Journeying into the Outdoors:

Wednesday, 26th May saw the return of our Early Years webinars, with our focus this time on the Journey into the Outdoors. In this first of a series of articles flowing from the event, Jenny Carey, a Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Strathclyde and one of the speakers, reflects on the importance of the outdoors in the context of Early Years Education.

Jenny was joined on the day by Early Years Teachers, Ailie Rankin and Liz Kerr who gave us some insight into their experiences of implementing outdoor play and considered the benefits of this approach in practice.

We hope this short reflection whets your appetite and encourages you to join us in future events, as we continue to journey into the outdoors.

“To climb a tree is to discover a new world” (Froebel, 1782-1852), perhaps one of the most widely used quotes from an early years’ theorist. But what is it about being outside that helps us to see things from a different perspective? The outdoors is seen as an area that opens up interactions, experiences and spaces in a way that is attuned to the child’s funds and knowledge and interests (Realising the Ambition, 2020). More than that, it gives a more balanced grounding for the roles of the adult, child & environment.

What does that mean I hear you ask? In short, research tells us that the child has more opportunity to lead and direct their own interests and learning. Furthermore, adults are more open to interacting in a responsive way that does not interfere with the child’s working theories and interests. The adult adopts a more noticing role; they use their senses (eyes, ears and heart) to gather evidence to inform reflexive thinking and actions, which in turn, sensitively guides those ‘seizeable’ teachable moments. Moments that often come from provocations from the natural and real resources of the world around them (White, 2019; Waters & Maynard, 2010).

Educators and children are ‘journeying’ outdoors (Mannion et al, 2015). In doing so they are constantly negotiating and renegotiating their values, roles and rationales for practice. Past experiences and histories feed into what they attend to in this environment; how they act and interact is shaped by these factors. They bring their whole selves to the outdoors; in other words, it is an emotional, social, intellectual and physical space (Bilton, 2018). This is space that offers potential for adults and children to become partners and co-facilitators in learning, in ways that nurture and grow identity and agency for all. With the right conditions, the children can flourish and become empowered learners. Learners who have their own problems to solve and the resilience to overcome the trials and tribulations of acquiring new knowledge, skills and understandings of the world around them (Waters & Maynard, 2010).

The outdoors extends an invitation to play and situates learning as a playful act. This comes with great opportunities but also challenges us to rethink the purpose of outdoor learning as a place of learning as opposed to just a context for curricular areas. So, the outdoors can be a provocation for learning as well as a place to add relevance and depth to the concepts we teach (Realising the Ambition, 2021).

Policy and research collide with its view that the outdoors provides a real opportunity to get to know ‘our’ children. A potentiating environment that can be an affording space for both learners and learning.

I wonder if a future consideration for educators might be how we can bring some of the attributes of the outdoors, indoors?’

For further information about forthcoming events and how to book, visit the EIS website. We look forward to welcoming you in the future and to continuing our professional dialogue around the importance of Early Years Education.