Outdoor Play – Learning through Adventure by Marie-Louise Cadagan

10th August 2017

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We welcome to the Childcare Expo community Marie-Louise Cadagan.  Marie-Louise started as a TA in Early Years nearly 11 years ago and moved on to complete her PGCE in Primary Teaching. She has recently gone back to university to study a PG Certificate in Early Years Practice as Early Years is where Marie-Louise’s heart lies. Currently working on supply in various Early Years settings from teaching reception through to working in Preschools and day nurseries and loving every minute of it, Marie-Louise shares her opinions on the importance of outdoor learning…

As an Early Years practitioner, I am more than aware of the importance of the concept of outdoor learning. The focus for a child led approach where play should be  “freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated” (Conway 2008) enables children to move away from the “safety” of their fenced in play spaces in order to explore natural and wilder open spaces.

Research tells us of the benefits of Outdoor play and learning episodes and with this comes the opportunity for what is known as “risky play”, so why is this type of learning so important? Knight 2011 explains that opportunities for risk and adventure are essential for normal development in the early years. I know from experiences during my own practice just how important these opportunities can be. An example of this is shown in the quiet child sat in the corner of the room, not engaging with activities or the other children. The call to go outside comes and suddenly the quiet child becomes excited, motivated and involved. The need to explore the vast world around them becomes a challenge and in this moment, comes a rush of communication and language, physical development and the chance for this child to take risks allowing the “building of character and personality traits such as resilience and self-reliance” (Gill 2007).

Of course, outdoor learning episodes need to be managed correctly and the EYFS is full of directions to undertake necessary risk assessments, but surely an opportunity for children to challenge their understanding of safety and risk taking at an early age will assist in their holistic development?

An enabling environment is key, “Children need to connect to the outdoors and appreciate it, rather than just be in it” Ogilvie (2013. p 717). They need to access their natural outdoor spaces leading to all types of learning. Children can have the opportunity to explore their creativity by collecting things they have found in the outdoors, an example of this being a 3 year olds “picture” of their family made from stones, leaves and sticks. This allowed the child to communicate something special to them at a higher emotional level than words.

Play is the language used by children and in an outdoor environment this can be taken to another level. It helps them learn and make sense of the world around them but also provides an interesting insight into their thoughts and feelings which can be fascinating for us as practitioners. What do their conversations and interactions in the outdoors tell us?

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