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Child Development and the great outdoors

Benefits for Early Years of Learning Outside the Classroom

It is essential that young children get frequent and regular opportunities to explore and learn in the outdoor environment and this should not be seen as an optional extra. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Curriculum, which covers children aged birth to the end of the Reception year, became statutory in September 2008 and places strong emphasis on the importance and value of daily outdoor experiences for children’s learning and development. In recent years there has been a cultural shift in our society that has reduced the access and use of outdoors for many young children. Contributory factors include increased fear amongst adults in relation to children’s safety and technological advances leading to an overwhelming prominence of more sedentary indoor activities, such as television, video and computer games. Here are some powerful arguments for taking every opportunity to take young children beyond their immediate indoor environment:-

  • Learning outside the classroom supports the development of healthy and active lifestyles by offering children opportunities for physical activity, freedom and movement, and promoting a sense of well-being.

  • Learning outside the classroom gives children contact with the natural world and offers them experiences that are unique to outdoors, such as direct contact with the weather and the seasons.

  • Playing and learning outside also helps children to understand and respect nature, the environment and the interdependence of humans, animals, plants, and life cycles.

  • Outdoor play also supports children’s problem-solving skills and nurtures their creativity, as well as providing rich opportunities for their developing imagination, inventiveness and resourcefulness.

  • Children need an outdoor environment that can provide them with space, both upwards and outwards, and places to explore, experiment, discover, be active and healthy, and to develop their physical capabilities.

  • The outdoor environment offers space and therefore is particularly important to those children who learn best through active movement. Very young children learn predominately through their sensory and physical experiences which supports brain development and the creation of neural networks.

  • For many children, playing outdoors at their early years setting may be the only opportunity they have to play safely and freely while they learn to assess risk and develop the skills to manage new situations.

  • Learning that flows seamlessly between indoors and outdoors makes the most efficient use of resources and builds on interests and enthusiasms.

  • Anyone who takes children outside regularly sees the enjoyment, and sense of wonder and excitement that is generated when children actively engage with their environment.


Text from Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

You can find, Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), here. 

Forest School and the EYFS

Forest School relates closely to the guiding principles of the government's statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.

1) Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured

Forest school offers a safe and supportive environment in which children develop physically and emotionally through co-operative activities and play. Sessions take place all year round so children can experience seasonal change and learn to be resilient in cold and wet weather. Forest School is child-lad allowing children to build confidence by informing decisions and trying new things.


2) Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships

Games, practical tasks and sensory activities help children develop personally and socially. Self-confidence and communication skills increase as children work with and look out for others. Children often initiate ideas about how the woodland space can be transformed and invite others to join in.


3) Children learn and develop well in enabling environments

Being in the woods helps children to understand the world they live in, whether it's the natural world around them or heir relationships with others. The woodland environment provides opportunities to be near others or be away from the group.


4) Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates

Forest School aims to create a positive environment where all participants feel valued. Leaders set tasks that can be achieved at a range of levels. This helps children to achieve whilst progressing at their own rate. Woodland sessions allow children to explore and experience things on their own terms and to self-motivate.

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