Call us : +44 (0) 1764 650030 Email us : enquiries@mindstretchers.co.uk

Our Blog

 

  • Shared Visions and Values for Outdoor Play in the Early Years

    The vision for all young children is as follows: All children have the right to experience and enjoy the essential and special nature of being outdoors form a very young age.  Young children thrive and their minds and bodies develop best when they have free access to stimulating outdoor environments for learning through play and real experiences.  Knowledgeable and enthusiastic adults are crucial to unlocking the potential of outdoors.  We believe it is essential to underpin the Vision and, in particular, the Values with a rationale for how this thinking came out, and more detailed information on what each Value means in reality. The additional details set out below reflect the thinking that took place and was recorded in the group sessions at the Vision and Values day: 1. Young children should be outdoors as much as indoors and need a well-designed, well-organised, integrated indoor-outdoor environment, preferably with indoors and outdoors available simultaneously. Outdoor provision is an essential part of the child’s daily environment and life, not an option or an extra.  Each half of the indoor-outdoor environment offers significantly different, but complementary, experiences and ways of being to young children.  They should be available simultaneously and be experienced in a joined-up way, with each being given equal status and attention for their contribution to young children’s well-being, health, stimulation and all areas of development. Outdoor space must be considered a necessary part of an early years environment, be well thought through and well organised to maximise its value and usability by children and adults, and design and planning must support developmentally appropriate practice, being driven by children’s interests and needs. 2. Play is the most important activity for young children outside. Play is the means through which children find stimulation, well-being and happiness, and is the means through which they grow physically, intellectually and emotionally.  Play is the most important thing for children to do outside and the most relevant way of offering learning outdoors.  The outdoor environment is very well suited to meeting children’s needs for all types of play, building upon first-hand experiences. 3. Outdoor provision can, and must, offer young children experiences which have a lot of meaning to them and are led by the child. Because of the freedom the outdoors offers to move on a large scale, to be active, noisy and messy and to use all their senses with their whole body, young children engage in the way they most need to explore, make sense of life and express their feeling and ideas.  Many young children relate much more strongly to learning offered outdoors rather than indoors. All areas of learning must be offered through a wide range of holistic experiences, both active and calm, which make the most of what the outdoors has to offer. Outdoor provision needs to be organised so that children are stimulated, and able, to follow their own interests and needs through play-based activity, giving them independence, self-organisation, participation and empowerment.  The adult role is crucial in achieving this effectively. 4. Young children need all the adults around them to understand why outdoor play provision is essential for them, and adults who are committed and able to make its potential available to them. Young children need practitioners who value and enjoy the outdoors themselves, see the potential and consequences it has for young children’s well-being and development, and want to be outside with them.  Attitude, understanding, commitment and positive thinking are important, as well as the skills to make the best use of what the outdoors has to offer and to effectively support child-led learning; the adult role outdoors must be as deeply considered as that indoors.  Practitioners must be able to recognise, capture and share children’s learning outdoors with parents and other people working with the child, so that they too become enthused.  Cultural differences in attitude to the outdoors need to be understood and worked with sensitively to reach the best outcomes for children. 5. The outdoor space and curriculum must harness the special nature of the outdoors, to offer children what the indoors cannot.  This should be the focus for outdoor provision, complementing and extending provision indoors. The outdoors offers young children essential experiences vital to their well-being, health and development in all areas.  Children who miss these experiences are significantly deprived. Outdoors, children can have the freedom to explore different ways of ‘being’, feeling, behaving and interacting; they have space -physical (up as well as sideways), mental and emotional; they have room and permission to be active, interactive, messy, noisy and work on a large scale; they may feel less controlled by adults. The real contact with the elements, seasons and the natural world, the range of perspectives, sensations and environments – multi-dimensional and multi-sensory, and the daily change, uncertainty, surprise and excitement all contribute to the desire young children have to be outside.  It cannot be the same indoors, a child cannot be the same indoors – outdoors is a vital, special and deeply engaging place for young children. 6. Outdoors should be a dynamic, flexible and versatile place where children can choose, create, change and be in charge of their play environment. Outdoor provision can, and should, offer young children an endlessly versatile, changeable and responsive environment for all types of play where they can manipulate, create, control and modify.  This offers a huge sense of freedom, which is not readily available indoors.  It also underpins the development of creativity and the dispositions for learning.  The space itself as well as resources, layout, planning and routines all need to be versatile, open-ended and flexible to maximise their value to the child. 7. Young children must have a rich outdoor environment full of irresistible stimuli, contexts for play, exploration and talk, plenty of real experiences and contact with the natural world and with the community. Through outdoor play, young children can learn the skills of social interaction and friendship, care for living things and their environment, be curious and fascinated, experience awe, wonder and joy and become ‘lost in the experience’.  They can satisfy their deep urge to explore, experiment and understand and become aware of their community and locality, thus developing a sense of connection to the physical, natural and human world. A particular strength of outdoor provision is that it offers children many opportunities to experience the real world, have first-hand experiences, do real tasks and do what adults do, including being involved in the care of the outdoor space.  Settings should make the most of this aspect, with connected play opportunities. An aesthetic awareness of and emotional link to the non-constructed or controlled, multi-sensory and multi-dimensional natural world is a crucial component of human well-being, and increasingly absent in young children’s lives.  The richness of cultural diversity is an important part of our everyday world; this can and should be explored by children through outdoor experiences.  Giving children a sense of belonging to something bigger than the immediate family or setting lays foundations for living as a community. 8. Young children should have long periods of time outside.  They need to know that they can be outside every day, when they want to and that they can develop their ideas for play over time. High quality play outdoors, where children are deeply involved, only emerges when they know they are not hurried.  They need to have time to develop their use of spaces and resources and uninterrupted time to develop their play ideas, or to construct a place and then play in it or to get into problem-solving on a big scale.  They need to be able to return to projects again and again until ‘finished’ with them. Slow learning is good learning, giving time for assimilation.  When children can move between indoors and outside, their play or explorations develop further still.  Young children also need time (and places) to daydream, look on or simply relax outside.  9. Young children need challenge and risk within a framework of security and safety.  The outdoor environment lends itself to offering challenge, helping children learn how to be safe and to be aware of others. Children are seriously disadvantaged if they do not learn how to approach and manage physical and emotional risk.  They can become either timid or reckless, or be unable to cope with consequences.  Young children need to be able to set and meet their own challenges, become aware of their limits and push their abilities (at their own pace), be prepared to make mistakes, and experience the pleasure of feeling capable and competent.  Challenge and its associated risk are vital for this.  Young children also need to learn how to recognise and manage risk as life-skills, so as to become able to act safely, for themselves and others. Safety of young children outdoors is paramount and a culture of ‘risk assessment to enable’ that permeates every aspect of outdoor provision is vital for all settings.  Young children also need to feel secure, nurtured and valued outdoors.  This includes clear behavioural boundaries (using rules to enable freedom), nurturing places and times outside and respect for how individual children prefer to play and learn. 10. Outdoor provision must support inclusion and meet the needs of individuals, offering a diverse range of play-based experiences.  Young children should participate in decisions and actions affecting their outdoor play. Provision for learning outdoors is responsive to the needs of very active learners, those who need sensory or language stimulation and those who need space away from others – it makes provision more inclusive and is a vital learning environment.  When children’s learning styles are valued, their self-image benefits.  Boys, who tend to use active learning modes more than girls and until they are older, are particularly disadvantaged by limited outdoor play. All children need full access to provision outdoors and it is important to know and meet the needs and interests of each child as an individual.  Young children react differently to the spaces and experiences available or created so awareness and flexibility are key to the adult role.  Observation and assessment (formative and summative), and intervention for particular support, must be carried out outside.  While it is important to ensure the safety of all children, it is equally important to ensure all are sufficiently challenged. Young children should take an active part in decisions and actions for outdoor provision, big and small.  Their perspectives and views are critical and must be sought, and they can take an active role in setting up, clearing away and caring for the outdoor space.

  • Is one hour a week outside really enough for under 5's?

    Is one hour a week outside enough for our under 5’s? Jenny McAllister's thoughts on the Scottish Government's Blueprint to 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland. With the Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing hours of funded childcare in Scotland, attention is now on how this will look in practice with a focus on flexibility, affordability, accessibility and without a doubt the most important aspect: quality of provision. Quality must not be sacrificed for quantity. What does Quality look like? A question I often ask practitioners is ‘What does quality look like?’ As a nature pedagogue the key things for me would be a good length of time and space outdoors and opportunities to learn with nature indoors, outdoors and beyond supported by open, respectful adults.  The abundance of research and related evidence highlighting the benefits of outdoor learning and connections with nature for all children is irrefutable. Within Scotland this is recognised on the whole and ‘outdoor learning’ is embedded in national guidance available to support practitioner’s e.g My World Outdoors (Care Inspectorate 2015) Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning and Building the Ambition (2014).  As I travel around the country visiting a range of settings it delights me when I see children being provided with nature based high quality learning opportunities indoors, outdoors and beyond into their communities but this is variable across the country from setting to setting. How do we ensure equity so that all children have these opportunities? How much time is enough time? The Blueprint for 2020 Action Plan (Scottish Government Mar 2017) states that “We will build on the commitment to a minimum of one hour per week outdoors by encouraging all providers to have access to a stimulating outdoor play area for children”. With an increase to 30 hours per week funded childcare, this would equate to a maximum of 29 hours a week indoors. Looking at it from a rights based point of view, prisoners in the UK have the right to spend between 30 minutes and an hour outside in the open air each day. I would suggest that we need to do more than this for our children in childcare with the addition of nature based experiences indoors. The Shared Vision and Values for Outdoor Play in the Early Years (The Vision & Values Partnership, 2004) of which our very own Claire Warden. States that “Young children should be outdoors as much as indoors and need a well designed, well-organised, integrated indoor-outdoor environment, preferably with indoors and outdoors available simultaneously.” “Young children should have long periods of time outside. They need to know that they can be outside every day, when they want to and that they can develop their ideas for play over time. High quality play outdoors, where children are deeply involved, only emerges when they know they are not hurried. They need to have time to develop their use of spaces and resources and uninterrupted time to develop their play ideas, or to construct a place and then play in it, or to get into problem-solving on a big scale. They need to be able to return to projects again and again until ‘finished’ with them. Slow learning is good learning, giving time for assimilation. When children can move between indoors and outside, their play or explorations develop further still. Young children also need time (and places) to daydream, look on or simply relax outside.”  My question would be can this be achieved in less than an hour?  (Assuming the hour outside is broken up over a week.)  

  • Why I love Forest School

      Our senior trainer Kate Hookham tells us why she loves Forest School in an interview with Steven. Kate is what you would describe as an outdoors person. She loves nothing more using outdoor adventures and explorations to create valuable learning opportunities. From running around with the children at Auchlone to maintaining the tools and grounds at our center for excellence, getting Kate to sit down with you for an interview can be quite the task. With our upcoming Forest School courses I wanted to speak with Kate about why she is passionate about the methodology. *Please note that this interview is just one person's experiences of forest school in the UK and does not constitute a specific definition of forest school, and nor is it the only way that forest school training can be run.    SW: So Kate, lets talk about one of your passions - Forest School. Can you give us a quick description of what Forest School actually is? KH: No! [She laughs] Of course I can. Forest School is an approach developed by group of students and their lecturers from Bridgewater College in England after they visited Scandinavia in 1993. They were amazed by the learning methods used and so developed what they saw into a 3 level course in 1995.  Forest school, in essence, is when a trained practitioner takes a group of children to a woodland space to learn. The duration is often one afternoon a week for a period of 6 weeks. It is usually associated with bush craft and the construction of a shelter and the use of knots, tools and fire but this is not essential. Forest School Level 2 allows you to become an assistant forest school leader, whereas Forest School Level 3 allows you to become a forest school leader. SW: What is the difference between Forest School and other Outdoor Learning methodologies? KH: Forest school is certified or can be a qualification depending on which agency you undertaken your training with and which country you reside in. Forest School is often bush craft focused and for a 6 week block. Outdoor learning on the other hand is an ethos. The Forest School approach could be part of your approach to outdoor learning. It is one of many different and viable methodologies. Equally you could follow the Journeys into Nature approach using the elements to explore outdoor learning and teach STEAM, or even schematic outdoor learning. Infographic about outdoor learning created from the England Natural Connections Project 2016 SW: It's a bit of a silly question, but do you have to actually have a nearby forest to take part in Forest School training? KH: No question is a silly question! You don't necessarily have to have woodland to use as it's the methodology that's important. We use the wood around Auchlone and have found it to provide children with many different learning opportunities, however not all settings have access to such a space. You can use any type of outdoor area from beaches to forests and even your own outdoor area. So long as there are sufficient outdoor resources and you are following the methodology go for it. SW: So how does the forest school methodology actually benefit children? KH: It builds up their confidence to survive and thrive in an outdoor environment. We use aspects of forest school at Auchlone and you can see how quickly children build their confidence and skills. At first, some of them can be hesitant but after a few weeks they all love it. They learn how and when to undertake Benefit Risk Assessments, how to use tools, and hit all their basic physiological needs: keeping warm, dry, having enough to eat, drink and use nature as a learning tool. SW: It definitely benefits children then, but how does it help educators and their settings? KH: A lot of educators that we work with find the idea of taking children outdoors quite intimidating, especially if it involves taking them into the beyond and remote locations. Completing forest school training can give them confidence to take children outside to learn and play. It will even help the educator boost their own skills and learn how to step outside of their comfort zone by taking risks. It of course looks good on your Curriculum Vitae and the outdoor paediatrics first aid course is something, in my opinion, all staff who take children outside should have. Settings should also be aware that while forest school is fantastic, it's not the only outdoor learning ethos out there. Settings should consider what it is they need and go for what will work best for their staff, location and resources.  Photograph: leaves on a Talkaround Mat after Auchlone Nature Kindergarten's leaf hunt SW: What is your favourite thing about Forest School? KH: I am a bit of a bush craft geek and so I love learning new crafts, knots and things to cook on the fire. I love taking these new ideas to the children at Auchlone and at our holiday camps and experimenting and playing with them. For instance, at our October Camp last year I brought in some jellyfish and tried to make some jellyfish burgers with the children. They did turn out more like risotto and I don't think the office staff were too happy when I forced them to try it [she laughs]. The children absolutely loved it though and wanted to learn more about fish which is the whole point. I also really enjoy tool care and maintanence - as any of my colleagues will tell you, I am quite fussy about our tools! SW: What would be your top forest school tips to an educator? KH: Be prepared! Always have your kit ready and frequently check it to make sure it's in good condition. Make sure you go with the interests of the children and the weather for that day. And don't be afraid to try new things - I am constantly looking for new ideas to share with colleagues and to try out. You can never know enough about nature and bush craft. There is always something to learn and so much online or in great books. SW: Finally, what would you say to anyone who is considering starting their Forest School training? KH: If you love the outdoors but are a little nervous about going outside it will reassure you and justify to others why you are doing it. If you're confident in the outdoors already it will still help to sharpen your skills and understandings and will give you the qualification you need to create or support a forest school setting. It's also a tonne of fun and you get to spend time with me - you should definitely do it! SW: Well thanks for your time Kate! That's all my questions over. KH: If anyone wants to know more about forest school or has any questions they're free to email me at kate@mindstretchers.co.uk. Now if you'll excuse me I can hear some wood whittlers calling my name! Mindstretchers is running Forest School Level 2 and Forest School Level 3 training in May this year. Get in touch or visit our Forest School page for more information.  Blog written by Steven Watson, interviewee Kate Hookham.  Feedback on this blog? Email steven.watson@mindstretchers.co.uk. Looking for advice about forest school training? Email kate@mindstretchers.co.uk.  Share  

  • follow us on