If You Flee Indoors At The First Sign Of Rain, You’re Doing ‘Outdoors’ Wrong
And you're not the only one doing this either
Every child at every nursery spends a large part of their day outdoors. Or at least they should do. After all, playing outdoors is key to a child’s development. It allows them to experience nature, develop physically and burn off energy! Children need the opportunity to run around and scream their heads off, and the best place for them to do that is outside. But are all nurseries enabling the most productive and healthy forms of outdoor play? Or are they negatively impacting children’s experience with poor practice and unworkable policies?
Take my nursery, for instance. The outdoor policy states, “Outdoor play is not to be regarded as a break for staff or a chance for children to let off steam.” Fair enough about staff, but why can’t children let off steam?
Management often order us to ensure all children are engaged in structured activities outdoors. There’s a place for this, but there’s nothing wrong with some unadulterated free play.
Standing around a parachute or playing ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’ is all well and good, but running around pretending to be an aeroplane or playing games of hide and seek is okay too! It’s a part of being a child, and we need to be very careful we don’t quash that desire for wild, independent play.
I’ll admit to being slightly suspicious about the reasons why some nurseries seem to want to regulate every move their charges make. In the case of my setting, I’m worried the obsession with structured activities is simply because it looks better to parents to see children stood in neat lines doing exactly as they’re told.
This isn’t to say that practitioners shouldn’t be involving themselves in outdoor play; they absolutely should be. It has frustrated me when I’ve seen staff at certain settings huddled together in a corner of the outdoor area, chatting away and paying only minimal attention to the children.
They should be getting involved in children’s play, joining in and helping them along. When I’m outside with children, I typically take part in chaotic games of football-cum-rugby, foot races and, of course, get involved in some role play. It’s a great way of getting down to children’s level and joining in with what they want to do.
Another question we have to ask ourselves is when should we be bringing children to play outside? The answer is whenever the children want to, providing we’re prepared. Most children come to nursery with coats, etc., and some settings even provide waterproof overalls and wellies. These things are there to be used. A bit of rain shouldn’t prevent us going to play outside. In fact, quite the contrary. We should be encouraging children to experience everything the elements have to offer.
Most nurseries have an ‘all weather’ policy in place, but sadly this is regularly ignored. All too often I’ve seen a group of happily playing children ushered inside the moment the first drop of rain falls from the skies. Once, the practitioner in charge explained she was taking the children inside because she didn’t want her hair to get wet! We should be putting the interests of the children before our own at all times. We might think the rain is miserable, but most children don’t.
We should also think about what kind of outdoor area we’re providing. The play area at my current setting comprises little more than a concrete square with a few toys scattered around.
I appreciate that it can be hard to transform a limited amount of space, but this to me seems unacceptable. Every outdoor area should have at least a little nature included in it. Access to grass is preferable, but if this can’t be done, flower boxes and hanging baskets are an option. Not only do these bring colour to otherwise dull and grey outdoor spaces, but they may also attract butterflies and other insects, inspiring conversations about nature and wildlife.
You can even enlist children’s help in maintaining the plants.
In the end, it’s important to remember not to take outdoor play for granted. It’s a vital part of child development and should be treated as such.
The Secret Practitioner works in a private nursery and preschool in Greater Manchester.