Outdoor play in Early Years

For my second week back at nursery, I was asked to spend my afternoon outdoors. This request was met by my delight at the chance to have a look into some more learning in the outdoor particularly as this is an age that I have had no experience working outdoors with.

In the nursery there are no set lessons or plans for the children and they are free to play how they want, it was a chance to see what the children would do with their outdoor free play opportunities. Due to the fact that parents in this contemporary society are trying to protect their children as best as possible, this unfortunately means that children are not getting the opportunities to “exercise their bodies or to encounter the excitement and challenges of the outdoors. As a consequence an increasing number of children have weight problems. Current figures suggest that 22.9 per cent of four- and five-year-olds are either overweight or obese” (Dowling, 2010, p.172-3).

Whilst I was outside with the other practitioner, Mrs H, we got chatting about the limitations of outdoor play in the primary setting. Mrs H and myself discussed the fact that the children whilst in nursery had the choice to play outdoors in all weather conditions and the nursery practitioners had no choice but to be outdoors as well in all conditions. The only thing the children were told on this particular day was that they had to have a jacket on to play outside. However, on the other side of a fence, life for the children in the primary school was much different. Children were running round in the cold without jackets on but the minute the slightest bit of rain came on, the children were ushered indoors for the last ten minutes of lunch break. This is very common primary schools. It is almost as if teachers are worried of children getting cold whereas from what I can remember as a child as well as from the experience I had today, children tend to want to be outside regardless of the weather conditions. It was really important for me to see the difference between the nurseries practice and the primary stage practice.

This made me reflect on the idea of learning in the outdoors and the fact that the majority of teachers, regardless of this being a vital part of the CfE, only viewing outdoor education as a one of lesson when the weather is nice.  However, as the nursery children proved to me – they do not care what the weather is like, as long as they are having fun, enjoying themselves and getting to play, they are more than happy to be outdoors in the rain. Robertson (2014) stated weather as one of the common reasons that teachers worry about before they start outdoor learning. This should not be a worry for teachers as on my Learning from Life placement with Adventure Aberdeen there was not a single session we considered cancelling due to the weather – the students were just equipped by the centre with appropriate clothing for the activity and weather. Therefore, when teachers are planning for an outdoor education lesson, they should advise parents in advance that the class will be going outdoors and that children will need the appropriate clothing for this and remind them we are in Scotland. Teachers also need a degree of flexibility when planning for learning outdoors as Robertson (2014) suggests as the weather may not allow for one activity but this does not mean the lesson should be cancelled but simply adapted to fit with the weather

With weather, I have experienced both extremes whilst at camp and whilst on placement. As already stated on placement, the children were out in all weather conditions from sunny days in the sea to snow sand sledging. However, at camp, the as soon as it rained – in a little bit – the children’s activities were changed from normal schedule to rainy day schedule. This meant that the children were kept indoors even when it was just drizzling. You could tell from the children that this was frustrating for them as they looked forward to the activities they had selected and these were often cancelled, normally these days were back to back. In my views, if Scandinavians countries can have children out in all weathers and this clearly has an impact on their children’s wellbeing and education then we should follow the lead of Adventure Aberdeen and the Scandinavian countries and try to get our children out in all weather conditions.  In contrast to the nursery and the primary setting this is two extremes on the scale although it rather remarkably shows the same point – a little bit of rain can totally hinder the joy the children are having outdoors.

Children, in my view, should, like in the nursery, have the opportunity to have their voice heard and make decisions for themselves as to whether or not during their free play time they would like to stay outdoors in any weather, as long as they have appropriate clothing for the weather on, or if they would prefer to go inside. I understand that this is not always possible as the children need to be supervised and this would be stretching the playground assistance, there could possibly be solutions, for example the children who want to play indoors go to the games hall instead of their classrooms.

Reference

Dowling, M (2010) Young Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development 3rd Edn. London: Sage Publications

Robertson, J. (2014) Dirty Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Outdoors Wales: Independent Thinking Press

First day at Nursery!

On Wednesday, as my previous blog post stated, I was off for my first day of nursery for part of my Transition Project at university. The nerves this morning were there a little bit but not as much as the night before.

The minute I walked into the school, I was greeted by a lovely receptionist at the front desk for the school which automatically made me feel more relaxed.  When I arrived at the nursery, they weren’t exactly expecting me. Which seems to be the issue whenever I arrive at a school so thankfully that never made me nervous at school. I was introduced to the staff at the nursery which was a team of 16 ladies for a nursery which can have 60 3-5 year olds and 10 2 year olds in their panda room. Although, they currently aren’t working at full capacity.

Immediately, this amount of children and the size of the nursery was a big change from the nursery I went to which was about half the size in both respects. I had not yet seen the size of the nursery but I was imagining it to be quite big. Much to my surprise, it was about half the size I expected however it did have a big outdoor space to play. Outdoor play is something I am hugely passionate about due to the positive impacts it makes on childhood; the statistics on how well the Scandinavian countries, from whom outdoor play holds a substantial part of their pedagogy for early years’ education; and because many of the fond memories I have of my childhood are from playing outdoors with my parents.

The afternoon in a nursery was very similar to an episode of “The Secret Life of Four Year Olds” from channel 4. There was a lot going on for the children to choose from but apart from at the beginning and the end of the session there was no structure to the day; it was all free play. When the children first come in, they are spilt into six groups of ten (when the nursery is a full capacity) to have a chance to speak with one of the nursery teachers* and to do the register amongst other things.

The group I was placed with for the beginning was consolidating what they had learnt yesterday from their visit from “Farmer Jill”. Firstly, I thought the fact that they had left this consolidating until today instead of the group time at the end of yesterdays session was a fantastic idea. This meant that the children could go away yesterday and think about what they had learnt , giving them time to process all of the information they had learnt before they had to summarise their knowledge. This was very similar to what I can imagine a structured lesson with a small group of Primary 1 pupils could consist of. When we began the questions on consolidating their knowledge were very closed questions such as “can you remember who came to visit yesterday?” but this meant that all of the children knew the answer but the same children were always the ones who wanted to speak which quickly became chaotic was three or four children were shouting out different things. The children’s group leader* improvised and had the children pass round one of the spaces which meant that the children all had a chance to share what they could remember from yesterday and what they enjoyed most. This first half an hour of the afternoon session was very structure and the children were sitting for a long time before they got to play. However, I can see this as beneficial for the children for when they are moving into primary school and are expected to have structured lessons all day very soon.

The rest of the afternoon was free play for the children. One of the big things I noticed was the lack of interaction with technology. There were two computers and one smartboard that the children, as far as I am aware, can use. However, the children were much more interested in doing activities such as baking, making puzzles, arts and crafts but mainly they were interested in playing games outside including tig and tag and hide and seek. To see children enjoying playing outdoors in the current age when technology is an ever growing medium and outdoor play is steadily decreasing was very encouraging to see.

One of the big things I have observed with the teachers in the nursery today, is their range of tone of voice and their excitement when talking with the children. I was always aware that this would be something I would need to work on when going into an early years setting as my ability to change of my tone of voice with ease can be rather limited. To be able to observe how the nursery teachers do it and how the convey excitement when the children are excited about something is definitely something I am paying close attention to. It was also when the children were speaking over one another in group time, the teacher was never cross or shouted at them but the way she spoke when she asked them to allow someone else to have a turn meant the children understood what they were doing was not kind to the person whose turn it was to speak. I am hoping that through observing this practice over the next 8 weeks that to be able to pick up and replicate some of their skills to be able to improve my practice for my third year placement.

Overall, I had a fantastic first day at nursery: there were many great opportunities to observe, learn, build bonds with the children and most importantly, play. I am thoroughly looking forward to going back after the October break.

 

*As I have not yet had the chance to ask permission to name the teachers in my reflections, they will currently stay anonymous.

Hi Ho Hi Ho it’s off to Nursery We Go

Before I get started, Happy World Teacher Day!

Facebook reminded me today that it was 5 years ago that I lasted stepped foot in a nursery. That was for a grand total of one afternoon and I was a 15 year old who was keeping an open mind to my career path. I must have had about 4 different careers I wanted to do after I left school at that time. Now, after that week’s work experience 5 years ago, I am in my third year of studying to become a primary teacher and I am heading back to nursery today.

I have signed up at university to take part in a research project – #UoDTransitionEY on twitter if you’d like to follow our updates –  with my tutors and 7 fellow students. The project is to get the eight students into a nursery setting for one afternoon each week, for eight weeks. The aim of the project is allow the students to develop their communicative and free play skills in an early years setting before our third year placement in the early stages of primary school (primary 1-3). The project comes with out any paper work or folio work that would come with a normal university placement and it is solely to allow us to focus on developing our skills with young children.

My skills with young children are on the limited side. I have taught swimming lessons, athletics classes and played with younger children whilst out in America at working at a summer camp. However, my main base of experience working with children tends to be with children normally over the age of around 8 years old. Therefore, this project is looking to be a fantastic opportunity for myself to gain some experience and confidence working with younger children before going to my third year placement.

However, today I am currently feeling rather nervous. It’s the first day at a new place with new staff and new pupils which always seems a little daunting. Yet one of my biggest worries (a typical girl one that is) is what to wear? This already makes me feel a little bit more at ease than I would heading off to placement on my first day as there is no paper work, no file, no questions that I can forget to ask. It’s all about play, having fun and developing my confidence today. The tweets from my tutors are definitely helping to lower the nerves and encourage the excitement!

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-08-41-55

So let’s go play!

After I pick out an outfit that is. Wish me luck.

Upstart Dundee Launch

Upstart is a campaign for a nationwide moment to push back the starting age for school in Scotland from 4 or 5 years old to 7 years old to allow time for play and for children to be a child for as long as possible.

Queue the mad panic from parents. But just wait… There are so many benefits it may be time to step out of your comfort zone and into a new adventure and here is why.

comfort zone

The lecture theatre was filled in Dundee – Brenda (the Convener of Upstart) expected around 30 people but with a keen audience of over 330 people turned out it was the biggest launch for Upstart yet.

Upstart Launch

So why would we want children to start school later?

I have already looked into this in an early blog post available here.

In Scotland, we are keen advocates of learning everything as quickly as we can and we have one of the lowest school starting ages in Scotland with only 12% of countries worldwide having their children start school at 4-5 years old where as 66% of countries have children start school at 6 years old and the remaining 22% of countries have their children start school at 7 years old. An OECD survey shows that the 22% of countries that have their children start school at 7 years old are the countries with the children who tend to do the best academically.

Those countries that start at the age of 7 years old have a play-based kindergarden for 3-7 years old but by the age of 11 years old there is no difference in reading ability and those who start school at 7 years old are in fact keener to learn to read than their peers who started school at 5 years old.

In Finland, they do the least number of hour of schooling in the developed world yet still get the best results. They start school aged 7. They play until the age of 7. They lead healthier lives physically and mentally, they live longer and they are still better academically.

If we are living longer lives as adults, which Brenda quoted could be until 120 years old for this generation, then why are we continuing to decrease the time that a child spends playing?

The idea that children should play until the age of 7 is not a new idea. Sue Palmer, the founder of the Upstart movement and a language and literacy specialist, informed us at the launch that the idea originated from the Greeks.

The benefits of play are extensive. Sue Palmer and Dr Suzanne Zeedyk stated that free play build and influences many areas of our lives: it builds resilience, problem solving skills, social and communication skills, self-regulation, a love of learning. Free play influences creativity, sensory development, emotional experiences, friendships, a child’s thinking ability, motoric development, and the quality of marriage in later life. But the problem? Free play, such as playing in a sandpit, does not look like learning and in Scotland we love to push education.

Prince George at two years old is off to “nursey school” – into school at two years old. But according to the press it is not for the Prince to have a chance to play to develop all of the skills above it is to get him “into lessons” (The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Metro). We are too quick these days to put extra pressure onto children by adding the element of schoolification to early education.

The experiences a child has clearly affects the kind of adult you are. The pressure put on children currently has a clear impact on their mental health as children and as adults. In Scotland, there is a real decline of play – due to the school starting age and the development of technology. 2 in 3 children aged between 5 and 16 years old have their own tablets and at least a quarter of children are sent to bed with their tablets. In Scotland, there is also a huge increase in mental health problems and there is a widening achievement gap. How does our First Minister plan to fix this? By putting yet MORE pressure on children and teachers by reintroducing standardise testing – they didn’t work with the old 5-14 curriculum so why are we going back to this idea? Why do we not move forward for a 21st century change? Into a new revolution. A new adventure. An adventure where play and childhood is at the forefront?

Convinced? Follow the national Upstart movement on Facebook here and on twitter @UpstartScot.

Still unsure? Have a look at some more evidence

The Right to Play – Are Scotland Doing Enough?

In 1989, the United Nations introduced the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was ratified by the United Kingdom in 1991.

In the Convention on the Rights of the Child article 31 states that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” (Unicef, No Date Given, p.9). I am interested to investigate if Scotland are doing enough in the early stages of a child’s life to allow them to engage in play. I have recently been looking at Sweden’s education system for the early years and their outlook on childhood and play. I am going to compare the two systems to see if Scotland are doing enough to allow children to play.

The first crucial difference in the two educational systems is the school starting stage. In Scotland children start school between the ages of 4 and 5 where as in Sweden children do not start school until the age of 7. In Sweden, the children however do go to preschool from a very early age – this is heavily funded by the government to support parents who are working or in education themselves – it roughly costs around £7.50 per day including food per child. The children leave preschool with no knowledge or learning of reading and writing at the age of 7 however by the age of 10 there is no difference in the league tables for reading and writing in Sweden with any other country. Parents and the Government believe that children should have the chance to play and develop before they begin school which is why they go to preschool to develop their social skills.

On the other hand, in Scotland, from as early as possible children are sent to school to learn to read and write. The government suggest they do this to allow parents to go back to work/education as early as possible. However, this means that from an early age children are taking away from the right to play and are made to begin their learning through planned lessons where as in the early years in Sweden the children have no planned lessons giving them the freedom to play and explore, particularly in the outdoors – a huge part of the Swedish Education system is based upon their push for outdoor education and play. Comparing this to Sweden and the league table results suggests immediately we are not doing enough to encourage play in the early years of childhood which is a right of the child.

However, in the Early Learning and Childcare Entitlement produced by the Scottish Government (No Date Given, No Page) it states that the Scottish Government are continually trying to improve the standard of early learning as well as its flexibility and cost for all families. Since August 2014, children, aged between 3 and 4/5 years old (for the majority of children – there are cases where it is from the age of 2 years old), in Scotland are entitled to 600 hours of free early learning and childcare. This gives children the chance for meaningful play to encourage children socialising from a young age before going to school. However, in comparison to Sweden although they have to pay for their preschool, it is a small expense as it is heavily subsidised by their government, children can attend preschool to play for a much longer period from as early as a parent wants to the age of 7. This gives the child more opportunity and time for meaningful play before entering school than there is in Scotland.

There are opportunities for play in the Scottish Education System, enough to meet the right of the child in article 31. However, I personally feel that the Scottish Government could be doing more to encourage play particularly at a young age especially in comparison to the Swedish Education System.

 

References

Scottish Government (No Date Given) Early Learning and Childcare Available at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/People/Young-People/early-years/parenting-early-learning/childcare (Accessed on 20/01/16)

Unicef (No Date Given) The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Available at: http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/Publication-pdfs/UNCRC_PRESS200910web.pdf (Accessed on 20/01/16)