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Ideas to develop your Outdoor Learning Environment…

On Friday, Rock & Rain was fortunate to be asked to judge the winners of the Nursery Outdoor Learning Environment Award hosted by the NMT in London.  I was inspired by the 5 shortlisted nurseries who presented themselves to the judging panel.  The commitment and passion for outdoor learning of all 5 was outstanding.  The common message was that their children play outside everyday all day, regardless of the weather.  That they don’t worry about children getting messy and they’re working with parents to educate them about the benefits of outdoor learning and play.

Children gain enormous benefits from learning outdoors. Ideally they should have access to outdoor space on a daily basis – regardless of all except the worst weather. Being outdoors allows them to move around without many of the restrictions of being inside. They can fill their lungs with clean air and use all of their senses to appreciate the colours, different noises, the sense of space and of scale. Being outdoors supports confidence and allows opportunities for big scale play, problem-solving and creativity in the company of other children. Physical activity is enhanced. So is calculated risk taking. In the outdoors, children’s use of language is five times greater than indoors. Resources don’t need to be expensive.   The outdoors supports active learning and when balanced with quiet areas for reflection can really enhance children’s overall learning experience.

Below, I’ve shared some of the great ideas that I heard from the short-listed nurseries.  I hope that these ideas help to inspire you to be creative as you prepare for the winter weather with your children, at home or in the nursery setting…..

  • mud kitchens made from old appliances and even a toilet!
  • simple sand pits
  • den building with sticks, logs and old sheets
  • playing with bales of hay
  • vegetable growing from seed to dinner plate
  • animal rearing (chickens through to goats!)
  • mark making walls for chalks or paints
  • tractor or car tyres for climbing on
  • glass house made from plastic bottles
  • climbing frames made from offcuts of wood
  • hanging basket making
  • and of course…having appropriate warm and waterproof clothing available for children and staff

During the discussion, I noticed three ways of thinking which seemed to underpin the success of these nurseries as they developed their outdoor learning environments….

1 -child led development of outdoor areas (they really listened for and observed ideas from the children and built on these ideas with the children to develop creative outdoor areas on small budgets)

2 – there was no divide between inside and outside in the mindset of the staff, though their may have been a physical divide.  The staff loved being outside as much as the children, they worked continuously and passionately to remove cultural, physical and mental barriers to enable children to play and learn outside everyday.  They worked with parents to gain their support and help to achieve their goals.

3 -they found creatively ways to integrate the use of technology into outdoor play – apps to identify bird song, children taking photos, record findings, filming activities

I hope that these ideas help you as you develop your outdoor learning environments for the precious children that you care for.