It is well documented that being outdoors, engaging with outdoor spaces and nature is beneficial to both our physical and mental wellbeing. As well as providing the back drop for physical activity, spending time outdoors has been shown to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rates.
Children's cognitive development and wellbeing.
It is in their earliest years that children establish eating and activity patterns that impact their lifestyles for life. Outdoor play and being physical have always played a part in supporting children’s cognitive development and wellbeing. Just twenty minutes outdoors is shown to have a positive effect on your mood and well-being! And despite the current coronavirus pandemic, we know that the transmission of the virus is lower outdoors.
The Early Years Foundation Stage
A growing number of early years settings around the world are starting to embrace and embed a play-based approach. Many kindergartens, nurseries and international schools are turning to the Early Year Foundation Stage (EYFS) for inspiration to inform their practice.
The EYFS states:
‘Providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis (unless circumstances make this inappropriate, for example unsafe weather conditions)’.
The great outdoors offers opportunities for learning in all seven areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage. Being outdoors also helps children build those all-important Characteristics of Effective Learning skills for life. They actively learn through first-hand experiences of the world; they play, explore and show curiosity as well as create and think critically.
Coping with the weather
Of course, there are many things to take into consideration as we plan for outdoor learning in countries across the Middle East, including the weather. This may include high temperatures, monsoon conditions, storms and the air quality index.
The summer months in hot climates can be a barrier to outdoor play. Everyone needs to carry out a risk assessment for their own bespoke settings but playing outdoors first thing on a morning when it is cooler may be an option. Canopies, sails and trees etc. can be ideal for providing some shelter and shade.
As early years settings around the world start to re-open after lockdown, there are extra considerations that need to co-exist with COVID-19 in this ‘new norm’. It is crucial that kindergartens, nurseries and international schools follow any government guidelines issued for their country as they plan when and how to re-open after their forced closures. This may include:
Along with changes to the physical environment, early years settings and schools across the world are making changes to practice, for example putting children in small groups with a consistent adult (like a nursery family). That small group of children are then allowed to share resources and learn together. Plans for re-opening also include spending more time outdoors as scientist seem to be suggesting that the transmission of the virus is lower outdoors. Each setting will have to find their own way forward, these are only suggestions.
Ideas for learning
Allowing access to fixed playground equipment might still be tricky for a while (in terms of the COVID-19 germs and cleaning) but there are lots of opportunities to learn with little or no resources:
Clouds (watch the clouds, what shapes can you see)
Bug hunts (you could provide magnifying glasses and bug hunt sheets and photograph the bugs you find)
Shadows (explore how shadows move throughout the day – make a shadow clock)
Seasons (explore the seasons, the weather, the animals and bugs)
Growing things (sun flowers, grass or cress heads)
Bark and leaf rubbings
About Sue Asquith
Sue is an Early Childhood Consultant and published author. Here is a link to Sue’s book available in paperback or Kindle format Self-Regulation Skills in Young Children or as an e-book. You can follow Sue on Twitter here and join Sue's Early Childhood Consultant Facebook group here.