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Outdoor Provision in the Early Years

In Bookshelf Early Years Practice


Recent media attention focusing on the multiple health benefits of time spent in the outdoors requires us all to ensure that our youngest children benefit from high quality outdoor provision. This, coupled with the fact that younger children are now spending longer time periods in child care settings, puts an even greater responsibility on all early years practitioners to plan and develop outdoor provision effectively.  The words ‘outdoor provision in the early years’ will conjure up many different images in people’s minds depending upon their own prior experiences of early years outdoor environments. Outdoor Provision in the Early Years, edited by Jan White, explores these ideas in detail and sets out how shared visions and values for outdoor play can make a real difference in early years settings.  


Book review written by Deborah Parker, FSF member and early years practitioner.

In 2004, a set of shared ‘Visions and Values’ for outdoor play were developed by a team of early years experts and Learning through Landscapes, the UK’s only charity specialising in outdoor learning and play in education (Vision & Values Partnership 2004). These 'Visions and Values' formed part of the Early Years Foundation Stage guidance (DCSF 2008). It would be interesting to consider how many early years settings actually use these values to help them to create high quality outdoor provision. And, how many current early years practitioners are aware of this guidance? We have a forum thread here to discuss this.

White’s book opens by encouraging practitioners to consider their own views and beliefs about the value of the outdoors environment for young children’s development. She explains how practitioners' own views will affect the outdoor provision and outdoor experiences they offer to the children in their care. She also identifies the need and importance of each early years setting having an agreed vision for their outdoor provision. 

The book is clearly laid out and each of the ten chapters is written by a knowledgeable and experienced early years expert. For example, Ros Garrick, author of Playing Outdoors in the Early Years (Garrick 2009) and Liz Magraw, an advocate of the Forest School movement. Each author uses a combination of theory, research and case studies to help to support and illustrate the importance of the shared value their chapter explores. Each chapter begins by noting the shared value it will explore and ends with a ‘Key Messages’ summary box. If the content of one chapter is not of particular significance to you, reading the key messages box would still be a quick and useful way of gaining a better understanding of that individual shared value.

Although each chapter is written by a different author, with their own unique perspectives, it is very interesting to note the recurring factors that the multiple authors identify as being essential for providing high quality outdoor provision. As the book is read and these repetitions occur, it is not the need for expensive play equipment or toys that is identified as being essential for delivering high quality outdoor provision in the early years. Instead, the importance of having enthusiastic practitioners who act as facilitators, enablers and motivators for children’s play in the outdoors is mentioned time and time again. Having practitioners who truly believe in the value of outdoor play for young children’s holistic development is essential to a settings ability to deliver high quality outdoor provision. 

How many times have you heard it said, or said yourself, how you wish you could create an ‘outstanding’ outdoor area if only you had the money needed to do so? This book clearly outlines the main contributing factors to high quality outdoor provision, none of which thankfully require settings to have large amounts of money to spend. Providing children with; long periods of time outside, open ended resources, a flexible environment that they can manipulate, decision making opportunities, the chance to return to their projects and an enthusiastic early years facilitator are infinitely more important! Ros Garrick’s chapter explores how to create a responsive outdoor environment and contains a particularly thought provoking reference to Anna Craft’s concept of ‘possibility thinking’. Encouraging a child not to ask what a resource does but instead asking them the question, ‘What can (you) do with this?’ (Craft 2002) Imagine a child finding; a cardboard box, four tubes of differing lengths and two large pieces of material. As they ask themselves the question, ‘What can I do with this?’ the play possibilities are endless!   
Although the book covers the full birth to five age range there is more of a focus on the 3-5 years, rather than the birth to 2 years age range, especially with the case studies provided. Many early years practitioners working in a school setting with 4-5 year olds will undoubtedly be under pressure to reach targets, prepare their children for next year’s phonics test and ensure their children achieve or even exceed their early learning goals. It would have been helpful for early years practitioners if the book contained examples of how high quality outdoor provision can be used to help to enhance children’s learning in all areas of learning and development. For example, considering how the outdoors could help to support a child’s literacy development by providing them with exciting, outdoor large-scale emergent writing opportunities.  

Overall, regardless of age, experience or the early years setting you work in, this book will help you understand, or maybe even just help to remind you, why the outdoors truly is a special place for early years children to play and learn together. It will hopefully inspire you to reassess your own outdoor provision and help your early years team to work towards creating your very own high quality outdoor provision, based upon the shared early years Visions and Values for outdoor play.  


White, J (ed.) (2011) Outdoor Provision in the Early Years. London: Sage

Vision & Values Partnership (2004) Early Years Vision and Values for Outdoor Play. Available as a copyright-free download at www.ltl.org.uk 

Garrick, R (2009) Playing Outdoors in the Early Years. (2nd edn) London, New York

DCSF (2008) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. London

Craft, A (2002) Creativity and Early Years Education: A Life Wide Foundation. London






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