During my career I have embraced learning through nature in my own nurseries and when I worked with children with SEND.  Now I guess I am drawn to EYFS ‘outdoor ‘provision on Social Media and encourage through comments or ‘likes’.  For this reason, I had this phone call.

To the Health and Safety Executives – Let’s risk assess the danger of NOT having access to outdoors, rather than the risk that might be presented to be overcome by children and supportive adults.  Risks such as, the continual destruction of our natural environment, children in cotton wool who rely on a screen for their thrills, high levels of mental health and other health-related issues relating to humans becoming more and more rounded, not in their ability, but in being overweight and sick!

This is SO wrong on SO many levels and I would like to support the setting.  The early years’ community must come together to send a message to the council concerned and to others before another good outdoor provision is closed by those that know no better.  It would be lovely if this provider could get up and go again.  Other providers need to be pre-warned to ensure they are not placed in the same predicament.  So, if appropriate, please share and comment on this post.

EMPATHY

I know what it is like to close a nursery.  The heart and soul, toil, heartache and determination to then, have it lost, is like having your insides pulled out of you.  It is like a break up of a relationship that spills out and effects all the others involved too.  Furthermore, it breaks children’s learning as they have to settle somewhere else.   It is sad, that many settings we have worked with through spark software have closed because they have not made ends meet.  This scenario astonished me as you can tell from my reaction.  I also don’t DO face to camera videos.  Do note, there’s no make-up and messy hair.  I just felt I had to say it how it was straight after the call; to offload.

OUTSIDE FOR ME

I remember being sent out ‘to work’ as both my parents owned a farm and spent all day outside.  There were battles over the layers of clothes we had to wear to try to keep us warm.  We had plastic bags over our feet and hands when there was snow to keep them dry.  These kept on with thick elastic bands.  As we grew older we were very much left to find our own amusement.  A parent would shout when it was mealtimes and my Granny (who had her own house on the farm) would ring a large bell.

I can remember trying to catch sparrows and pigeons using corn, a stick tied to a piece of string that propped up against a box for the bird to be trapped under.  There were some liquorice-type bits in the cow’s food I used to search for and eat.  Those cows were my first pupils.  I sat up there, in the hay feeder, to take the register and to teach them songs.

I built houses from hay and straw bales (not easy to move as a child).  Also others from ‘broccoli boxes’ which were for cauliflowers.  I did have a problem distinguishing cauliflower from broccoli for a while!  I found an unused loft, in what had become a disused cowshed.  We found a ladder, propped it on a plank that laid across the rounded cow stalls and got in.  Concrete floor beneath!  We spent many hours playing in that loft.  It had bunk beds, a kitchen, dining room … the lot.

‘HOUSES’ have become a theme in my adulthood.  I have acquired and designed buildings for nurseries.  Re-configurated and redesigned to fit everything to make the best use of space, I consider this to be one of my skills.  I even have a house on wheels that has everything in it!  To build a house from scratch is a desire and will probably be my last ‘house’ project.

MORE FASCINATIONS …

Another adventure was to (try) and sell orange squash to farm workers – a bit of entrepreneurial spirit there I think.  Good thinking on harvest days but unfortunate that they all brought their flasks!  Another entrepreneurial venture was to build a zoo.  In a chicken HOUSE of course.  All sorts of mini-beasts were collected – each in its own HOUSE.  When visiting the cattle getting fat, at ‘the marshes’, I would come home with jars of water creatures after a day of playing beside dykes full of mosquito larvae.

I kept snails in a pink baby’s bath by our back door.  Later when others took theirs to school, I too had a mouse in my bike saddlebag.  Eventually, when found out, it had its own cage in our outside toilet.  Just think about it, a farmer’s daughter with a pet mouse!  My father was an avid gardener when he found the odd weekend when he could.  Polyanthus seemed to be his favourite at this time.  I was given a plot around a small apple tree to tender.  The garden had gooseberries and blackcurrants.  I can remember collecting these with Granny.  Another collection was climbing over and under barbed wire and electric fences to collect chicken eggs.

At eleven, I went to boarding school.  Along with me, I took a biscuit tin full of woodlice, with holes in the lid, of course.  I can still see that blue tin now and pleased to say with this, I was never found out!  There were large grassy grounds at the school, and I remember listening to the cuckoo and staring at the clouds during break times.  I also remember, stealing rhubarb from the area that was ‘out of bounds’.  Who knows why.  When rhubarb was in season, we didn’t really need it raw too, as it was on the menu four days in five.

AS A CONSEQUENCE …

Anyway, I savour my childhood in this respect.  I am a nature lover and gather that ‘phew’ (sighing to self) feeling when sitting in my camper van by a ploughed field or walking the dog.  I understand the country code and have a good knowledge of insects, wild plants and trees, which was not taught by an educator or textbook but through my own need to know.

THE THEORY (BRIEFLY) AS I UNDERSTAND IT

Millions of years ago the human race always played outside.  It is where our brains feel at ease and when at ease, the brain has the right conditions to learn.  The best classroom is outside.  To bring the outside inside, with demure decoration, big plants, water features and nature sounds playing in the background is a good way to go.  It relaxes everyone.  A relaxed brain is a learning brain.

Outside children learn about risk (risky play).  More importantly, how they can keep themselves and others safe.  To do their own risk-assessment and make an independent decision.  The less-clean environment is good for building immunity.  It is thought the increase in allergies is to an increase in the time spent ‘indoor living’.

AND TO ‘GET IT RIGHT’ FOR THE CHILDREN

Outside, children are less confined.  They not only learn about the natural world but hopefully, how important it is to respect and preserve it.  Feeding birds, CCTV nestboxes, large planters for vegetables and flowers, outdoor sensory trays/boxes, herb gardens, sheds with resources for gardening and construction (hard and soft), bug pots, outdoor easels/fences, water pumps, hoses and gutters …. the list goes on.

Playwise, it is different learning on a large scale.  For example, building with milk crates rather than Lego.  There is something about building big and quick, and above one’s head!  Boisterous and noisy play is allowed.  It is physical exercise on the go.  Children can perfect skills, such as, running, jumping, skipping with space to do so.  All this supports gross motor development and healthy brains and healthy bodies.  It is a cheap resource, particularly when it is on the doorstep when funding levels lack disgracefully.

Outdoor free play supports well-being; my ‘phew‘ (sighing to self) moments.   It supports the building of self-confidence, concentration, determination, creativity and motivation.  Outside fosters working in teams to complete self-created projects, supporting social skills, communication skills and extends language beyond what is natural inside or from a screen.   I believe children have more opportunity to learn to think, through challenge and solving difficulties.  Therefore, tent ropes and puddles, are part of the enabling environment, all support achievement.