There are many challenges that still face the practitioner who wants to find ways to promote the importance and value of the outdoor environment to all those involved in the setting. Often the programme facilitator has to convince the senior management team, other professionals, staff and parents of the value of the project. Sometimes the challenge lies in overcoming problems in accessing and using the outdoor environment due to the very design or organisation of the building itself.

The children usually need very little convincing as many of them naturally choose to play outdoors when given the opportunity to do so. However, it is still a challenge to ensure that a shared outdoor space meets the needs of children of different ages and developmental stages. There is the challenge to make sure that the outdoor environment feels homely and safe enough to feel comfortable but at the same time provides an environment suitable for learning. Holistic It is necessary to adopt a holistic process which considers the potential of the whole site where the needs of all the people, both children and adults, who use the outdoor site are considered.

Look at how all areas of the curriculum can be enhanced alongside considering the physical, social and emotional needs of the children who will be using it. Creating the outdoor environment 23 Participative A participative approach to developing the outdoor area should actively seek to include and involve all staff, children, parents and member of the community who use the outdoor space. Involve them in planning, decision making, helping with the practical work needed to develop the outside area, long-term maintenance and evaluation.

Sustainable Ensure that the development process is sustainable both in principle and practice and that the project is both financially viable and practical in the long term. It is important to consider implications regarding maintenance of the outdoor project right from the start, from the very early stages of planning. Figure 3. To facilitate the development of the outdoor area certain questions need to be asked and points considered regarding these different perspectives at each stage of the ongoing cyclical process.

It is important to consider: Where you are now Think about what already happens in your setting and where you are now regarding outdoor education and the physical features that make up the outside area. Find out how the outdoor area is currently used and how everyone in the setting already feels about outdoor play.

Where you want to be Consider where you want to be by involving everyone in developing the plans for creating the outdoor environment you want in your setting. Think about what you want to be able to do outside, what the issues are and what your priorities are. Consider your vision for outdoor provision. How to get there Consider how you are going to get where you want to be in terms of outdoor provision by creating ideas and solutions together, by researching changes, designing your own changes and maybe even raising funds to help pay for them. At the same time think about who will do all the work and where all the materials needed to create the desired outdoor area will come from.


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Finally, think carefully about planning for maintenance and consider the sustainability of any new developments you want to make. How to make changes Make the necessary changes by involving everyone in each stage of the development and by planning small, achievable steps particularly for implementing plans for maintenance and sustainability.

Finally, evaluate the impact of involving everyone and spend time celebrating the achievements. Before you start, you need to have a thorough understanding of the physical outdoor environment and carry out an audit. Encourage everyone to get involved in gathering information to give an insight into how the outdoors is already being used. The process of developing an understanding of what you have already got in terms of physical resources can be turned into an enjoyable exercise for children, who can take part in activities such as helping to identify hazards or sunny or shady spots, or can record where the puddles gather after it has been raining.

Make a list of the physical features that already exist, including plants and trees, pathways, surfaces, walls and raised areas so that you can maximise the use of the area once the programme begins. Involve the children as much as possible; for example, go around the outside area with a small group of children and let them take photographs so that they can discuss what they see regarding the features of the outdoor environment.

Plot them on a basic map of the area. Alongside the audit of the physical features of the outdoor site, it is a good idea to collect information about any legal, technical, financial and policy issues that might affect the running of an outdoor programme, particularly if you want to make any permanent changes to the site. You may need to know who owns the site, who else uses it and when, how much it is going to cost if you decide to make any changes, whose permission you might need to seek and who if anyone is already responsible for the maintenance.

Creating the outdoor environment 25 If the site is part of the local authority area, it is easy to obtain a site plan from the relevant council department. If not, a plan of the outside area may need to be drawn up. It is possible to do this yourself and to encourage even the youngest of children to get involved in making plans of the outside area.

A base plan can be used to map any existing features and resources, to determine areas for particular use or to plot any changes or improvements you might want to make. A survey of what activities take place throughout the day, the different groups who already use the outside area, how they influence each other and how the outside area is already managed will help, as you do not want to create problems for the other users of the site.

At this stage, start the analysis of the learning that already takes place outside: what activities take place, where and when? To help identify ideas linked to the potential use of the outdoor space or issues relating to the lack of use, it is useful to find out what prevents people from using the outside space. Set up a file to make a record of all these things as you go along as a reference for future planning. In addition, collect information about how the children already use the outside area and the activities adult-led and child-initiated they already engage in during outside play.

Watch carefully to find out how they use the space, how their activities interact with each other and the areas the children choose for their play. Through asking people about the outdoor space they will begin to think about their feelings about using it. It is surprising just how different people feel about going outside.

go site There will be a variety of both positive and negative responses which will have to be considered when implementing the programme. Some aspects of it may have to be adapted to suit the needs of the people taking part, current users and the existing physical attributes of the outdoor environment in which the programme is going to take place. After exploring feelings it may be necessary to start raising awareness of the importance of outdoor play. As soon as the information-gathering process begins, priorities about the use of the outdoors will start to emerge as people will have many different views, needs and wants regarding its use.

At this stage it is essential that questions are asked regarding what you want to do outdoors and exactly how you would like to use the outside space. Your vision for the use of the outside area will emerge from all the research, consultation and planning that has been taking place if you have followed the steps previously suggested in this chapter. The vision you have for the outside will define the shape and size of the different outdoor spaces and will show you where you need to have major features such as shelters, pathways and seating areas.

The plan will identify existing or potential use of the area and any improvements that need to be made to maximise its use. Plotting the use of zoned areas on the vision plan or map to show what activities take place and where will help avoid the potential clash of incompatible areas being sited next to each other, such as a quiet area next to a ball-playing area. Making changes to existing outside areas will change the dynamics of the whole area, not just the parts involved in the new plan.

Once any desirable changes to the outside area have been made, the next stage is to consider the planning and preparation for the activities that will be taking place. An outdoor project that evolves over time will be more rewarding than calling in landscape gardeners to do it for you. However, that is not to say that successful results cannot be achieved quickly for those practitioners who cannot wait to get outside with the children.

Growing seeds in the classroom before transplanting them to a garden patch gives children the opportunity to observe the initial growth stages and will help to build their interest in the various plants and how to tend them once they are transferred outdoors. They will be able to observe which seeds sprout first and whether they grow better in sun or shade. At a later stage these investigations can then extend into the planning and creation of the school garden itself.

With obesity an increasing problem among children today and government healthy eating initiatives to encourage better eating, a good way to encourage children to eat well is by showing them how to grow nutritious, fresh and delicious foods themselves. Growing food in a school environment is not as difficult as you may think. Start with a sheltered sunny space near access to water and plan what you want to grow by browsing through gardening magazines and brochures with the children before you take them outside. If space is limited, you can grow cress, lettuce, radish, tomatoes, strawberries, nasturtiums or even French beans in a container against a wall or in a hanging basket.

Seeds are easy to grow and cheap to buy and can be started in suitable recycled food containers inside the classroom, then transplanted into their outdoor sites later. If you have a suitable outside space to include a garden patch, get the children involved in digging it and fertilising it with home-made compost. The outdoor environment can offer rich learning experiences not found indoors and an outdoor classroom is ideal for an evolving curriculum, providing sensory experiences leading to greater levels of creativity and understanding.

The outside area is full of wonderful things for children to experiment with, discover and explore. Whether you choose to purchase a range of fitness- and agility-orientated play equipment or decide to make use of the natural features of the grounds for physical activities, the emphasis must be on open access and experimentation. The non-directive play in this programme will facilitate a wide spectrum of activities and exercises which are designed to expand and develop cognitive and motor skills whilst building strength and developing major muscle groups.

Social play teaches how to share and take turns, and observing each other and testing and discussing ideas can enhance individual development, creating an awareness of personal risk assessment and problem solving. Start with a mind-mapping session to get them thinking about the possibilities of an outdoor space which will match their needs and also provide a stimulating and challenging learning environment. To make the project fully inclusive you may have to talk to experts across many disciplines throughout the design process. For example, the advice of occupational therapists may need to be sought concerning issues relating to mobility and wheelchair users.

Taking advice from the experts means that the outdoor environment will be fully inclusive for everyone and will ensure that it works at all levels from activities to stimulate the senses to activities which provide children with physical challenges. Creating the outdoor environment 27 Activity panels and mazes Activity panels are easy to create, especially if there is wire fencing around the site. Adults or children can create activity panels by attaching objects to the fence, either randomly or in connection with topics and themes.

These panels are ideal for individual, paired or small group activity and encourage creativity and playful learning, for example in colour and shape recognition, eye and hand coordination, problem solving, and other developmental functions. Ensure they are safe, with no dangerous, removable parts, and make them bright and colourful using a wide range of textures, or make them subtle and natural. The opportunities for creativity and learning are endless and will transform the learning potential of those bleak outdoor sites that appear to offer little motivation for outside play.

The activity panels offer a sensory adventure whilst developing sensorimotor skills and can be incorporated into play equipment, attached to posts or fixed directly to the wall at the appropriate heights for children to create an additional sensory experience.

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Mazes are easy to create and make an exciting addition to any outside play space. They can be created from a variety of materials, and be either a fixed structure such as an interlocking system of walls; movable, using large construction materials or tyres; or living, by planting suitable shrubs. Vertical space Often the vertical space is overlooked when creating the outdoor environment. Interacting with walls with permission can be a major part of outdoor play for children and is full of exciting potential.

Throwing or kicking a ball against a wall provides all kinds of opportunities for solitary or group play. Designate an area of wall away from windows and doors or purchase commercial ones which can be installed almost anywhere in the playground as long as they are tough and durable. Walls can be used as screens to separate areas, made into mazes, can be single- or double-sided, with targets, shapes, goals and stumps engraved into the timber.

Kick-about areas can be set up to many specifications, according to size, system or security of the setting. The construction combinations for this range are endless and all are designed to challenge children physically. There are deliberately no start or finish points, allowing children to express themselves freely, expand their physical agilities, engage in exploratory play and develop a sense of accomplishment and independence. They can be enjoyed alone or in groups, thereby offering social development opportunities as well.

Pre-designed constructions to encourage imaginative role play such as boats and lighthouses, tractors and trains, pirate islands, bridges and theatres may become limiting as children sometimes tire of them unless they are included in session planning to foster creativity with a focus on empowering children to develop their imagination.