Nurturing pioneers of the future.

My name is Saleha Patel, I am currently a Nursery Lead and Early Childhood Studies graduate. I have been working within the EYFS sector for 8 years. I enjoy sharing my passion and ideas for our nurturing pioneers (The Early Years) of the future.

Outdoor learning has been a personal struggle whilst working in Early Years. I would have a tendency to doubt the benefits of outdoor learning due to several factors; lack of knowledge, funding, weather and resources. Over the last year I have attended some informative webinars and training about outdoor play, and I have come to a realisation that it is all about the simple outdoor activities. This blog will explore the simple, free and low-cost ways I have found to enjoy nature with children.

Outdoor Learning and Nature in Early Years

Outdoor learning is part of the curriculum, the Statutory Framework (2017) states “Providers must provide access to an outdoor area or if this is not possible, that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis.”

It is necessary for children to learn outside and take their own risks in order to learn how to manage their own risks. Outdoor learning and nature have a massive impact on children and their mental health, it also enables children to develop their confidence, resilience and self-esteem. A variety of skills are learnt through outdoor learning which includes social skills and relationship bonding. Therefore, outdoor play spaces are important for promoting children’s wellbeing and development. 

Why is Outdoor Learning important in Early Years?

Playing and learning outside helps children to understand and respect nature, the environment and the interdependence of humans, animals and plants. It is particularly important to those children who learn best through active movement. Below are some of the reasons why outdoor learning is important.

  • Accurate Assessment: Children act differently outdoors therefore it is important to observe them in the outdoor environment to get an accurate insight.
  • Healthy body and brains: There is more space, freedom and peace in order for children to develop and grow.
  • Characteristics of Effective Learning: The children are able to play and explore, learn actively, develop their own ideas and develop strategies for doing things.
  • Communication and Language: Being outdoors allows children to develop key language skills, boosts confidence and enhances social awareness.
  • Awe and wonder: The children are able to discover things outside that cannot be discovered indoors, sparking awe and wonder.

Barriers to Outdoor Learning

Many people say they are not getting the right support to provide an effective outdoor environment. Below is more detail on why there are certain barriers for outdoor learning.

  • Funding: This is fundamental; however, I am beginning to learn the simple activities can also have a great impact on children and their experiences, so it does not always have to be something that costs a lot of money.
  • Resources: Thinking outside of the box and recycling simple resources can go a long way.
  • Staff: Sometimes staff are not always willing to go outside. Making a rota can help with this and relevant training.
  • Planning outdoors: Planning outdoors can sometimes be forgotten about, however resources need to be replenished and meaningful. Resources which are open and accessible can always make planning outdoors easier.
  • Clothing: Depending on the weather, clothing can also be seen as a barrier. Investing in overalls and wellies for children and a waterproof jacket for the staff can be great.

Outdoor Ideas:

Here are some simple and effective ideas and benefits of how to get children involved with nature and the outdoor area:

  • Watch the world go by: If you have green space or even some tarpaulin on the floor, children can lay down and watch the sky go by – this is great for mindfulness.
  • Guttering and tubes: This aids natural co-operation. It can work brilliantly for any activity that requires movement of an object. Cars, water, stones, balls and other objects.
  • Mark making: Mark making can be done anywhere and everywhere. Allow children to mark make on walls outdoors, the floor encouraging large scale mark making with big paint brushes and rollers. Mud painting, powder paint, chalk and white boards.
  • Growing and Planting: You can use seeds and even old veg to regrow. You can use the end of a carrot, pumpkin seeds, pepper seeds, potato shoots, celery, onion bulbs. You can also use flower seeds and bulbs. Herbs are great, especially for sensory needs. Compost bins are great to recycle organic waste. A water butt to collect rain water, watering cans to look after the plants.
  • Mud Kitchen: Use real pots and pans, cutlery, sink – this can be recycled from people’s houses. Rice, pasta, mud is also fantastic for the children to cook with and role play. Create a bug hotel with pallets.
  • Construction: Asking local shops, marketplace and relevant websites you can get hold of cheap or even potentially free cable reels, pallets and crates. Spades and soil to do plenty of digging.
  • Outdoor Activities: Hoops, bean bags, balls, create dream catchers with twigs and string, nature trails, sound walks, throwing leaves around, leaf hunt, visiting your local park and best of all is allowing children to enjoy the freedom of being outdoors and running around.

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