Outdoor v Indoor/Play v learning
Preschoolers need more outdoor time at child care centers is a post that says "Only 3 in 10 children had at least 60 minutes of a full child-care day outdoors for recess, as is recommended by guidelines. "
This concerns me, not only because so many children are playing so little outside... BUT mostly because outdoor play is seen as recess... For me outdoor and indoor play AND learning have equal value... one is not better than the other... both are equally vital as part of a balanced diet of play and learning... some days more out than in... some days more in than out... but everyday at least an hour of outdoor play, regardless of the weather... (unless it is extreme, and therefore harmful) I feel it is a little troubling that there is STILL this distinction between learning and play... that there is STILL this distinction between learning happening indoors and play happening outdoors... There are so many articles about the importance of outdoor play... but sometimes I feel it is becoming like a little separate movement of its own... rather than being properly integrated into the play and learning that happens in a young child's life. I remember the many dialogues about how to improve outdoor spaces at previous preschools I have worked at... and how we should value the outdoor space as a learning environment in the same way as the indoor space... and from my Swedish perspective learning and play are woven together... indoors, learning was not a sit down thing, learning was a hands on through play kind of thing... so please don't misinterpret my learning indoors and outdoors as taking sit down learning outside!! I agree that children need outdoor play... they need to learn through play. I also know that we as adults should not be hijacking their play either... we should not be controlling... but have guiding hands... we should not have a hidden agenda... but stimulating their natural curiosity...
So if we are providing stimulating environments where the children can play... they will also learn. I am also aware that my role as an educator of young children is also to inspire and to challenge them... so part of the day is activity based... one activity every day to build on their play, to build on the knowledge... either to solidify it, or to expand, or to challenge it completely...
a sample of a week's activities provided have been
Mondays... dance and movement... the children's play and development needs always being the basis of the games they played here, and the group activities we tested out... often the children took ideas from this 1-2 hour session into their own play... (sessions always lasted as long as there is interest)
Tuesdays... philosophical dialogue... we talk about what is interesting and relevant to the project... to deepen our understanding, to allow me to know how the children comprehend the project, and how I can continue to challenge and provoke their thinking... this lasts anything from 10 minutes to 60 minutes depending on the children. This session gives the chance for the children to play with ideas... and also to work out how to express opinions and learn to listen to understand others.
Wednesdays... in the atelier... creative explorations... using art materials, technology etc etc... often a time to explore ideas with our hands...
Thursdays... excursion... we travel further afield to explore the city we live in, to find parks, forests, museums etc that are connected with the project and children's play... we are then outside for a full three hours, sometimes more.
Fridays... song meeting with the whole preschool together for 30 minutes, then outdoor play in a playspace/environment of teacher choosing...
Monday to Wednesday the children choose where we go out to play... we play 1-2 hours each morning outside. The reason why we as teachers choose Thursday and Friday is to continually provide the children with inspiration of places we can go and explore, and also to ensure that if we are travelling further afield that we are properly prepared.
The afternoons are dedicated free play... indoors and outdoors... where we as educators need to think about how the environment can enable to deepen their play... as we KNOW that learning happens within play... but if we are not aware of the play then we can not challenge it, provoke it, enrich it... however you like to phrase it. The children are not sorted by age in the afternoons, but are free to explore play across the ages... the WHOLE preschool is available to them
HAVING an outdoor space of your own is not essential...although "having" an outdoor space might have its perks... something I have learned in the four years working at a setting that does not have its own outdoor space ( the problem of a city, taking over an old post-office to create a preschool)... we ARE outside everyday... we are a part of the community instead... we are in local parks, the local square, the forest, we take public transport... the city belongs to us... So its not so much about what you HAVE... but what you do with the resources at your disposal... and sometimes those are resources the city has, or the local area has, rather than what your actual setting has. Over the many years I have worked in early childhood, most have said it is impossible to take 1-2 year olds out on excursions... and yet that is what we do every day... sometimes the "excursion" is just a few meters until the children reach a puddle and their full focus is there... sometimes the destination is not important, but the getting there is/the process of the journey/walk. It means we are listening to the children's play. We have put aside our agenda, we see the learning in what the children do... and we make that visible... to the children when they need to see it/hear it... and to our colleagues so we can improve the activities/facilities to further enable the children's play... and of course to the parents. We do not view the outdoor play as a recess from the learning... neither do we see the indoor learning as a recess from play... they are all woven together... they are of equal importance... free play inside, free play outside, creative play in and out, child lead play, teacher lead play, role-play, games etc etc... all forms of play and learning occurring in both the indoor and outdoor environments... This weaving together of play and learning is the very core of Original Learning.
It is not "outdoors is better than indoors"... it is not "play OR learning"... they are all essential components of a child's healthy development.
I understand the need to talk about outdoor play... especially in countries that are not valuing it, not providing enough outdoor experience... and are obviously not making the connection of play and learning... but still seeing them as separate entities.
We need to bring it together, we need to value play AS learning... but not with an adult agenda, we need to value the outdoors as a space for play and learning of equal value as the indoor space... that play and learning happens in BOTH... not one more than the other... not one being more important that the other... but as essential ingredients in a child's learning/play diet.
It is not about making learning playful (although that can be fun) - it is about seeing play as the foundation of learning.
Below are images of play and learning... indoors and outdoors...
risky play can happen indoors too... sawing to create robots... or cutting vegetables to make lunch... or jumping of step ladders with pillows piled high under... risky play is NOT just an outdoor thing
exploring weather is definitely much easier outside than inside... and needs to be played in
water play... indoors and outdoors... and always so much learning going on with the play... from science, to weight and volume, to social learning of collaboration and problem solving...
learning about plants and nature is easier outside... especially how big nature can be
discovering wildlife... both inside and outside
seasons can be explored easily outside... but nature can also be taken indoors to explore and play with... I have experienced a wonderful play where leaves are strewn around the room with two year olds indoors...
sensory play indoors and outdoors... In Sweden the long cold winter means some sensory play is better inside, as full body painting is not an option outside then... but during the summer it is.
construction, science, testing outdoors through play
but art does not have to be full body all the time... we take the atelier outside as often as we can... windy days can be a bit more of a challenge...
some activities are best indoors... as we just need the electricity to make the glue guns work... but I guess with a little determination, even this could be done outside!!! Playing with the dark... of course this is something we could do outside as well... but living in the city means there are so many street lights that reall dark dark is hard to find... despite there being little daylight hours during the winter!
this was an indoor experiment... letting go of a balloon to see where it would land... the children predicted all the balloons would land in the same place... we replicated the experiment outside... and there the balloon moved differently... because of the wind.
outdoor play offers great opportunities for gross motor skill collaboration... but the outdoors is not the only space for collaboration
nature can be taken inside to play with in new ways... and plenty of problem solving, maths, collaboration, creativity etc going on too!
play sometimes is just play... and the learning is not always obvious... its an experience... play can allow children to be filled with wonder, with joy, with security... and is valuable JUST for that... for without joy, wonder and security there can be no learning... so really just is not the right word...