Across the Early Years Sector, accessing outdoor spaces for outdoor play opportunities is essential for children of all ages as we all know; the idea of the ‘outdoor classroom’ is one that so many of us as professionals strive to achieve on a daily basis, but this ideal is not always obtainable. There are so many factors contributing to the lack of adequate outdoor play spaces that so many Early Years setting face; these could include financial restraints not allowing adequate money to be invested into the area, space, location and the ownership/management of the building you operate within.
For so many private day nurseries and preschools across the nation, this seems to be the case, however, how is outdoor play managed and offered adequately if your setting operates from your home? Coming from a day nursery background and showing prospective parents around the setting, each one asked the same question “What sort of outdoor space do you have?”
Home-based Childcare is no different, however, as with all other types of Early Years provision, it has limitations in regard to space and premises, particularly in relation to the outdoor area.
It is important to note that this may not be the case for all home-based childcare providers, some are very lucky and have an expansive outdoor space that they can utilise to its full potential, providing a range of exciting, stimulating and engaging outdoor areas and opportunities for the children in their care, but for other home-based childcare providers (and other settings alike) sometimes space is just not available or usable to a satisfactory standard and so it is essential to identify this drawback and overcome it in order to meet the children’s needs and provide a range of stimulating outdoor learning experiences.
As with any learning we facilitate, whether it be indoor or outdoor, learning truly can happen anywhere and so utilising your local community/area is not only essential, but holds invaluable benefits for the children too; from simple walks to the supermarket to purchase ingredients for baking, nature walks throughout the changing seasons to enable the children to become familiar with and understand their ever-changing world, to number and letter walks to support literacy and maths. The possibilities truly are endless, we as practitioners just need to view and value these simple yet effective opportunities as valuable learning experiences.
If you are lucky enough to live near a beach, park or woodland; these are invaluable outdoor learning opportunities for the children you care for, and for some children, the outdoor learning experiences they have within our settings, are sometimes the only learning experiences they have access to, which makes it even more essential to ensure they have access to this incredible resource.
For those with less access or opportunity to the wider community, outdoor play spaces are ultimately as good as the practitioners that provide them and so this is where knowing your children, their needs and interests plays an essential role in the continuous provision of your setting. Though the space may be small, large amounts of learning can happen, if we utilise the space on offer; cars and guttering, home-made water walls, painting with water and a well-stocked mud kitchen can all provide extensive learning opportunities that cover all areas of learning and don’t require vast amounts of space in order to be achievable.
Involve the children in the set-up and maintenance of your outdoor space, this not only provides them with more learning experiences, but also allows them a sense of ownership and responsibility of the space and allows it to become theirs, this alone makes the space important and essential to the children, irregardless of the size of the area or the amount of resources within it.
For children, outdoor play is about freedom, simplicity and having something they can make their own.