Here's what others have done - what can you do?

Where our inspectors have identified particularly effective or innovative practice in outdoor play and learning, we have asked some care services to describe what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Their experiences, in their own words, are presented here. We believe this is an effective way of sharing good practice and can help to improve the overall quality of early learning and childcare across Scotland.

Of course we know there are many excellent care services which we have not been able to feature here, and there are many more examples in My World Outdoors.

Amber Kindergarten - Kids on trikeAmber Kindergarten - Magic moment

Children are outside every day, in the playground or in the nearby forest, which is a five-minute walk away. Here are some of the benefits for children being outside that the service identifies:

“In our experience, children benefit enormously by being outdoors – a different mood comes over the whole group and each individual child seems to instantaneously relax. The contact with natural materials and textures feeds the sensory being of the child and brings them to instinctively experiment, investigate and elaborate. The children spontaneously share their experiences, and the imagination and creativity are given free rein. Social skills and language can be greatly improved in these situations. “The learning that happens outdoors touches all areas of child development and deeply nourishes the growing child. It is interesting to see how shy and withdrawn children can gradually open up when playing outside and come to feel more confident and strong.

Amber Kindergarten - Group“An important aspect of outdoor time is the possibility to observe the changes in nature, the transformation of the elements and the interdependence of all living beings. Besides the obvious element of ‘scientific’ learning, these experiences, in my opinion, give the child a deep sense of belonging, allowing them to feel part of a wonderful, ever-changing world. Ultimately, these are the seeds of resilience.

“One such magic moment happened a few years ago on a crisp, cold, winter morning. We were walking on the road to go back to the kindergarten when the sun came out and it was warm and strong. After a while, from the roofs and from the meadow, a thin film of mist started to rise. We were singing and from our mouths, the same was happening. The children started to laugh and were excited that they could do the same and make mist, just like the Earth. And not in a million years, as a teacher, could I have hoped to teach them that; that we are all part of the world and we belong together.”

Doodlebugs - Our Chalet

“Our nursery is an Old Church Manse and we are really fortunate to have a large mature garden for our children. Last year we decided to focus on creating an outdoor learning space with what we already had. The idea came from wanting to offer something different from our existing provision in the garden, so it was a bit of an experiment in creating something that was going to get the children involved in playing with different items and ultimately creating their own play resources. It’s been a great project for staff, and it’s been wonderful to watch the children enjoy this space so much too. 

The chalet was originally an empty playhouse which, as with most unused spaces at nursery, slowly became a storage area. Our staff used their imaginations and developed this unused empty space from items that were around nursery, their homes and the garden. They brought in unused items and recycled lots of tyres, logs and other natural resources. Watching the area develop was very enjoyable for staff and watching the children enjoy the space encouraged staff to experiment with lots of different products. “Oh, look, I found this in my garage, wouldn’t it be great for the chalet!” is a typical comment.

Cost is minimal if you have a shed or area already in your outdoor space. The chalet is made from wood and we have tried to keep the majority of the resources natural or recycled: pots of moss, clay, sticks, stones, logs, leaves, shells, acorns, and so on. The children make their own resources and enjoy den-building, making bows and arrows, feeding birds, clay-making activities, hanging mobiles, bird-watching and lots and lots of inventing!

We watched a group of children make a hammock for the treehouse with bark and string. They then added a pulley so the hammock moved upstairs and downstairs. We have a tough tray full of sawdust on the floor, the children added tubes for the sawdust to be poured into. They then attached string to the tube and added a stone for weight at the other end and wow! A child made a weighing device! The children have learned so much from this natural play and it is wonderful to see them extending and taking ownership of their own environment."

St Dominics Nursery Class - Thomas Wood

“We contacted our local factor at Drummond Estate to ask about having our forest school in Thomas Wood. They were delighted to say yes – our next move was to contact the people who manage the woodland and they were very helpful in helping us to organise a three-year woodland management plan and to ensure that our working area was safe for the children to use.

The children became involved with this, supporting their knowledge and understanding of the importance of putting something back and not taking away the habitat that is a vital resource for many living creatures, as well as the importance of trees in their world. This turned them into eco warriors as they became aware of the importance of protecting the woodlands for their future and future generations, learning about sustainability. Three members of staff completed different levels of forest school training – an amazing opportunity that has enhanced the experiences of all stakeholders.

The different experiences on offer look at how the children can use the resources within the woodlands; recognising that we only use dead wood for fairy dens, dens and shelters, transient art and fires. The group understand that we would never simply cut a tree down to make a den. They recognise that if we were going to make our own tools from wood we would need to use green wood and look for a tree that was at the end of its life, or perhaps one that was not growing as it should. We would only use natural wastage – our ‘gifts’ from the woodlands – and an opportunity to clear the woodland floor to allow regrowth.

They are continually building on their skills through working co-operatively, as they grow in selfesteem and confidence. Children are empowered to realise the importance of protecting living things as they develop a sense of wonder and awe about their planet and the natural beauty that surrounds them. The empathy that has grown in the children has been a joy to observe as they become familiar with, and grow in, what could only be described as ‘immense love’ for Thomas Wood and an appreciation of what they can learn from this environment."

Cottage Family Centre Creche - Dad's Group

“It was felt that it was imperative as a family centre that The Cottage provides a space for a Dad’s Group. This idea came from dads after a comment from a dad that was dropping off his partner and child to a mother and baby group at the centre. A local health visitor who was at the time completing a dissertation on young dads as part of her master’s degree at college was then contacted for her evidence and thoughts on dad provision. The Cottage felt that this group would need to function differently from other groups as we did not think that getting them to sit around a table doing activities would be a successful way for them to bond as a group as well as feel that they were achieving anything positive that would make them want to come back week after week.

Our first group of seven dads wanted to do something that would give them both physical activity and emotional support and therefore we agreed to do the children’s garden with the support of local businesses and achieved this. One day one of the dads asked about a piece of wasteland that was directly adjacent to our children’s garden and said that would be great for growing fruit and vegetables that could be used for groups provided in the centre. After contacting the local council, we secured this land and the dads developed into a beautiful woodland area with beds for the children and parents to plant and grow. This garden also allowed families to have fun together and is used for one to one sessions with our family support service, supervised contact sessions, family fun day events as well as by our children’s support service to give children the opportunity to play, grow and explore.

Our Dads project has been ongoing since 2010 and operates four days per week. It has given the dads in the group a purpose that has benefited the community as well as allowing them to learn new skills, gain support from one another, form friendships and has given them a sense of feeling that they are part of something again. This is huge for our Dads Group as they all suffered from low self-esteem and a lack of confidence which was due to a number of reasons which included job losses, lack of being able to gain employment, addiction, poverty and mental health issues. The dads in this project have told staff that it has given them a sense of fulfilment and they have all benefited by feeling included and with a real purpose.

Staff working with the dads have noticed tremendous change within their general wellbeing and have said that the project has given them a focus and made them feel that they are able to be more involved in their children’s lives as they have a greater understanding of their needs. It has also allowed staff involved in this project to get to know them and access appropriate services such as counselling and educational opportunities.”

Aberdour Playgroup - At the Beach

My world outdoors - Group of children at beach“We have found that the imaginative games that evolve from the beach are continued on the children’s return to the playroom. The children direct their own play; they have a respected voice in their learning. One example of this was when a couple of the boys started acting out the Peter and Paul birdie rhyme as they played on the beach. They were singing the rhyme and using the space to run along the shoreline to fly away and come back. On our return to playgroup, the boys wanted to make Peter and Paul puppets. They rummaged in the junk box and raided the art table and found all
the materials they needed to make their puppets. As they were doing this one or two of the other children decided they would like to make bird puppets too. With only a little (very little) direction from the play leaders, three or four puppets were created. Then, as a whole group, they decided they would like to put on a puppet show, so they all decorated the climbing frame, sorted out their roles, put out chairs for an audience and put on a show for all the children and adults in the playroom.

"As practitioners, we just stood back, observed, admired the creativity, problem solving, choice making and confidence they all showed. As a demonstration of the curriculum in action, we need look no further. The beach provided the catalyst, the rest evolved.”

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