We believe it is essential to underpin the Vision and in particular, the
Values with a rationale for how this thinking came about, and more detailed
information about 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 on November 3rd 2003.
- Young children need to 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- Outdoors should be a dynamic, flexible and versatile place where
children can choose, create, change and be in charge of their play
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.
- Young children need 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. Giving children a sense of belonging to something bigger than the
immediate family or setting lays foundations for living as a community.
- Young children need 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
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.
The ‘Early Years Outdoors’ Vision and Values have been
developed by a group specially convened for the purpose. This group includes: