Using Your Space
An outdoor setting should provide positive, fun, challenging, playful and enjoyable experiences for children which are rooted in the interactions between people and place.
Most out of school care services will have a range of ages attending. Consider outdoor play opportunities with are accessible and interesting for all ages.
Things To Think About
What interests do the children have? Can these interests be used to get the children outdoors? Is it their choice, can children take control? How do you win over the children who are reluctant to buy into the outdoors ethos? Some children just do not like going outdoors! Often, the best thing to do is to use a child’s interest to encourage them outdoors – in other words, take the things they like to do indoors outdoors:
One child… would try every excuse not to go outdoors. When inside she loved playing with the LOL toys. One of the playworkers was chatting to her and asked what she would like to do when at the outdoor site that would make it fun for her. At the entrance to the outdoor site, there is an old tree and she suggested making a fairy garden that all the fairies could live in when we are not there. She was so excited making things to take to the fairy garden, collecting resources and got many of the other children involved too. The end result was fantastic, and she couldn’t wait to get there now and check that everything was okay with the garden.
(Broxburn Family Centre)
Encouraging children to go outdoors
Some children may be unused to or unsure about going outdoors. Think about how you might overcome barriers and highlight the positive aspects of being outdoors.
Auchinairn Afterschool Care have recognised the importance of communication and getting parents/carers on board. They run an induction session for parents/carers where they emphasise the ethos and principles behind what they’re doing as well as underlining the health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor play. This gives parents/carers the chance to ask questions and also allays any potential concerns they may have around security, toileting, dark etc. By doing this at the start, it means that parents are on board from the beginning and children are less likely to be reluctant about going outside.
Technology such as phones, tablets, and game consoles has led to an increase in the amount of time children may want to spend indoors. And some children may simply have become used to staying inside, particularly if the weather is ‘bad’.
To tackle this, think about starting small. If children prefer to remain indoors, most ‘indoor’ activities can be taken outside, even digital devices. Small, initial steps can support children’s transition from indoor to outdoor activities. Often children who prefer indoor activities are unfamiliar with the outdoors so need some form of comfort to ease them into new activities. Again, involving the children in the design of the outdoor space can help get them outside. Getting children outside is step one and step two is children choosing to participate in new activities and experiences outdoors. Step one is the most important and step two will come when children themselves decide they are ready.
Fear of getting dirty
If they are used to staying inside, some children might be afraid they’ll get into trouble if they get dirty playing outside. Communication is key to overcoming this. Make sure that the aims of your setting are clear to all. Think about the information you give out to potential parents/carers:
- Is it obvious that the children will be spending time outdoors?
- Does it include photos of children playing outdoors in different weather?
- Does it show children playing with different things outdoors, for example water, mud and paint?
- Could you create a display at your setting, for both children and parents/carers, that reflects these images and highlights the play opportunities available to children?
Consider too how you might address the problem of children getting dirty. Could parents/carers supply a change of clothes for children, a set of ‘play’ clothes? Some settings have offered free washing tablets to parents to go along with their display. However, you should be mindful that a lack of time, spare clothing or washing facilities may prevent children from being able to play outside. In these cases settings may wish to provide spare clothing for outdoor play. Help parents and the school to get involved with your collection by asking for donations of clothing and waterproofs which can be used by the setting as spares.
What their friends are doing
Friendship and peer groups are hugely important to school-aged children. If asked, children usually say that the best thing about coming to a setting is playing with friends. When encouraging children to play outdoors it is important to bear in mind that peers can influence choice of activity. This is where playworkers can build relationships and use peer influence to positive effect.
One child who attended out of school care had a lot of energy and was always looking to play rough and tumble with any of the other children…but his energy and enthusiasm often led to others being hurt. Outdoors in the woods, there were no walls for him to bounce off, his boundless energy and enthusiasm became a real asset, involving other children in going exploring, playing various games in the woods, encouraging other children to try new and often challenging experiences. He would really get other children to step out of their comfort zone and try new experiences, his peers started to look up to him and seek him out to play with when they were outdoors in the woods. His fearless, let’s give it a go attitude spread to other children and helped others to conquer fears and create lifelong memories.
(Broxburn Family Centre)
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