Outdoor provision

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By Nicki Allman

This fantastic article is bursting with hints and tips for how to make the most of your outdoor area without breaking the bank.

Outdoor provision

Both indoor and outdoor spaces have equal value in Early Years. Outdoor play is often an opportunity for children to explore and investigate nature and the seasons whilst using their senses, developing cognitive, physical and motor skills and promoting their health and well being. Often a child’s self esteem and confidence will grow as a result of the positive effects of an outstanding outdoor provision.

“All practitioners contribute to creating a highly stimulating environment with child-accessible resources that promote learning and challenge children both in- and outdoors.”

Ofsted 2014

Creating a stimulating and challenging learning environment, providing opportunities for children to be engaged in many varied tasks that build their confidence, self esteem and independence is essential if we are to create life-long learners. This identifies that some children will prefer ‘the great outdoors’ finding excitement in those learning opportunities. We must bear in mind that many children (especially those who are in full day-care and only return home after dark) may not have access to outdoor areas at home, which makes allowing them to independently explore outside areas in their Early Years setting even more important.

“For me, the outdoor area should be a magical, exciting place where children develop skills and gain experiences that they couldn’t get anywhere else. A place where they can use their imagination, explore, investigate, create and make mistakes in a safe setting, constantly developing new knowledge and applying their skills through the outstanding opportunities offered to them as well as creating their own learning opportunities.”
Nikki, EYFS lead, 2016

It is where children experience nature and the yearly season changes and develop their senses in a way that being indoors may not, providing time to conquer fears, developing care and respect and empathy, and physical coordination as they learn to manipulate the world around them. It develops all three of the characteristics of effective learning from Development Matters: playing and exploring, active learning, creativity and thinking critically.

What are the essentials of outdoor provision

Free-flow provision is essential and helps develop free choice and independent thought. Both indoor and outdoor spaces should be of equal quality and be mutually enhanced through quality planning, resources and activities and provision of open-ended activities promoting independence and equal learning opportunities.

A quality environment is a must. Excellent (although not necessarily costly) resources that stand the test of time are vital to promote quality learning. Clearly defined areas, organised storage, areas of shade and shelter, as well as secure boundaries are essential. Signage for outdoor areas could be designed, made and painted by the children, thereby promoting confidence in learning, and allowing children to work through the process of deciding what will/won’t work. This focuses on developing writing skills as well as using different media in creating.

High quality adults are also essential if you are going to develop an outstanding outdoor area. You will need adults who question and communicate with children, engage them in play, as well as stepping back to allow self-discovery. Supervising adults should be confident in outdoors situations and should not be over-worried about mess, dirt and risk. Outside time, isn’t break time for staff. Don’t ignore the children – listen to their ideas and try to help them to develop and facilitate them.

“The staff within any setting are the essential resource to help create something of excellence. It is through their engagement with the children …and their daily and adaptative planning which helps create an outstanding place of learning.”
Headteacher, 2016

High quality planning, changing to the needs of children, promotes the excellent use of outdoor areas in all weathers.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, it’s exciting weather…. Skillful practitioners are flexible and make the most of unpredictable events and children’s spontaneous ideas.”
Sam Audley, 2016

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