Outdoor play beyond the Early Years

Outdoor play beyond the Early Years

18 Oct 2023

Jigsaw PSHE

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This informal CPD article, ‘Outdoor play beyond the Early Years’, was provided by Amy Jones a qualified Early Tears teacher and Primary Development Manager PSHE at Jigsaw, who provide Statutory-Ready Primary and Secondary PSHE Programmes.

What is play?

Through play, children can explore, experiment, and learn about the world around them. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to play. Play is often associated with an opportunity to engage in an activity solely for enjoyment, but the benefits of play span much more than that. It is one of the most important ways in which children gain essential knowledge and skills. It improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Play ignites curiosity which makes the brain more receptive to learning. As a result, learning is perceived as fun, and enjoyable and play is paramount to this.

Years of substantial research indicate the positive impact that the outdoors can have on a person’s life. The impact on a child is significant and spans several areas including benefits for physical, social, emotional, and mental health and well-being. Offering the outdoors as a place to play fosters a culture of educating the whole child. This supports children to develop essential life-long skills and enables them to succeed in school and beyond.

Teaching and learning can be highly effective through child-initiated play, facilitated by adults who are readily available to support children during this process. These are the fundamentals of quality Early Years practice, but these principles are easily transferable to facilitate outdoor play.

Interaction levels are higher outdoors

When teaching PSHE, the importance of developing lifelong learners can be established through open-ended experiences in the outdoors, which naturally lend themselves to developing important PSHE skills.For example, the simple act of climbing a tree or balancing on a log, not only provides an enriching experience for children, but an opportunity to develop a huge skill set. An experience like this contributes to children developing skills such as, (but not limited to), self-awareness, confidence, motivation, and resilience. In addition to this, the outdoors supports a child’s ability to take and manage risks.

The World Health Organisation reported that children who spend regular time outdoors are 55% less likely to develop mental health problems. The Early Years Foundation Stage comprises a statutory requirement for daily outdoor play. However, beyond the Early Years, recent studies have found that the amount of time children are spending outside is in rapid decline. Playing outdoors enhances learning and is fundamental for children’s development.

The benefits of outdoor play

Spending time in the outdoors has been shown to improve the health and well-being of children. In addition, it provides a place to develop social communication skills whilst supporting mental health and well-being. Playing in nature provides opportunities to develop a range of PSHE skills such as developing a positive sense of self through confidence, building resilience, and developing own self-esteem.

Being outdoors provides a form of exercise and active play that contributes to physical health. Nature provides a plethora of opportunities to develop gross and fine motor skills. Being able to move freely and flexibly in the natural environment enables children to acquire and master a range of skills such as running, coordination and balance. Children should be given opportunities to try new things, develop perseverance, and rise to a challenge; all possible in the remits of being outside. Opportunities to take and manage risks enable children to build confidence and attain a sense of achievement. These skills equip children for lifelong learning.

Studies have also shown that children engage socially with peers on much higher levels when outdoors. Communication, language, and interaction levels are significantly higher in the outdoors as children feel free to be loud and enthusiastic in a safe space.

The current recommendation from The World Health Organisation, states that children under five should have at least three hours per day engaging in physical or outdoor play. However, this reduces to one hour per day once a child reaches the age of five and up to the age of seventeen. Extended periods of time to play outdoors should be a basic right for every child. Children, regardless of age, learn best through playing and exploring in an open-ended, meaningful way, where they can use all their senses.

Children need healthy levels of Vitamin D

Adults can facilitate learning outdoors by inviting children to explore, experiment, and experience their outdoor space. Purposefully planned opportunities could also be offered, using the outdoors as a resource to enhance learning, with a specific curriculum link. For example, creating bird feeders or gardening offers purposefully planned learning experiences with cross-curricular links to subjects such as Science and maths whilst developing PSHE skills. Being in the outdoors provides children with a feeling of freedom and fun, and therefore this enables learning through play.

Whilst a decline in outdoor play is appearing, it is our job as educators to ensure that children are provided with a rich, broad, and balanced curriculum enabling them to utilise the outdoors as a space to learn in. Margaret McMillan emphasises this by sharing the message that, “the best classroom and the richest cupboard are roofed only by the sky”. An analogy suggests the richness of the natural resource which is freely and readily accessible and available to us all.

Scientifically, exposure to daily sunlight and fresh air boosts serotonin levels, a hormone that helps with mood regulation. Children need healthy levels of Vitamin D and serotonin for their mental health and development. The perceived barriers of bad weather, lack of space, and resources are intrinsically linked to a mindset that outdoor learning is only possible on a sunny day in a perfectly landscaped space. However, any outdoor space whether large, small, green, or not provides an engaging and open-ended place for children and young people to develop and thrive.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Jigsaw PSHE, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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Jigsaw PSHE

Jigsaw PSHE

For more information from Jigsaw PSHE, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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