Outdoor spaces in ECE
The provision of outdoor spaces in early childhood education supports a range of important learning and wellbeing outcomes.
The unique characteristics and stimuli of the outdoor environment provide a wealth of opportunities for play involving open-ended interactions, spontaneity, exploration, discovery, risk-taking, and imagination. Outdoor spaces also allow children to connect with, learn about and start to take responsibility for nature and the environment.
Spending time outdoors provides a wide range of play opportunities that cannot be replicated indoors, particularly for risky play, as well as an authentic context for children to learn about the world and their place within it. In outdoor settings, children generally move more, sit less and engage in play for more sustained periods. Green spaces also have positive effects on the physical and mental health of both children and adults. Contact with nature is associated with self-regulation, and physical activity in natural settings greatly improves self-esteem and positive emotions and behaviours.
Research has identified seven characteristics that exemplify outdoor environments that best support children’s exploration, play and learning in early childhood education settings: character, context, connectivity, change, chance, clarity and challenge. Thinking about the design and set-up of outdoor spaces in ECE in terms of these factors will ensure that these spaces richly serve children’s learning and wellbeing needs.
Reflecting on resource allocation and use, time spent engaging with nature, ease of access to outdoor and natural spaces, and the role of adults in outdoor spaces can provide a rich source information about the learning potential of the environment as well as children’s interests and capacities.
- How do the physical features and characteristics of our outdoor environment influence children’s engagement in sustained, meaningful outdoor play experiences?
- How can our outdoor spaces be differentiated to serve the changing needs of children as they grow and develop?
- How can we resource our outdoor spaces to provide a wide range of opportunities for open-ended, exploratory play?
- How can we provide further opportunities for children to spend time in outdoor environments by exploring our local neighbourhood?
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