Children outside all week? …in the middle of winter?… they might get cold or wet and, wait for it, they might even get dirty! It would be so easy to just run with that and say its too hard, lets not even try. Once you add in the perception that the parents may frown upon their children coming home wet or dirty, seriously, why would you even bother?
Why bother? because, the benefits or providing children with the opportunity to experience a nature based outdoor learning environment, and the rich, authentic and sustained learning that goes with it, far out weigh any perceived discomfort or an extra load of washing for the week. As a centre we made a conscious choice to start moving towards a more nature based programme. As a staff group planning for the year, we brainstormed ideas, concepts, learning styles and personality traits that we valued. As we stood back and looked at the wall of words we could all see how much we valued the natural enviroment, and how much we valued being able to provide a nature based learning programme that supported and encouraged our children to become engaged, resilient, confident and explorative learners. A programme that gave them the time and opportunity to engage in a sustained way in play that was self directed. A programme that allowed us to join them in discovering our amazing world and how and where we fit into that, provided time for them to explore their interests and follow their dreams. We are passionate about giving them the time and space to do this. We are right there with them, learning, laughing, being a little crazy, getting dirty and having loads of fun.
We often comment to parents that you can see how much fun they have had during the day by how dirty they (and often we!) end up.
Honestly, it really is worth the effort to share with families the amazing benefits of children being able to be totally involved in the programme. Its essential to have families on board.
I’m sure we can all think of a child who has been hesitant to join in the programme for fear of getting paint on their clothes, or dirt on their hands. These are generally not things children would even think about, they are fears that are thrust upon them by loving, well meaning parents trying to do the best for their children. We do live in a society that is somewhat germ phobic. There is money in making us think we need to have nice clean clothes all day every day, and having us believe that being exposed to any dirt or germ is a bad thing.
There is also money in having us believe that to raise happy well rounded successful children we must to provide them with an ever changing plethora of commercially produced toys, and schedule every type of extra curricular activity into their lives that we can. With that type of societal view, it is not surprising that we need to encourage parents, and many other adults that play a significant part in raising and educating our children, to look further into the immense benefits of taking our children back to basics, back to remembering what the foundations of play are all about, and in many cases simply providing the environment, and most importantly significant blocks of time for children to become deeply engaged in their play, free from the concerns of getting a little wet or dirty.
After spending week 5 outdoors with a group of four year olds in somewhat challenging conditions – think cold, drizzle, heavy downpours, some light hail, and lots of mud, I can honestly say that not one child ever asked to go inside. Some of the children chose to shelter from the more dramatic weather events by moving their play to the shade cloth covered sand pit area or the open veranda. That is OK, its what its all about – they assessed the way they felt for themselves, they assessed their comfort levels, they chose to be where they chose to be. They didn’t have someone constantly making those decisions for them. Generally though, the children were pretty much oblivious to the rain falling from the sky or the temperature, they were totally focused on the important job of playing.
Getting other people to share our excitement is part of the job. We encourage our parents involvement in the programme. We spend our days with a camera in our pockets, we take a lot of photos! We share a lot of our experiences on the imac, and in our newsletters. More recently our blog has been a wonderful way to give a much more in depth view of our kindy days. It really is about sharing our excitement. By far the best messengers to spread this to families are the children themselves. They are excited to come to kindy, especially during outdoor week. Our parents have been very encouraging and supportive. Watching their child blossom and grow as a result of being part of our first outdoor week was enough to convince those that were a little hesitant about just how valuable it is to let their children play in this type of environment. We also invited all our families to join us for a day of bush kindy in a local forest. The engagement levels of children and parents was amazing. It was wonderful to then see in the next few weeks so many of the children taking their whole families out to bushland areas, spending the rainy holiday days playing and exploring together.
Of course there are valid concerns from parents, but most of these can be addressed very easily. Keeping children dry? rubberboots, waterproof pants and a jacket. Keeping them warm? layers of clothes, scarves, beanies, and ensuring to send plenty of spare clothes just in case. Staying clean? lets be honest, they are kids, and if they are participating fully in the programme, its probably not going to happen! Send them in clothes that are suitable for play, the dirt will all come out in the wash. What if they are sick? If they are too sick to go outside, perhaps they are too sick to be at kindy, it might be a good time for a nice quiet day home snuggling with someone in front of the fire and recuperating. Not only do we share information with parents, but we spend a lot of time with the children, brainstorming in our floor books about the things we can do to keep warm and dry. Its all about knowing how to keep our bodies safe. The kids come to us with this knowledge, they know what we wear to keep warm, and how to keep ourselves safe from the sun. Sharing this as a group, is a wonderful way to help reinforce and share this communal knowledge. It helps the children to become responsible for keeping themselves happy and safe.
I guess this quote really sums it up “if its important enough you will find a way, if its not you will find an excuse” We believe that providing our children with a play based programme, which truly values spending as much time as possible in a natural outdoor environment is really important.
Written by Nic
PS…..please take the time to leave a comment on this post (especially our lovely kindy families and community) We would love to use this post to record and share some of the feedback about what you see as the benifits and challenges of our outdoor programme.
Early Years Learning Framework
Outcome 1- Children have a strong sense of identity
Principle 1– Children feel safe, secure and supported
Principle 2– Children develop their emerging autonomy, inter dependence, resilience and sense of agency
Principle 3– Children develop knowledgeable and confident self-identities
Principle 4 – Children learn to interact in relation to others with care, empathy and respect.
Outcome 2 – Children are connected with and contribute to their world
Principle 1- Children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation.
Principle 2- Children respond to diversity with respect
Principle 3 – Children become aware of fairness
Principle 4 – Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment
Outcome 3 : Children have a strong sense of wellbeing
Principle 1– Children become strong in their social and emotional wellbeing
Principle 2– Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing
Outcome 4 – Children are confident and involved learners
Principle 1– Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination, and reflexivity.
Principle 2– Children develop a range of skills and processes such as problem solving, enquiry, experimentation, hypothesizing, researching, and investigation.
Principle 3– Children transfer and adapt what they have learned from one contest to another
Principle 4– Children resource their own learning through connecting with people, place, technologies, and natural and processed materials.
Outcome 5 – Children are effective communicators
Principle 1– Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes
Principle 2– Children engage with a range of texts and gain meaning from these texts
Principle 3– Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media
Principle 4– Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work
Principle 5- Children use information, and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking.