Outdoor Play Practice in the Early Years

I started Nature Kids not because I’m an expert on all things outdoors and kids. Far from it. The idea was conceived at the Museum for Rural Life, on the spur of the moment, but with a lot of clarity. There was this lightbulb moment that linked so many things that I feel passionate about.

Interestingly though, I’m sure that in another place and time, this idea would not have formed, simply because the need for promoting outdoor play wouldn’t have been there.

I won’t go down the route of giving anecdotes of my own childhood and how I played outdoors. There is no question that the current generation of children get less time playing out than most of their parents did. What tickled my fancy was the fact that there is  an institutionalised lack of outdoor play opportunities in the early years.

Let me elaborate a bit. My assumption of early years provision was that every child would get daily outdoor time in some shape or form. Nothing fancy. Something like letting baby sleep outside. Like playing outside. Like going for a walk. Simple stuff, just a bit of fresh air and all that, which improves the immune system and makes the child sleep better at night. I took it as understood that this would happen.

For anyone using childcare in Scotland it won’t come as a surprise that this wasn’t the case. And while I hate comparisons, I wonder if it was the German understanding of what is good for a child that caused the friction, because yes, in Germany, it is normal practice that you take your baby out every single day, and that you expect your childcare provider to do likewise.

We have used childcare providers who pride themselves in access to outdoor play. It was on my list of questions at every initial interview. I always got an enthusiastic response that yes, kids would be outside every day.

However the reality is different. It’s all about good weather in all but the obvious exception (that would be the forest kindergarten).  I provided waterproofs for every age that never came home for washing, bearing witness of the nice weather rule that seems to operate. Kids only get out in the sunshine,  never when it rains. And of course it rains a lot in Scotland.

At the nursery I was asked if there was any information missing on the daily diary. I asked for information on time spent outdoors. No follow up, in fact, the diary got scrapped. The childminder was doing reasonably well, as her flat was small and the garden big, so there was more outdoor play than the average but still far from “daily”.

And now, at the induction day to school, a school leading the way in outdoor education in Scotland, a school that dared to run the induction day outdoors, a mildly rainy day meant a transfer indoors (We turned up with a muddy and wet child straight from the woods and I felt very awkward with out muddy wellies and dirty waterproofs but at least my daughter didn’t). I have to say this was not a start that filled me with confidence.

At a previous occasion, the school tour, I asked the children if they got to play outdoors every day and the answer was that no, not if it rained. I prodded on and couldn’t get a straight answer as to what constituted “rain” because really, it rains a lot in this country and if that keeps you from going out to play, well, there won’t be much outdoor play at all.

Now you could say that it’s the parents responsibility but when I come home at 6pm and need to cook and do bedtime (and fit in homework from August), there is generally no time to spend outdoors on the days I work. It’s a rush all the way to the land of nod and for me it’s a choice between a healthy meal and outdoor play. I rely on childcare providers to offer outdoor play and surely it’s not too much to ask for considering the child spends 9 hours there?

There are so many laudable initiatives, campaigns and conferences. But the simple fact remains that we are depriving our children from daily outdoor time in the formative years. And as long as this continues and I get looked at strangely for asking if my child will be taken out more if I provide waterproofs, there is still a lot to be done for all our children.

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2 Responses to Outdoor Play Practice in the Early Years

  1. Clair says:

    My experience is very limited- to our local Nursery and Primary. My girls have been going to the local nursery for the last 5 years, I would say for the first three it was fair weathered outdoor play with very occasional rain based play. But one of the teachers has just completed her BA in Childhood Learning (or something similar) and her dissertation was around outdoor learning. She has spent a lot of time building up outdoor learning and play- the nursery fundraised to buy enough waterproof suits for a full class. I don’t know that they go outside everyday (I don’t usually do the drop of/ pick up) but the assumption is that they will go out (or have the choice, as it’s very child led) every day and only occasionally is it “rained off” (and it is proper downpour stuff – but it is okay to go out and splash in the puddles etc) so there has been a big change in the Early years area.
    In the school they have a specific focus on it- it is in their action plan from the Inspection as a way to further improve. It certainly isn’t everyday in school but I know that is a big change in culture so I don’t expect a massive change overnight. However, I have seen an increase in the amount of time they spend out doors- not just doing PE- planting/ creating an orchard, walks in the local area for topic work and a few other occasions. The biggest bit is the promotion of walking/ biking/ scooting to school and leaving the car at home!
    It’s taken a lot to change attitudes to the idea of taking the learning outside but I’ve noticed a change, if not a big one!
    Sorry for going on so long!

  2. Jennifer says:

    We must be very lucky because the nursery that I use for my two little ones (here in England) does give them a lot of outdoor time. The older children have a Forest School area, and I’ve even seen them out there in the pouring rain (wearing special rain suit things). I think that outdoor time is really important for all children, but I must admit that I’m guilty of putting it off if the weather doesn’t look great. It’s a bit difficult for me at the moment because my baby isn’t walking yet, and if I take her out in the garden she tends to try and eat the stones or compost, or else she fills up my raised beds with gravel when I’m not looking and preoccupied with the older one!

    I think it’s definitely the responsibility of the childcare provider that you are using during the day. It’s good for them too, I think it’s much easier to keep children entertained and burning off energy outside!

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