The Emotional Environment
Before we can even begin to think about how we meet children's needs in an indoor or outdoor environment we must first pay close attention to a child's emotional environment. This is created by all the adults in a setting who ensure that it is a warm, loving, secure and accepting place to be for everyone, not just children. By empathising with children, supporting their emotions and valuing every effort made by them, children will feel confident about the environment they are in and thus be more willing to try things out. When children know that their feelings are accepted, they feel safe to express them and can be confident that adults will help them with how they are feeling. A child's capacity to learn is impeded if their emotional environment is not right. For instance if a child is told off or sees another child being told off for putting a book away in the construction box instead of in the reading corner, they are less likely to want to help tidy up the next day for fear of being reprimanded. However if that child is thanked for their willingness to help take care of their environment by tidying up, and is shown where the books are kept in a fun way, they and their peers are far more likely to want to help tidy up the next day. Some of our most powerful and memorable lessons are learned through making mistakes and therefore any setting's ethos should promote an emotional environment that encourages children and adults to try things out. Practitioners may have a focused activity that does not go so well, or may intervene in a child's learning inappropriately and it is just as important that they feel safe to make and learn from their mistakes also because by modelling good practice in this way, thinking about the ‘Unique Practitioner' and ‘Unique Parent', we can make sure this good practice naturally permeates to the ‘Unique Child' and all we do with them, securing an emotional environment in which they can thrive.
The Indoor Environment
How do you make an indoor environment feel ‘homely' enough to feel comfortable in whilst providing an environment that is suitable for learning? How well does your indoor provision meet all of the needs of all of the children in your setting, providing not only reassurance and comfort but interest, novelty and challenge? Do you encourage the children to help you plan the layout of their indoor environment and support them in helping to keep it safe and tidy? What links do you have promoting the use of your indoor and outdoor areas so that children can move freely between them? These are just a few questions the EYFS raises on card 3.3 Enabling Environments ‘The Learning Environment'. One of the very best ways to ensure that your indoor environment is the best it can possibly be for children is to visit other settings for ideas. These do not necessarily have to be similar to your own. Seeing how other practitioners arrange their indoor learning environment can often spark off great ideas for your own even if tweaks and adaptations are necessary. I used to take photos of other settings (as well as my own when ideas and arrangements were successful) whenever I was on a course if I saw a great idea so that I built up an album of ideas either to use and try out straight away or introduce as a novelty factor or work on (adapt and tweak as necessary!) and think about for future topics, projects etc. I also gleaned many ideas from photo-illustrated books or early years magazines because you can instantly see what resources you need and whether or not a particular arrangement could work in your own setting in an instant from a good photograph. Delve into some of the resources and browse the websites I recommend at the end of this article for some great ideas. The Little Book of Tuff Spot Activities for example, is fantastic because Tuff Spots (a square or octagonal shallow plastic tray usually used for mixing cement, sometimes called ‘builder's trays') are so versatile and light. Children can transport them anywhere, indoors, outside, in the garden and the low sides can contain the messiest of activities whilst allowing the children to really get stuck in. It's easy to store if you have limited indoor space (can slide behind a cupboard, under a shelf or at the side of a shed if outside) and they stack easily if you have more than one. If you want to spice up your indoor (and outdoor) learning a little this book is a worthwhile investment.
The Outdoor Environment
The EYFS states that being outdoors has a positive impact on children's sense of well-being and helps all aspects of children's development. And the statutory guidance informs us that "Providers must ensure that there is a balance of adult-led and freely-chosen or child-initiated activities, delivered through indoor and outdoor play." Therefore it is important for us to reflect on our own practice and think about these key messages of outdoor learning so that we can achieve exciting, stimulating and irresistible learning experiences for all children.
- Outdoor learning has equal value to indoor learning
- The outdoor environment has unique characteristics and features
- Outdoor learning has a positive impact on children's well-being and development
- Children need the support of attentive and engaged adults who are enthusiastic about the outdoors and understand the importance of outdoor learning
- Outdoor learning is enhanced by an environment that is richly resourced with play materials that can be adapted and used in different ways
- An approach to outdoor learning that considers experiences rather than equipment, places children at the centre of the provision
"Outdoors, children can have the freedom to explore different ways of ‘being', feeling, behaving and interacting; they have space - physical, mental and emotional. They may feel less controlled by adults and are able to learn in the way that comes naturally to them - through play." (Learning Through Landscapes)
Children need to be outside and they need the freedom that the outdoor environment brings and to experience all range of weathers, which can be achieved in just one day in England's changeable and unpredictable climate! The seasons, weather and the natural world are a joy to experience and explore, raising many questions about change. From walking through leaves that crunch crisply underfoot on a dry, sunny Autumn's day (enjoying the myriad of colours the leaves boast from various types of tree) to singing and dancing in the rain and splashing in puddles: children need these multi-sensory experiences to ensure all of those vital connections in the brain are being made. I remember the smell of mud and texture of chalk as my friends and I made mud cakes and meringue nests in an imaginary bakery in a grassy corner of the primary school playground and also the exhilarating feeling of being outside on a very windy day having felt cooped up in a centrally heated classroom. Children can be tempted and learn to take risks outdoors, in situations not available indoors. At Pen Green Children's Centre there is a notice on the door:
"A Hazard is something a child does not see.
A Risk is a challenge a child can see, and chooses to undertake or not.
Eliminating risk leads to a child's inability to assess danger."
Children can find out what effect they have on the world so naturally and easily outdoors from playing with their own shadows to dribbling/painting with water on various surfaces and also what their place is in taking care of it through gardening, litter collecting and mini-beast hunting. Goddard Blythe raises and very important point for us to consider in this quote with regard to outdoor learning;
"The most advanced level of movement is the ability to stay still, which requires entire muscle groups to work in cooperation with balance and posture. Children who are unable to sit still or pay attention need more time engaged in physical activities if they are to gain full control over involuntary movements and so develop the skills needed to control involuntary actions."
On P. 35 of the Statutory Guidance the EYFS states;
‘Wherever possible, there should be access to an outdoor play area, and this is the expected norm for providers. In provision where outdoor play space cannot be provided, outings should be planned and taken on a daily basis (unless circumstances make this inappropriate, for example unsafe weather conditions).'
Thus many providers are introducing free flow (children moving freely between indoors and outdoors) and are taking many learning activities outdoors. Every curriculum area (PSED, CLL, PSRN, KUW, PD and CD) can be taken outdoors in some way shape or form. You may need to be creative and ‘think outside of the box' but the children will help you with this, all you have to do is watch them, ask them, listen to them, play alongside them and ideas will flourish! So I challenge you, whatever the weather, try taking learning outside each and every day even if it means introducing a rota/quota system where only a proportion of children (and adults) are outside. And finally,
"Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not!"
www.worcestershire.gov.uk/forest-school or www.bishopswoodcentre.org.uk and for courses on outdoor learning firstname.lastname@example.org
For a revolutionary playground range visit www.snugplay.com
For indoor and outdoor equipment www.eibe.co.uk
For suppliers of children's clothing;
‘The Little Book of Tuff Spot Activities' published by Featherstone Education ISBN978-1-905019-72-4.
‘Outdoor Play' by Ros Bayley, Lynn Broadbent and Sally Featherstone published by Featherstone Education ISBN 978-1-906029-48-7.
‘Developing Play for the Under 3s' by Anita M. Hughes published by David Fulton Publishers ISBN 1-84312-429-7.
‘Playing Outside' by Helen Bilton published by Davud Fulton Publishers ISBN 978-1-843120674.
‘Nature Through Nature' by Claire Warden published by Mindstretchers ISBN 978-1-906116019.
Don't forget your EYFS packs and the CD ROM where there's also a wealth of information to navigate and support you!