“At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling”
As we enjoy these rare but glorious sunny days we have been having, take a moment to cast your mind back to the most enjoyable play experiences you had as a child. Relax and think of that time when you had the most fun at play. What age were you? Who were you with? Can you hear the sounds? Smell the smells? Where were you? What was it that made you love that place? Was it the freedom you felt? A particular smell or sound? Were you indoors or outdoors?
It’s true that 98% of the adults you ask to do this exercise will animatedly tell you about an outdoor play experience. These are the moments in time that stay with us and create the happiest of memories. Why then do we feel the need to redress that balance with our children today, spending more time indoors than out? Most of the time too, when as adults we recount these experiences, we describe the use of leaves and petals and sticks and trees, maybe a sandwich or two but rarely a whole host of expensive toys! And yet……we still look to provide more play opportunities indoors rather than out!
At Indigo, we are continually advocating the immense value of outdoor learning and the importance of play in all weathers and surfaces – gone are the days of only playing out doors on sunny days or on nicely cut fresh grass (which are also lovely experiences, let’s not forget).
Playing outdoors provides valuable opportunities to explore and learn, to discover and to develop an understanding of the world around us. Recently our early year’s team have been ‘digging’ out the research and exploring ways to develop our outdoor learning environment to create new and rich opportunities for natural play.
Within our Early Years’ service, we are extremely lucky to have a woodland space within the grounds (which was needing a little tender loving care) and it sparked conversations around some of the wonderful learning opportunities we could open up for our children and families. The team began talking to our preschool children about our current outdoor learning environment and what they felt was missing, “trees” was a particularly common comment, although our ‘playground’ outdoor learning environment provides rich and meaningful opportunities for learning and development, it very much resembles concrete and fencing with limited opportunities to experience the natural environment - unless adult assisted (mud added to the mud kitchen, plants growing in the planters).
Our amazing team dedicated days of hard graft, a few aching backs not to mention muscles we didn’t know we had! They cleared, brushed and organised the space so that our children could use the area safely. Our children led and directed this work, risk assessing our new space, helping the team determine eye level hazards such as low branches and talking about the various types of risks and how they look for risks and hazards during their play. Planning out the space and making designs of what it needed to be. To some it might just look like an empty space under trees – to our children and team, it was a blank canvas of fun, learning and endless opportunities.
One of the most common uncertainties from our families when our children began using the woodland learning environment was “will my child get hurt”. As parents/carers, our natural instincts are to protect our children, from the minute they are born, to their first crawl or steps therefore feeling unsure or anxious about some types of outdoor play is a natural reaction. We wanted to support our families in understanding that in allowing children to have access to ‘safe risks’ we can help them make better judgement and decisions about their safety and the safety of others as they grow. Children need to be given the chance to ‘have a go’, to try new things and test out their own ideas, this can mean that they might get a bit dirty, they might have a fall or a small bruise or some tears. However, it is these experiences that are an important part of learning, developing confidence and growing the skills that are so necessary in being able to assess personal risk and mitigations.
“Children will fall and will get bruises because that is part of their learning”
Majorie Ouvry, Education Consultant and Author
As adults, we know that everyday life involves a certain level of risk, the earlier children are able to risk assess their own play and their decisions the more confident they are likely to become in future years. Now that isn’t to say that practitioners stand back and allow children to climb 6 foot trees or swing from branch to branch. As professionals in early learning, the team have worked with the children to develop their understanding of risk management in their play. In the early stages, some practitioners had to work a little harder than others, to change their own mind sets around risks and safe play. The team now confidently facilitate experiences that allow the children to manage risk appropriately, they have conversations about what the children anticipate will happen next, supporting them to problem solve and think ahead.
We have an amazing vision as to what our new learning environment could be and we can’t to see it grow and develop over the coming months and more importantly to see the positive outcomes our children will achieve as a result! – WATCH THIS SPACE!!