Outdoor play and physical activity have always been a prolific topic in the Early Years and an aspect of curriculum and provision we all focus on, particularly within a home-based childcare environment this can sometimes be an issue or an area practitioners desire to improve upon as result of space and locality, and we are no different, but we have become experts on utilising our locality and the outdoor learning experiences and opportunities that we have on our doorstep in order for children to challenge themselves physically, take risks and be exposed to challenge in their everyday play.
Our philosophy and ethos have always been centred around the benefits and importance of outdoor play, risk, challenge and the benefits of natural, hands-on and meaningful experiences, and just because we have limited outdoor space physically in the setting and are limited to the types of risk and challenge the children can experience as a result of the physical set-up of our setting, we whole-heartedly believe that our children are can learn just as much, if not more, from natural play resources and opportunities such as trees, breakwaters, streams, the beach, rope swings and other natural, readily available opportunities that the natural world and the vast space, freedom and natural beauty we are lucky enough to have within our locality.
A simple walk in the local woodland area can offer the children opportunities to not only immerse themselves in nature; listening to the birds, identifying different types of tree, wildflowers and spotting animals within their natural habitats, but these experiences also offer a wealth of physical challenges, opportunities for risk taking, problem solving and critical thinking – we truly believe experiences such as this and allowing children time to explore open-ended environments in an unrushed manner enables children to learn, grow and develop holistically in comparison to the more structured, closed opportunities that man-made play equipment can offer.
We whole-heartedly agree and believe that play parks and playgrounds are an integral part of children’s early years and their culture, and we are not ‘anti-playgrounds’ in any way, shape or form and we have frequented man-made playgrounds and play parks in the past, but it is important to us that our children also have varied opportunities to access and explore more natural risk and play opportunities, and we have plenty of these readily available within our locality and so we will do our upmost to utilise these and expose our children to as many of these varied and natural experiences as possible, throughout the year so that the children learn to recognise and understand the effect weather and environments have upon these play opportunities and the added risk that this entails, so that the children learn to constantly risk assess, problem solve and then develop the confidence to overcome these barriers and challenge their physical skills further as they play and explore.
We are in an incredibly lucky position in terms of locality and perhaps our options for outdoor learning experiences and locations for physical challenge are mor readily available or accessible than some providers in a more limited locality, and whilst we appreciate just how lucky we are in terms of our location and the natural opportunities and experiences this offers children, we also believe a setting or practitioner’s approach to outdoor play and these types of natural experiences can also impact on the quality and meaningfulness of the experience.
For example, we are not generally nervous or anxious practitioners and so when our children explore a new skill, show an interest in climbing a high tree or want to walk through a flowing stream, we approach these experiences with enthusiasm and support, encouraging the children to explore independently and manage and acknowledge their own risks and how far they are willing to explore outside of their comfort zone and we truly believe our attitudes impact upon our children’s perceptions about outdoor play, risk and challenge.
Similarly, if we did not approach natural play experiences with such vigour and enthusiasm, then our children would not know a tree stump is a fantastic platform for jumping, nor would they know they can explore within a stream to learn more about it’s terrain, flow and how to risk assess this for themselves.
We are making it our mission to continue to explore and discover new hidden gems within our locality that offer our children a wealth of outdoor learning opportunities and risk-taking experiences within a more secluded, open-ended and natural environment from which to explore within and are so excited to see how our new cohort of children embrace and face these challenges and opportunities.
Muddy hands, grazed knees and nature in their hair is commonplace for our children and in our opinion, truly encompasses what childhood is all about.