The world once offered an array of free play to young children. Children used to have more access to the world in a less restricted way, whether it was playing in the streets, parks, fields and forest areas. Children could explore and interact with the natural world with little or no restriction or supervision.
The lives of children today are sadly much more structured and supervised, with less freedom. A child’s physical boundaries have diminished and a number of factors have led to this, specifically:
- Parents are concerned for their children’s safety when they leave the house alone and some children are no longer free to walk around their neighbourhood or even play in their own gardens, unless accompanied by adults
- According to research in the UK and USA, children have little time for outdoor free play, and it is often spent inside in front of the television or computers. For some children, that’s because of location and limited outdoor space
- With budgets for city and local governments slashed, many public parks and outdoor playgrounds have deteriorated and been abandoned. Children’s opportunities to interact with the outdoor setting has been greatly reduced
As educators we need to start at any early age with hands-on experience with the outdoors. There is considerable evidence that concern for the environment is based on an affection for nature that develops with autonomous, unmediated contact with it. In the early years, children’s developmental tendency towards empathy with the natural world needs to be supported with free access to the outdoors, over an extended period of time, so they can appreciate and learn through exploration.
Discovering in our Forest School
At Circus Day Nursery, one of our goals is for children to become confident by being able to pursue their own interests by moving freely from indoors and outdoors and back again between the different areas of provision.
Studies have provided evidence that the way children respond in positive environments improves recall of information, creative problem solving, and creativity. Early experiences with the outdoors have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder. Curiosity is important as a motivator for life long learning.
The outdoor world is an essential ingredient to the emotional health of children, and at Circus our philosophy embraces the notion that any learning taking place indoors, should also be promoted outdoors. When children play outdoors with less restriction, they are more likely to have positive feelings about each other and their surroundings.
Outdoor environments can also be important to a child’s development of independence and autonomy. Outdoor space allows children to experiment with increasing distance from their practitioner, and so often we see children that may not be as confident, exploring and venturing more freely when outdoors. While the development of greater independence from toddler hood to middle childhood can happen within the confines of indoor spaces, safe space outdoors greatly adds to the ability of children to naturally experiment with independence and separation, and the adult’s willingness to trust the child’s competence, allows for separation to occur. This is particularly important for children who may have limited access to outdoor space.
Children’s outdoor play is different from time spent indoors. The sensory experiences are different, and different standards of play can apply. Activities which may be limited indoors can be safely tolerated outdoors. Children have greater freedom not only to run and shout, but also to interact and explore their environment and disperse of their energies.
With Circus Day Nursery housing it’s own Forest School, headed with the passion of our qualified highly motivated Forest School leader Emma, and with the new edition of our Outdoor Classroom, it is our goal to ensure that children are given more time to familiarise with the outdoor world, through out all of the seasons, whilst benefiting from the shelter of the classroom to further extend their learning about their environment.
A wonderful story comes to mind, having had the privilege to work with an amazing little boy. Suffering from a rare degenerative condition affecting his sight, leading to ultimate blindness, it became noticeable how his restricted abilities were effecting his confidence.
Having recently introduced Forest School, we observed a noticeable difference in developing his independence through time spent outdoors, which led me to further conclude how much the outdoors improved his quality of play and learning. One particular day the children were enjoying their learning experience in Forest school, and I recall this boy telling his key worker that he no longer required any special aids to assist him. Having observed this child for many weeks, I could clearly see that his confidence in his ability to negotiate this safe but natural environment had improved enough to enable him to freely make that decision. It was such a development that had made an incredible difference to the life of one child, and to see him running around on the undulating ground, digging, constructing and exploring, with a huge smile on his face, brought a huge smile to our faces too.
Our team of staff will constantly observe children to establish individual interests, and create challenging spaces to ultimately develop confidence and self esteem. These areas are clearly identified and inviting to enable everyone to explore and develop individual learning. Watch out for more pictures once our Outdoor Classroom project is complete.