Why we should encourage Outdoor Learning in the Early Years

Monday, 21 June 2021  |  Hannah Fogarty

We are more than often hearing and seeing the benefits of outdoor learning in Early Years settings, so what makes taking the classroom outdoors so good for early years child development? With Outdoor Classroom Day just a few days ago, let’s take a look at the benefits of outdoor activities and a couple of outdoor learning ideas throughout this blog.

An obvious benefit of being outdoors, is just that, being outdoors! Being outside allows children to jump, shout and explore as much as they desire, as there are no space constraints. It also allows children to express themselves freely which gives a great sense of freedom, which is fantastic for child development – both mentally and physically.

Children playing and learning in an outdoor environment appear more active, absorbed, motivated and purposeful, and develop a more positive attitude to learning.
Acorn House International

Appreciation of the Environment

Learning in an outdoor environment allows children to interact with the settings around them and helps them to gain an understanding of the world we live in. They can also begin to understand and experience the different habitats and lifecycles of the magnitude of animals, bugs, insects, flowers, plants and trees that surround us. (I can remember the first time I picked up a worm from the garden, it was definitely the last)!

Encourages an Active Lifestyle

Outdoors is the perfect place to learn through movement. As advised by the NHS, pre-schoolers (aged 3-4) should spend at least 3 hours a day doing a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day, including active and outdoor play. Children who learn to play outdoors are much more likely to continue to enjoy outdoor activities such as walking, running and cycling as they get older. When children are doing these activities, they are going to be having so much fun that they won’t even realise that they are exercising!

Develop Social Skills

Giving children outdoor learning experiences offers them the chance to discuss their surroundings and how they are feeling with their friends, teachers and parents. We should take the opportunity to discuss feelings between students, friends and teachers at any given chance. Children can also develop their communication skills during team-building activities with their peers. Sometimes being indoors can feel overcrowded to some children and naturally this can make them feel intimidated. Being outdoors can help children to come ‘out of their shells’.

Understanding Risks

Being outdoors will provide more opportunities to experience risk taking. Children will have the chance to take part in activities on a much bigger scale than inside the classroom. They can learn to make calculated decisions like ‘can I climb this tree?’, ‘should I jump off of this log?’ or ‘should I stand in this puddle?’. Risk taking can help to develop a child’s self-confidence, resilience, executive functioning abilities and even risk management skills.

Encourage Independence

Being outdoors will offer a whole new sense of space and freedom to children. It gives them the chance to make new and exciting discoveries by themselves. (I can remember being allowed outside to dig holes, I always aimed for the freshly planted flower beds). It is important to encourage independence in children because it promotes confidence, self-esteem as well as motivation and perseverance.

Outdoor Learning Ideas and Resources:

Den Building:

Den building sparks creativity and imagination in children. It is an activity that brings exciting opportunities for children to think outside of the box, it is also great for physical development, team building and improving communication skills.

A den can be built from pretty much anything and it can be wherever you would like it to be. A few chairs and an old bedsheet definitely do the trick! But if you are looking for a physical product to use during den building activities, why not use something like a set of XL Polydron or Constructa Den? Using resources like this, add in a whole new dimension to den building. There is the opportunity for colour recognition, shape recognition and the development of fine motor skills.

XL Polydron Natural Colours Set 3Educational Advantage Constructa Den

Mark Making:

Mark making is a term used for the creation of different patterns, lines, textures and shapes. This may be on a piece of paper, on the floor, outside in the garden or on an object or surface

Exploring the environment increases our understanding of the world. The natural world provides inspiration for mark-making activities such as bark-rubbing, flower and leaf pressing, using sticks, collecting rocks and constructing creations using fir cones and seed pods.

Physical Development:

Exercise and physical activities promote healthy growth and development. Outdoor PE lessons and play sessions will help to build a healthier body composition, stronger bones and muscles and it also improves children’s cardiovascular fitness. Here are some more key benefits of outdoor physical activity for children in the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage – UK Curriculum):

  • Builds confidence and improves social skills
  • Gives children the opportunity to learn new skills and teaches them important life skills
  • Strengthens muscles and bones
  • Helps to develop coordination
  • Enhances concentration and learning, which increases productivity and success
  • Makes children feel good and elevates their mood
  • Inspires positivity and encourages tolerance
  • Helps to relieve stress and maintain mental and emotional wellbeing
  • Improves sleep and energy levels
  • Reduces the risk of morbidity and mortality from chronic non-communicable diseases
  • Improves overall health and fitness and helps children maintain a healthy weight to prevent childhood obesity

References:

www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/features/risky-play-for-children-why-we-should-let-kids-go-outside-and-then-get-out
www.acornhouse.school/2019/04/06/the-importance-of-outdoor-exploratory-play-in-early-years/
www.schoolhouse-daycare.co.uk/blog/why-you-should-encourage-independence/
www.pacey.org.uk/mark-making/
www.earlyyearsresources.co.uk/blog/2018/04/childrens-physical-activity-benefits/
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