In Early Years, there are countless pedagogies and learning styles and practices that we can choose to follow within our provisions, and now there is such significant emphasis on outdoor play and its benefits; Forest Schools and Forest sessions have become the norm.But why stop there? Depending on your locality, there are other options to consider and other ‘outdoor classrooms’ to access and utilise to give the learning experiences you provide a different perspective.
At Pebbles Childcare, we are huge advocates of outdoor play and try to incorporate weekly forest and beach school sessions into our routines, as in our opinion the learning opportunities these natural classrooms provide are second to none and cannot be matched or replicated within an artificial environment.
As with Forest Schools, the Beach School idea originated from Scandinavia and places emphasis upon holistic development as well as the benefits reported on personal and social wellbeing and overall learning.
At Beach School, children are encouraged to explore the natural environment which with its ever- changing appearance, offerings and possible learning opportunities shape their learning experience for the session and allows them the freedom and inspiration to facilitate and follow their own interest whilst gaining a deeper insight and understanding into their natural world. The general idea of Beach School session is to not ‘plan’ or facilitate learning, but to follow the children’s curiosity in their findings of the natural world and meet their learning and developmental needs through the invaluable opportunities and experiences our natural world has to offer. As practitioners, our role at Beach School should be the ‘knowledgeable other’ rather than the ‘Leader’; learning and play during Beach School sessions should be led by the children and their curiosity and exploration, we are merely the facilitators of the environment and there to support and develop the children’s learning by introducing new words, skills and understanding, not to lead or attempt to change their play in any way.
Beach School is the perfect example of experiential learning and a phenomenal way to challenge the thought processes and curiosity of children whilst teaching them essential life and survival skills.
Beach School has truly captured the inspiration and hearts of the sector and where geographically possible is being introduced across schools and Early Years settings alike due to the irreplaceable learning opportunities the natural environment provides for children of varying ages.
Safety is paramount during Beach School sessions with the unpredictability of the natural world and sea in particular, but this fact in itself is a valuable learning opportunity and essentially life and survival skill.
When introducing Beach School sessions in any setting, one of the first (and re-visited) ‘activities’ at Beach School should be boundary settings and developing an awareness and understanding of the need for safety during the sessions.
As with Forest School, it is a good idea to set a parameter on where your sessions will be held; allowing the children adequate space and freedom to explore whilst ensuring that they have an understanding of the boundaries and the parameters which they must stay within to ensure their safety. Similarly, a signal which all children will understand, hear and recognise which indicates to them they must return to your ‘base’ immediately. These lessons are essential to the smooth integration of Beach School sessions into your setting’s routines and should be re-visited each time you visit the beach for the first month or so until every child has had adequate practice and fully understands the boundaries in place.
Beach School should not just be a ‘summer’ experience; our natural world changes with the seasons and our children should not only be aware of this and what this looks like and means for the environment, but they should be exposed to it. We launched our weekly Beach School sessions in January 2018; amidst bitter winds, the biting cold and even snow as the winter progressed, and despite their initial reluctance, the children are now completely confident within their beach environment, have a full understanding of the beach and it’s varying appearances through the season, and ultimately a respect and understanding of the sea and basic life skills when it comes to open water and exploring such risky environments.
Some settings choose to limit their Beach School sessions to those children in their pre-school or primary co-hort, whereas as home-based childcare providers we deem this un-necessary and frankly not conducive with the service and outdoor learning opportunities we promote. In our opinion, no child is ‘too young’ to be exposed to the elements or outdoor play and Beach School is a fine example of this and as a result, we now have two-year olds who can confidently identify whether the tide is coming in or out and differentiate between ‘cuttlefish’ and other sea-based objects; for us that in itself demonstrates the benefits of Beach School sessions for all within the Early Years.
Where your geographical location allows, embark on Beach School training and begin to introduce these into your settings and routines at least once a week, not only does this promote outdoor learning and risk play but the learning opportunities, experiences and life skills that children gain from the freedom of nature are truly remarkable.