The outdoors offers children a unique opportunity for learning, creativity and discovery. Being outdoors is an integral part of every child’s day where much learning can take place. A well thought out, interactive outdoor space will help to develop a range of physical skills and opportunities for all young children such as crawling, rolling, walking, running, jumping, climbing, balancing, skipping, throwing and catching. The experience a child gets from an outdoor space is completely different from inside the setting. There is a sense of freedom as the children are able to move around freely, make discoveries, explore their environment and their own independence.
Planning an outdoor area
It’s important to decide what you want from your outdoor space, so include the children. Ask what they would like to do and this will help you to create an area that will be an integral learning space where the children will want to play. The space can be zoned in to different areas to allow different experiences for example creating a mud kitchen area where the children can make mud pies, a quiet zone to sit with friends or even a nature area to discover wildlife or even a grow your own veg patch. Involve all of the staff too, decide what experiences and activities will work best for the children in your setting and how you can provide them. Aim to have four zones in your outdoor space:
Zone 1 – an activity area
Zone 2 – a socialising and relaxation area
Zone 3 – a creative area
Zone 4 – an area where the children can be imaginative
Once you have an idea of the space you want to create think about the resources you already have that you can use in your space and what resources you may need to acquire, focus on building up resources for one learning zone at a time. Your outdoor space should be accessible whatever the weather so ensure the children have their raincoats and wellies or that a shaded area is available on a sunny day. View your outdoor areas as an extension to your indoor area and allow the children to move freely from the indoors to the outdoors.
The DfES Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage states that: “Well planned play, both indoors and outdoors, is a key way in which young children learn with enjoyment and challenge” (p25 DfES Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage).
Resources to get you started
Look around your setting and you’ll be surprised at what you already have to use in your outdoor space. Consider creating outdoor themed boxes that can easily be stored and tidied away such as:
Creative Crafts – fill your box with chalks, paints, stampers, paper, crayons and sand and let the children be creative
Story Time – Cushions, books, laminated signs, storysacks or alternatively create them around a theme such as the weather, a teddy bears picnic etc.
Nature – Pine cones, stones, twigs, leaves, shells everything you need to create a mini-beast habitat
Role Play – Creation station to fill with sand, water, soil, cars, dinosaurs etc. and let their imagination run wild
Practitioners can: “provide rich and stimulating experiences (when they) make good use of outdoor space so that children are enabled to learn by working on a larger, more active scale than is possible indoors” (p15 DfES Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage).
Do the children at your nursery enjoy their time outdoors? What ideas have you used to accelerate learning and discovery? Share your comments with us below.