You might think that pre-schools have outdoor play pretty much sorted… they are outdoors a lot at their centres right?? Yes, a most are. But we are seeing growing interest in centres wanting to take their children out into the beautiful natural environments that we have around us. We think this is great news.
The Forest School model, that has grown and grown in the UK over the past decade, inspired by a Scandinavian model of outdoor-based kindergarten is really driving this change in approach here. The premise being that children who access the same outdoor, natural space with regularity, not just as a one-off excursion, can build on their personal and physical development in so many ways. As children become more familiar with the site through a series of regular visits, their confidence in their abilities to be there, to interact, to know about the place and what it contains grows. We see children who initially had to hold hands, stumble, or be less confident on an uneven, scrambling bush walk become confident walkers and climbers, wanting to run ahead to what they know is around the corner. Little rituals develop as the same skills and scenarios are revisited. Children grow in independence, being required to bring their own gear in a backpack, self regulating how many layers of clothes they need, understanding that they might need different gear for different weather. You see we go out even if it’s a bit wet – as kids actually love it! As a society we have become so disconnected from the natural world we fret that kids will get a cold by being outside in less than perfect weather, when surely we all really understand that colds are simply viruses and we can catch them perhaps even more easily from each other as we huddle indoors watching the rain! Regular time outdoors, fresh air and movement contributes vastly to our health and well-being, just so long as you are warm and comfortable. It’s really about having the right clothing.
This week we were delighted to start off a series of 5 weekly visits with a Nowra’s Lyrebird Pre-school at the stunningly gorgeous Ben’s Walk on the Shoalhaven River. This first visit the children were wonderfully excited to have been on a bus, to be carrying their backpacks, to be somewhere new… but they did settle into some great play, exploring the rocky walk and making some “wombat stew”. The real excitement for us as facilitators will be in seeing the change in these little people as they return again and again, how their play, their confidence and their relationship with this place evolves.
Amanda and I are happy to work in this way to help early childhood centres to get an outdoor program started, to guide on things like risk assessments, logistics and best approaches. Do get in touch if we can help you with your intentions to take play outside beyond the playspace.