It is generally recognised that children’s opportunities for outdoor play are much more limited today than they were say 20 years ago. Reasons for this include increasing urban development, concerns about children’s welfare, parents’ working patterns and the increase in digital technologies. This raises the question of what role ECEC and school based settings have in the provision of outdoor play environments.
Research suggests that pre-school policies and practices regarding outdoor play significantly influence children’s levels of physical activity. Reilly (2010) found that physical activity in childcare centres was typically very low while levels of sedentary behaviours were typically high. Things found to increase levels of physical activity include higher staff qualifications, excursions, square meters of space allocated to each child, vegetation and loose, unstructured materials.
You may think it obvious that more space leads to greater physical activity. However Moser and Martinsen point out that the “psychology of the space” ( ie whether it meets children’s play needs) and “opportunities for extended periods of time within the space” are just as important.
Studies have shown that public playgrounds do not match children’s interests because they do not offer the levels of challenge or risk children seek. They show it’s important to understand how children view their outdoor environment and to make them aware of any challenges and risk. “Reduction of risk is through understanding of the environment rather than adult restriction.” This perspective requires adults to see children as “competent rather than …vulnerable and in need of adult protection.”
Play is an important aspect of children’s learning processes. Do we encourage and foster children’s participation in outdoor play? Do we hear their voices? Do we truly allow them to participate in defining and engaging with play environments? As Pramling Samuelsson (2010) states, “Accepting children as equal partners also means to make play visible, since play is supposed to be a great part of the child’s world and the way into children’s social life and learning.”
The dynamics of early childhood spaces: opportunities for outdoor play? European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 18:4 437-443
Loose Parts for calm
Have a look around your service and answer the following questions:
- Is it vibrant and attractive? Would you like to play here if you were a child?
- Are the indoor and outdoor environments regularly reorganised to stimulate children’s interests and promote creativity?
- Is there something that every child loves?
- Are there quiet, restful places for children who need some time out or small group interactions?
- Are there places where children can ‘hide’ from adults (while educators still supervise)?
- Are there activities that challenge children and encourage them to take appropriate risks?
- Are there spaces for team sports and physical play (especially important for school aged care)?
- Has the environment been modified so children with additional needs feel comfortable and can participate? This does not just involve ramps and bathroom facilities but also colours, noise levels etc.
- Can children reach things/do things without always asking an adult for help?
- Are activities and furniture set up so children and adults walk around rather than through children’s play?
- Are there lots of loose part resources inside as well as outside?
- Are children encouraged to be active and get messy?
- Are there things like sticks, leaves, water, grass, sand, rocks, mud to play with?
- Are there things to climb like trees?
- Are there open ended resources that children can use to build with and engage in imaginary play?
What can you improve? Pick three issues from the above list and reflect on them from a child’s perspective. Ask your children some of these questions and see what answers you get. eg what do you love here? What do you need help to reach? Which is your favourite space? Why?