The value of outdoor learning

In the second of three posts, guest bloggers Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School shared another key strength of their quality practice: effective partnerships with their families and local community.

In this final post of this series, John Brotchie Nursery School showcases the value of outdoor learning for the children at their service.

John Brotchie Nursery School was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA in May 2020.

Valuing learning in the outdoors

At John Brotchie Nursery School, we created a daily program and natural environments that demonstrate our commitment to the importance of children learning outdoors. The children have big blocks of unhurried time to play and discover in their outdoor environment. Our outdoor play space has lots of natural elements that include trees, plants, rocks, dirt, sand, water, fire and animals. We encourage children to physically challenge themselves and participate in “risky play”. Our children can climb trees, move big boulders, play in the rain, get covered in dirt and regularly leave our gates to go and play in local bushlands through our Bush School program.

We have seen so many benefits for our children through our outdoor play philosophy. Physically our children become fit, strong, healthy and highly coordinated. Emotionally, we see them develop higher resilience and a greater ability to self-regulate. Socially, we see them working cooperatively and showing respect and being more empathetic to their peers. The outdoors gives us opportunities to have meaningful conversations about things that the children are experiencing, feeling and seeing.

Our children have the opportunity to develop a vocabulary that they may not otherwise acquire without these experiences. As we watch plants grow, to count seed pods and learn about natural life cycles, the science and mathematics opportunities present themselves abundantly.

The real life, outdoor learning experiences that our childrenhave every day make learning meaningful, exciting and memorable. We hear children enthusiastically sharing their day with their families, retelling their adventures, and in some cases, their misadventures. We have developed a culture and love for the outdoors. When children arrive at preschool they are ready to play outside come rain, hail or shine. Outdoor, risky, messy play is part of our culture and families expect wet, dirty clothes at the end of the day. Parents and carers pack their child’s bag with ample spare clothes and happily wash and return ready for the next adventure. We also provide clothes for the mud pit, wet weather clothes and gumboots for children and educators so everyone is prepared and able to participate in outdoor play.

Our weekly Bush School program has really developed our appreciation for the outdoors. Children and educators appreciate the many and varied opportunities we have to be outdoors. The educators feel calmer outside and also notice that the children are calmer and engaged when learning outdoors. Our regular visits outside the gate have provided so many wonderful experiences for the children that we just can’t experience inside the gate. Our days out at Bush School really give us that opportunity of unhurried time, a sense of being and an opportunity to connect with nature and each other. Think about natural spaces that you could consider taking the children at your service to; you’ll see their creativity and imagination flourish.

All the educators truly enjoy their job at John Brotchie Nursery School. We have created a space, not only for the children, but for us as educators where we feel a sense of belonging, a place where we have a voice and a sense of agency. We all feel valued and challenged to continuously improve, try new things and make changes. We are very proud of our recent Excellent rating, and we look forward to what the future holds for us as educators, our children and community.

Thank you to Rebecca and Leesa for their contribution and dedication to improving outcomes for children, and for sharing their practices and strategies with ACECQA and the education and care sector.

To find out more about the Excellent Rating, visit the ACECQA website. 

Related resources to build your understanding of outdoor play, and embracing risky play and bush and beach kinder.

Seven metres squared

In addition to promoting physical activity, engaging outdoor learning environments play a significant role in the development of children’s behavioural and social skills.

This month on We Hear You, we explore the importance of outdoor play in a world that is becoming increasingly technological and outline the requirements for outdoor environments in education and care services.

In a world where play is becoming more sedentary and screen-based, how can we maximise play and learning in the outdoor environment? In studies on children’s perspectives in the outdoor environment, the children found the outdoor environment to be a place which offers the opportunity to pretend, socialise, observe and move (Merewether, 2015). Research has also identified that some educators view the outdoor environment only as a place for gross motor activities with inherent risks (Leggett & Newman, 2017).

All centre based education and care services must provide access to unencumbered outdoor space that is at least seven square metres for each child (Regulation 108 (2)). All services, including family day care and outside school hours care, should allow children to explore and experience a natural environment (Regulation 113) that is adequately shaded (Regulation 114).

The rise in the interest in forest schools, beach, river and bush kindergartens have seen educators and children exploring outdoor learning environments, outside the realm of their service fence or family day care backyard. It’s outdoors in which children learn that many environments are fragile. Children become aware of how we can treasure and show respect for these spaces (Robertson, 2011) while also becoming socially responsible and showing respect and care for the environment in which they live and learn.

The learning frameworks reinforce the notion that engaging in play and leisure outdoors allows children to develop their emerging autonomy, independence, resilience, their understanding of the inter-dependence of living things and their sense of agency (adapted from the Early Years Learning Framework, p. 21; and the Framework for School Age Care, p. 20).

Outdoors, children move and play in different ways – there is a lot to see, hear, touch, experience, explore and even taste when playing outdoors.

The outdoor environment provides children with the ability to engage with the natural world and explore nature and concepts through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning. The possibilities for a child to learn about their world is endless while playing outdoors, as are the opportunities for educators to scaffold learning, curiosity and development.

Outdoor play promotes children’s physical and psychological development through physical activities and play experiences that are challenging, extend thinking and offer opportunities to assess and take appropriate risks. It is important for educators to undertake risk benefit analyses to understand when and what risky play can benefit children’s learning, outweighing the risk and minimising any unacceptable or unnecessary risks. Educators can scaffold school age children to consider the foreseeable risk of an activity of their choice, against the benefits of a stimulating play outdoor environment (Guide to the NQF).

In response to the growing body of research which identifies the health risks for children resulting from an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the Australian Government guidelines on physical activity provide guidance on the amount of physical activity children should be engaging in. At least seven square metres per child is more than a calculation, and providing access to the natural environment is more than being outdoors. Interesting and engaging outdoor space promises endless possibilities and opportunities for children to create their own learnings, test their theories, identify and build their capabilities, use their imaginations to construct and create and work collaboratively with others, while building a respect for and valuing of the natural environment.

A topic for the next team meeting could be to consider strategies to further enhance the learning outcomes in the outdoor environment.

References

Leggett, N. & Newman, L. (2017). ‘Challenging educators’ beliefs about play in the indoor and outdoor environment.’ Australian journal of early childhood, 42 (1), pp. 24-32.

Mereweather, J. (2015). ‘Young children’s perspectives of outdoor learning spaces: What matters?’ Australian journal of early childhood, 40(1), pp. 99-108.

Robertson, J. (2011). ‘Who needs a forest?’ Rattler, 99, pp. 10-13.