Early Years Outdoors Pt. 2 The EYFS Outdoors (Or, what that looks like in educational jargon type words)

This follows on from Early Years Outdoors Pt.1 where I consider why I do this type of work and what I think some of the benefits are.  In this piece my intention is to begin to explain how these sessions can be a part of a broader early years provision.  It also offers insight into how the Early Years Curriculum works for those that perhaps don’t know. If you do know how that hangs together, I welcome the chance to discuss it all with you. You can reach me on email here on Twitter & Facebook

So, what about the EYFS

The Early Years Foundation Stage has four guiding principals. They are:

1.Every child is a unique child, constantly learning and can be RESILIENT, CAPABLE, CONFIDENT and SELF ASSURED.

2.Children learn to be STRONG and INDEPENDENT through POSITIVE relationships

3.Children learn and develop well in ENABLING ENVIRONMENTS, in which their EXPERIENCES respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between all the adults involved

4.Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates.

I have highlighted in capitals the bits I believe the outdoors, in whatever form, can really bring something different to the party, beyond what a classroom can deliver.  As four lines, even out of context, they make a lot of sense. Who wouldn’t want their daughter or son to fit into or at least identify with those statements?

Those guiding principals sit across seven areas of learning  usually split as Prime and Specific.  The Prime: Personal, Social & Emotional Development, Communication & Language and Physical Development. The Specific areas being – Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts & Design.  Now it doesn’t take much creativity to make all of those fit into or apply to an outdoor setting! Each of these areas contains a number of statements that early years professionals use to monitor a childs progress against the expectation of their age, for example in Communication and language  somewhere between the age of 30 and 50 months, a child will begin to:

-Listens to others one to one or in small groups, when
conversation interests them.
-Listens to stories with increasing attention and recall.
-Joins in with repeated refrains and anticipates key events and
phrases in rhymes and stories.
-Focusing attention – still listen or do, but can shift own
-Is able to follow directions (if not intently focused on own
choice of activity).

The Early Years Practitioner will, through casual and planned observations note down when a child consistently carries out these characteristics or behaviours.  This takes planning of course to create situations and mechanisms to initially provide the opportunity to first learn then develop and ultimately see that behavior consistently – “listens to stories…” is the obvious example. Some of that happens more naturally such as with toileting/personal care skills or the way a child eats.

This format is repeated over each specific area and age range from birth to 60 months.  It is a massive task each practitioner has with each child in their charge typically up to 10 children in a key group- theirs is not an easy job!

Here are a few more, with extracts highlighted that I believe the outdoors lends itself to. This list is not even close to being definitive.

1.Communication and language. “rich language environment” “speak and listen in a variety of situations”

2.Physical development. “develop co-ordination, control and movement” “importance of physical activity”

3.PSE. “Positive sense of self” “confidence in own abilities”

4.Literacy. Physical development – writing. “wide range of reading materials”

5.Maths. Counting, shapes, spaces and measures

6.Understanding the world. “opportunity to explore, observe and find out about people, places technology and the environment

7.Expressive arts and design. “explore and play with a wide range of materials” “variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, roleplay and DT”

Building a Zip line. Team work! making predictions, coordination, effort, following instructions, handling tools, why & how questions, turn taking, being brave, patience, maths (lengths of equipment, weight, faster or slower) and many more.

Where the outdoors and the odd adventurous activity fits in and my take on it particularly is it offers most children something new, different and outside their usual sphere of nursery and bright coloured plastic experience.  This also provides the Early Years Professional the opportunity to focus on observing entirely natural behavior as the child reacts to me and the activity, it frees up the professional to make the observation, when usually they are delivering the activity and trying to observe at the same time, which is a tall order to do both to the high standard they would wish to.  The children are involved in how that session pans out: the timing, the structure, the activity or task itself. Every session has a plan agreed in advance, but believe me every session is very different, as every child is unique and so each responds differently to the same stimulus, which then creates different reactions from me and the practitioners and teaching staff involved. It is astonishing how with one plan for each of the ten key worker groups in a nursery, all ten are unique. Even the simple act of reading a story outside in the sun or under canvass, or in a willow tunnel, perhaps having just experienced something the characters in the story have, takes on a different and deeper meaning to each child if we have just been balancing like Jess in “The Wild Woods” or helping Owl Mummy find her babies and build a nest (Owl Babies) or pitching a tent like Maisie in “Maisie Goes Camping”.  Balancing different fruits on our heads like Handa in “Handa’s Surprise”.   The list goes on.

Making bread to cook on a fire, to then eat together.

I am told after sessions that what we have achieved or created impacts on the children’s play back in nursery, there is frequently imaginative play reflecting what we have done or directly recreating it for several days and weeks afterward. Coupled with art work and drawings helping recall and further self expression (‘how did that make you feel?’) the opportunities for following up those outdoor sessions are full of potential themselves in meeting EYFS statements.

A ‘Floor book’ used to give space for children to draw what they did, or their favourite thing they saw that session along with the chance for the practitioner to write quotes down. Photos are added to begin discussion on ‘what we did last time’, the weather and so on.

What I want to achieve with every early years session is to offer a range of activity which supports the child in their development through opportunity they may otherwise not get and offers the childcare professional the chance to view their charges in a different light and perhaps gives both some different experiences to broaden horizons.

A note on being a bloke.  It helps!  In the Early Years world us chaps are thin on the ground. There is no getting away from the fact that being male in this environment is a little quirky and offers the children a very different approach and delivery to just about everything I ask of them. if nothing else it comes in a different tone!  There is no conclusion there, it just is.

some positive adult relationships, balance, managing risk, experiencing the environment, problem solving, developing agility and physicality, developing language including prepositions, verbs and adjectives and many many more…

A common question in these activities and one that every Head Teacher/Nursery Manager is keen to ask is one of risk.  I will look at risk and most importantly managing risk in a further piece to follow. Part three shall be its name….



Early Years Outdoors Pt. 1 or (Why kids should play out more…).

As previously mentioned here, I do a lot of work with younger children, ‘the littleies’ who are at varying stages on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EFYS) curriculum. I wanted to explain why I do this and what I believe the benefits are to the children involved.  It begins….

This came about quite by accident.  Whilst working for Lancashire Outdoors Education at Whitehough ( a much missed OEC)  in 2012, I got the chance to shadow the then teacher on site run a “nursery session”. In short, it was painfully obvious she didn’t really enjoy that element of her work, where as for me with a back ground in early years (in the late 90’s I worked in a school then Day Nursery) I found it fascinating and hugely enjoyable.  The reaction of the children to the space to move around in, the way they discovered things, both contrived and naturally occurring was amazing and huge amounts of fun! The giggling and laughter is definitely infectious.  So I offered to take the early years work over – and she jumped at the chance to offload it to me.

Since then I estimate having worked with several hundred three and four years old’s from,a variety of maintained, private and voluntary sector nurseries across East Lancashire, at various outdoor centres, open spaces and on their own sites (gardens!) from one off type “experiential learning” sessions to regular, progressive sessions, structured as part of that providers broader EYFS curriculum provision.

Why?  Its about as far removed from climbing or walking up a mountain but it is still huge amounts of FUN.  Secondly because I believe it is important.

We are repeatedly told by Government and the Media that children and young people are leading more and more sedentary lives and this is contributing directly to the obesity crisis we face.  As we can appreciate and some of us will now know, through our own experience or that of family members this obesity thing leads to serious health issues further along in life.  What all that means to me is that if I can help foster an enjoyment of the outdoors in children at an early age and expose those children to outside experiences, which many of them simply would not/might not get, than that can only be a good thing.  Simple.

the simple act of enjoying what stream water feels like on your skin.

Why don’t children play out more?  This I believe is largely due to the experiences and subsequent fears and prejudices of their parents. It’s difficult to not sound overly judgmental reading that! I am trying to not be judgmental- those people had their outside experiences constrained when they were children and that has gone on to shape their beliefs and values as adults. Some cultures place little value on seemingly “non-academic” activities, despite the well documented value of ‘play’.

Parents around the age of 20 to 35 right now are the children whose playing fields were sold off by successive governments in the eighties and nineties for housing (a trend which continues to this day sadly), whose sports days were “non competitive” who were penalised for playing conkers, who became adults at the birth of 24 hour media coverage and are perhaps overly fearful  or cautious of the “stranger danger” that is often put out there, despite the fact that it is reckoned that 90% of children who are abused suffer at the hands of someone they know. (NSPCC information). So if children can go home talking positively about their time outside with me and the adventures they have had, perhaps they can open their parents eyes to the possibility of what they as parents could do with their own children in the great outdoors be it garden, yard, park, woods or fell, wherever!  If those children begin to see the outdoors as a fun place to be, perhaps they will find the fresh air first before the sofa and tablet/TV or ask to go the park at the weekend.  Who knows, maybe even the parents may benefit too!

“Lets go this way” child led exploration (off the path, up the hill!)

From a health perspective, at the age of three and four children are putting the ground work in and developing their agility, balance and co-ordination – all vital in staying fit and being able to work and play throughout life.  The gross motor movements of children at this age directly contribute to developing the strength and control needed for those fine motor movements we still value in society – like writing or using cutlery.  We have barely scratched the surface on physical health but mental health also benefits from time outdoors. With studies reporting improved mood, memory, mental energy after time outside to people being prescribed “walks in the country” to help combat depression and stress, anything we as adults can do to instill a love of being outdoors in our children can only be a positive thing and be a beginning of equipping them with the tools to manage what life is going to put in front of them.

With me so far?

In the next part I will tie the “outdoors” into the EYFS and how this contributes to each child making steps of progress inline with the development outcomes for their age.