Discuss with reference to curriculum documentation and relevant research literature the importance of effective provision and planning for outdoor play and exploration in UK early years settings.
In this assignment I am going to look at why it is relevant for effective provision and planning for the outdoor environment in the early years in the UK. Outdoor play is a vital element of young children's physical, social and emotional development. Play is a young child's activity for learning. Therefore making the most of outdoor play is essential, providing plenty of experiences in a varied manner for children, early years settings are in a unique position to offer these, fully integrated with the indoors.
The four aspects of Birth to Three Matters Framework include examples of experiences that very young children should have both indoors and outdoors. Similarly, the curriculum guidance for the foundation stage includes many ideas for taking learning outside. All six areas of learning can be effectively promoted, from the earliest stepping stones through to the early learning goals at the end of foundation stage.
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The statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation stage: setting and standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. (DCSF 2008) states the following in relation to the outdoor environment;
- ‘Wherever possible, there should be access to an outdoor play area and this is the expected norm for providers.'
- ‘The indoor and outdoor environments (should be linked) so that children can move freely between them.'
- ‘A rich and varied environment supports children's learning and development. It gives them the confidence to explore and learn in secure and safe yet challenging, indoor and outdoor spaces.'
- ‘Children must have opportunities play indoors and outdoors. All early year providers must have access to an outdoor play area which can benefit the children. If the setting does not have direct access to an outdoor play area they must make arrangements for daily opportunities for outdoor play in an appropriate nearby location.'
- ‘Being outdoors has a positive impact on children's sense of well-being and helps all aspects of children's development.' (See EYFS Statutory Framework (p.35 and 37); EYFS Practice Guidance (p.7) and ‘Principles into Practice card 3.3: Enabling Environments- the Learning Environment').
The EYFS statutory framework for the EYFS is put in place so that every child in a setting environment has the best possible experience of the outdoors, as so much learning and development goes on within the outdoors and to cover the six early learning goals.
The outdoors offers a unique environment, which is very different from the indoors. It offers space and freedom to try things out, to explore and experiment without the constraints associated with an indoor environment (Tovey 2007). Some opportunities for learning can only happen outside. The experience of a change in the weather, finding insects, making a large scale construction/painting - all of these motivate children into mental and physical engagement, and can only be done outside. In fact all learning goals can be achieved outside while the children's health and well-being are also being boosted. Outside children can run fast, shout and squeal and find out what their bodies and voices can really do (Ouvry, 2008). The space is more open, less confided and the greater space; the more unrestricted the movement possibilities. Indoors is a space where adults are in control, but outdoors as fewer restrictions, where children can escape the controlling eyes of adults (Stephenson 2002).
The four main thinkers of early childhood towards the curriculum, advocating outdoor provision as essential for children's learning and development are; Friedrich Froebel , Margaret McMillan ,Susan Issacs and Maria Montessori. “These four all held the view that the young child is first and foremost a whole person, with thoughts, feelings and imagination that need to be cared for and cherished” (Curtis 1986. P.5).They all believed in a child centred approach and free-flow play. Young children are motivated and wish to learn, they don't have to be sat at a table quietly (Curtis 1986).
Friedrich Froebel argued that play was a serious and significant activity for the young child. David Cohen (1987) suggests that Froebel was the first educator to use children's play for practical purposes. In order to help children learn through play Froebel devised series of playthings and games (Bruce 1991). As Curtis (1986 p.6) points out, he used the ‘timeless playthings of childhood' in his curriculum. ‘Balls, boards, sand, clay, for example, have made up children's play throughout the ages'. The role of the adult is crucial in Froebel's approach to play. Cohen however doesn't agree that children should learn particular things, as that would be to advocate play as preparation for life. Froebel valued play because it helped children to make meaning, and as Janet Moyles (1989 p.168) points out the importance of adults and children being ‘equal partners in play, as in conversation' (Bruce 1991).
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Janet Moyles (1989, p.24) points out that Froebel pioneered the theory of firsthand experience as the basis of play, but this was entirely different to that, Seguin (1812-1880), who developed learning though the senses for disabled children. This curriculum was aimed towards a particular direction. However, Froebel's approach to play was targeted at all children's needs, rather than Seguin, who concentrated on disadvantaged children (Bruce 1991). As Yvonne Conolly (1983) points out (OMEP), ‘A good Curriculum is a good curriculum for all' (in Bruce, 1987, Ch.9).
Margaret McMillan, pioneer of nursery education campaigned for an education centred on the garden. She was the first person to model a nursery with children flowing freely between the inside and outside environment she quoted; ‘The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed by the sky.' She put so much emphasis on the outdoor environment that it has been recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in its good practice guidelines for the early learning goals, which repeatedly stress those young children, should have access to a well-planned outdoors (Ouvry 2008).
McMillan expanded on the ideas of Froebel, to see children playing as the integrated activity. It was through the garden that we see her begin to develop the free-flow play side of the curriculum. It is interesting to see that for Froebel, McMillan and Issacs, it was the child's free play in the outdoors that led to their greatest contributions to the early childhood educational curriculum (Bruce 1991). Issacs valued free-flow play because it gave children freedom in their actions, thoughts and emotional expression. Issacs further stressed that play also meets the emotional needs of a child, as they express all emotional during play (Bruce 1991).
Montessori, who was also a pioneer for education, she thought it was an insult to children to suggest they should play. Montessori provided children with specific sense training apparatus which she expected them to use in an exact manner within the classroom, whereas McMillan believed children gained better sensory experience by playing in the garden (Bruce, 1991).
Surely if practitioners are planning and setting up the activities that a child plays outdoors it is not really the child's freedom of choice, in a way it is still like the Montessori approach. Both Sylva and Bruner argued, in the 1980s, that structure is a characteristic of materials and activities themselves. Structured activities such as construction are the most challenging and unstructured materials, such as sand and water, and open ended resources, outdoors lack any clear goal structure and, therefore, do not challenge children's minds (Bruner 1980; Sylva et al 1980).
Ouvry (2008) suggests making the most out of the outdoor area is also important, so that the children in that setting have the best opportunities possible and the changing of resources provided should be different daily. Also, it is important that the children have the opportunity to explore different resources and not stick with their favourite all the time i.e. bicycles. So Bruner and Sylva's research isn't very clear as all settings have a number of different opportunities for children to do in the outdoors environment, structured and unstructured. Children learn from them all in different ways and they are all targeting the six areas of learning.
Piaget saw movement and physical development as the provision for higher levels of thinking. However Smith (p.68) argues this point and believes ‘it is stillness we have to justify, not movement'. Early Years children can't be sat down all day they need freedom to express themselves and explore their environment in order to learn new things, sitting down is going to make them more likely to disengage with what is going on. If movement is such an important aspect of a child's development, access to outdoor space must be part of a daily routine in order to nurture this mind-body growth.
‘Children want space at all ages. But from the age of one to seven, space, that is ample space, almost as much wanted as food and air. To move, to run, to find things out by new movement, to feel one's life in every limb, that is the life of early childhood.' So said Margaret McMillan (1930)
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Children's entitlement to high quality outdoor play experiences is strongly supported throughout the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework and early years providers have a statutory duty to facilitate daily outdoor opportunities all year round for the children in their care. (See EYFS Statutory Framework (p.35 and 37); EYFS Practice Guidance (p.7) and ‘Principles into Practice card 3.3: Enabling Environments- the Learning Environment').
When children are denied adequate space they often feel desperately frustrated and this can lead to uncooperative behaviour. Research has shown that in environments that enable children to move about, to collaborate with others and take frequent breaks during calm activities, the behaviour of children who have a tendency to lose their temper or get over excited is less disturbing (Berk, l. E and Winsler, A 1995). This therefore shows that the tendency for children to shout and squeal and run around and be very ‘hyperactive' is taken outside there that type of behaviour is accessible (Ouvry 2008).
Ouvry (2008) states that boy's brains mature in a different sequence to those of girls and in some areas, at a slower rate. Boys first develop the parts of the brain for knowing about movement and space in which they have to move themselves and other things. Other areas of the curriculum then arise meaningfully out of play. Girls, stereotypically like playing imaginatively in the home corner and working with and alongside adults. Girls come to an understanding of adult world through domestic play and talk; they use reading and writing in their play because their brains are more developed for language at the three to five year old stage.
The whole emphasis on activities that focus on children who are good at talking, fitting in, quick at learning and understanding other people's intentions. Boys can tend to feel uncomfortable because they tend to feel more secure in the outdoor environment, where they can be themselves and still learn from their experiences just in a different manner. By the setting giving less attention to the outdoors environment and quality of outdoor play, they may be denying access to education to a significant number of boys (Bilton, H. 1998).
The outdoor space must be viewed as an essential teaching and learning environment which is linked with the learning that goes on inside, but with even greater status because it allows for children to learn through movement. If we believe that young children learn through play and that play is thought in action- then offering children a playing space outdoors would seem the most effective means to fulfil their need to play, learning through first hand experiences and cooperate with others, that also cover the six main learning goals (Ouvry. 2008).
Despite the much higher profile given to outdoor play in recent years with the introduction of the Curriculum Guidance for the foundation stage (QCA 2000), there is still evidence that the ‘purpose and value of outdoor play is not well understood'(Tovey. 2007). Many practitioners have an unconscious belief that effective learning only happens when children are still, quiet and calm, with a pencil and paper at hand and with a teacher nearby to offer instruction. The idea that when children are physically active, many people believe they can't be learning anything to do with the curriculum (Ouvry 2008). But then what about forest schools, they are based outside all of the time and are still based on the curriculum and the learning intentions are still met and this is all due to planning for the six areas of learning.
It is certainly true that if the outdoors is not well planned and the setting does not have clear aims for the children's learning outside, then practitioners may find it difficult to see any worthwhile learning going on outside. This is however true when considering any environment for young children inside or outside. Without clarity of aims and learning intentions for children in play situations, it is impossible to know what to look for when observing the children or to know how to further the children's learning. Structuring the environment and supporting children's learning is as important outside as in (Ouvry 2008).
The key person working with a four-year-old child may have observed on several occasions that the child is rather unsteady when moving around the outside area. The practitioner then plans to build an obstacle course to give the child lots of opportunities to use a wide range of physical movements. These then support the planning for enhanced provision. In many cases, this planned adjustment and enrichment of some aspect of the setting's provision will also be relevant to other children in a group. Many of the other children in the group will enjoy helping to build and develop the obstacle course and will join the focus child in actively using and enjoying the challenges it offers.
‘The right of the child to rest and leisure and engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and arts.' (UNICEF 1989).
There are constraints and fears that limit children's opportunities for play particularly outdoors, deprive children of essential childhood experiences and opportunities- opportunities to develop friendships and to make relationships, to experience all emotions, to take risks, have adventures and misadventures, to have contact with nature and the environment (Casey, T. 2007). Children need to climb, run, jump, an bash balls against walls (Lewis Howdle, lecture, RIHE,1980).