The ‘Great’ Part of The Great Outdoors!Posted by Michael MOE, 28 October, 2020
At MOE, as you all know, we are very fond of ‘The Great Outdoors’ and we thought it would be a nice idea to share with you our thoughts and ethos on just how ‘Great’ it is!
It has been often quoted that being outside, no matter where that is, whether it’s your back garden, in a big field or in the woods, has always been an excellent place to reflect, centre your mind or just generally get back in touch with nature. This has never been truer than right now, as we head into Winter in 2020 during a worldwide pandemic.
If you recall a few months back, when we were all instructed to stay indoors to protect each other from Covid-19 when ‘Lockdown’ was announced, one of the things we were allowed to do and even encouraged to do, was to go outside to walk or exercise for 30 minutes every day. This demonstrates that even according to the Government, being able to go outside (even briefly) is so important. For many children who don’t have a garden, this 30 minutes a day might have been the only opportunity they had to be able to go outside during the months of being asked to stay indoors, particularly those living in flats or shared living in which the outdoor spaces are communal.
However, that was during the Spring and Summer, when the weather was toasty (at least some of the time, who else noticed that when the restrictions were relaxed a bit, the rain suddenly came?) and parks, nature reserves and large outdoor spaces were open and easily accessible with picturesque spots to eat or grab a drink. Now we are heading into late Autumn and Winter and it is starting to get chilly, muddy, dark and maybe some of the local parks have changed their opening hours and places are not as accessible. Nevertheless, it is still a great time to get out there and get in it; to lift spirits, blow the cobwebs away and get a great rosy glow from the chilly wind on your cheeks.
The idea that nature and being outdoors can have such a positive impact on our health and well-being and that even just 2 hours a week spent outside is linked to people feeling healthier and happier is in itself good reasons to get out in it (Vaughan, 2019). Not only is it good for our health, it is also an excellent classroom.
Outdoor Learning has so numerous benefits for children in the Early Years education and beyond. Below we have listed a few of our most favourite benefits:
- To encourage children to have an active lifestyle, to keep their bodies and minds engaged to ensure they grow into happy healthy teens and grown-ups. This is especially important during this pandemic through the colder months. There may be times when we are asked to stay indoors again to protect our most vulnerable members of our community and it is vital to keep ourselves and our families healthy and strong, both physically and mentally by making the most of our ‘Great Outdoors’.
- To foster an appreciation for the world around them, such as the people in their lives, animals, plants and the environment. The children of today are the grown-ups of tomorrow, so encouraging a love of nature and the environment as well as promoting positive relationships with others will ensure that the children, we bring up today will care for our planet and all those on it in the future.
- To develop social skills by giving children the space to come out of their shells and express themselves in the many different types of outdoor play. For some children, indoor spaces can seem rather restrictive and enclosing, whereas an outdoor space has much more to offer in terms of play, risk taking and learning opportunities.
- To build and strengthen independence through exploration and the freedom to make discoveries for themselves. As children grow and explore, they will want to try things for themselves and the outdoors is a great place for them to get that freedom without the feeling of direct supervision. This will help to develop a strong ‘can do’ attitude, which is vital for building a strong foundation for future learning.
- To understand risks and begin assessing situations / danger in a way that gives them a more ‘hands on’ experience. Outdoor spaces will generally offer more opportunities for children to take risks and make calculated decisions compared to indoor environments. However, that’s not a bad thing because it is important for children to experience ‘safe risks’ or ‘safe dangers’ in which they can make decisions and assess situations based on their previous experiences. For example, “Can I climb this tree?” or “What happens if I jump off this?”
Early Years Resources (2016)
There are so many wonderful things to do and learn while out and about in the Great Outdoors and we would love to share a number of super simple but effective ways to really make the most of any outdoor space you have.
Initially before heading out, make sure everyone is wrapped up warm, with waterproofs and comfy shoes. Without a doubt this saves on tears and grumpy faces and ensures that everyone will be able to keep up out there (after all we can’t have soggy socks slowing us down!) Do not let the weather stop you from going out, some of the best fun can be had in the rain or wind (or snow, if you are lucky enough) The trick is simply, dress for the occasion.
In fact, just getting ready for an adventure is a great learning opportunity for children. At this stage, you can encourage plenty of ‘try it yourself’ which is a vital aspect of Early Years education for children as they develop a strong sense of independence. You can also talk about the weather and the appropriate clothing that they will need for such weather, ask great What and Why questions such as;
- What is the weather like today?
- Why is it raining / snowing / sunny?
- What do you think you will need to wear for (rain, snow, wind, sunshine) …?
- Why do you need a hat / gloves / coat?
- What you can see out the window?
These types of open-ended questions can really help to broaden children’s vocabulary and their understanding of language as it gives them the opportunity to respond with more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They will be prompted to answer in their own words, allowing you to get a great insight into what they are thinking and their understanding. These are great daily activities that will extend their communication skills.
As a bonus, if you’re going out for a long walk in the woods, why not take a flask of hot chocolate with you for an extra little boost of warmth and yumminess. Now you may be thinking, how do we expand on our trail walking outdoor conversations?
The best laid paths to the most wonderful of adventures is to ask the children what they feel like doing, then you will definitely know that you’re on to a winner. You’ll have their full attention (most of the time), because it is based on their interests.
However, if even they are at a loss, perhaps some of these seasonal ideas might do the trick:
- Bug Hotel – create a mini-beast hotel, using leaves, twigs, and found things in the garden or woodland area.
- Children love insects and caring for things is a huge part of development and understanding the world. You could return to the hotel after a few days and see who has moved in, take some photos and when you get home you could look up some of the critters on the internet and see what there is to learn about them.
- An alternative to bugs, is to create a Hedgehog house, there are details on how to do this on the Wildlife Trust Website https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-hedgehog-home which is also a great opportunity to care for the wildlife in your garden or local area.
- Leaf and Twigs Scavenger Hunt + Collage – have you seen how beautiful all those autumn leaves are? How about going out and collecting bags full and drying them out to use for some super cool artwork to give to a loved one during these strange times?
- Great activity for developing creativity and expression as well as opening up conversations about colours. But you can also do great sorting games by sorting the leaves by colour, size or shape, which is really great for developing Early Mathematics skills.
- Den Making and Role Play – really get back in touch with your inner child and create the best fort / den with the children and have fun with ‘let’s pretend’.
- Role play for children is such an important part of learning as it encourages them to use their imagination and create stories which is great for early literacy as well as self-expression and creativity. These moments of play can be handy for extending understanding further by introducing new vocabulary or ideas into their play.
- Making a Leaf Hill / Leaf man – How about creating something out of the all the leaves that have fallen from the trees? Perhaps your garden is covered in leaves or maybe there is loads in the park? Grab a couple of rakes and why not have a go and gathering them all together to make a huge pile. You could make it a competition, who can make the biggest pile in 2 minutes. Not only will your garden be clear, but you will have a giant pile of leaves to play in!
- Using the tools will help to build gross motor skills as well as be a great opportunity to talk about taking risks and how to safely use gardening equipment, which are two important areas when building children’s physical development.
So how about it? Let’s go grab those coats and wellies and find our next adventure! There are so many endless possibilities for learning and play to be had and they are just waiting to be found right outside the door. And best of all, it’s good for us!
Early Years Resources (2016) 5 Benefits of Outdoor Learning in Early Years. Available online: https://www.earlyyearsresources.co.uk/blog/2016/03/5-benefits-of-outdoor-learning-in-early-years/#:~:text=Learning%20in%20an%20outdoor%20environment,about%20their%20habitats%20and%20lifecycles. (Accessed 29/10/2020)
Vaughan, A. (2019) New Scientist: Two hours a week spent outdoors in nature linked with better health. Available online: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2206249-two-hours-a-week-spent-outdoors-in-nature-linked-with-better-health/(Accessed 28/10/2020)
By Hannah Coldwell (Early Years Practitioner)
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