Family life is changing as everything gets busier,faster and more demanding. Not only is our time more precious but outside factors such as weather, safety, traffic and lack of space are all reasons to abandon the great outdoors and look for more convenient and accessible forms of entertainment for our children.
It’s unrealistic to expect our children not to be seduced by the countless apps, games and social media sites available today as technology can’t be avoided and will pay a huge part in their future. But how many of us, as parents have started to depend on hi- tech gadgets as a regular form of entertainment for our children? Choosing them over more natural and freely available resources offered to us by the Great Outdoors.
Outdoor play is a great form of exercise that is essential to a child’s development and enjoyment and is also conductive to families spending time together. Come rain or shine there are always to adventures and experiences to be had that develop children’s powers of observation, improve assessment of risk and boost their confidence as they discover and learn new things. Children need the opportunity for free play to create, develop, explore and make sense of the world in their own terms. First hand experiences make the bigger and longest lasting impact on a child’s development and learning journey.
Many Early Years settings recognise the pressures faced by parents; the demands of work, economic stress and constraints on family time and they structure their curriculum and daily activities to ensure that the priceless learning opportunity offered by outdoor play s not compromised. Forest schools offer an exciting outdoor experience to pre-school learners, providing hands on experiences with nature, physical and mental challenges, decision making situations and spontaneous active thinking scenarios. Muddy Kitchen is the ultimate hands-on activity, enabling children to access experimental tactile learning, unleashing creativity and curiosity whilst getting very messy and having lots of fun. Research shows that the more of our senses that we use during a new experience the more we are able to learn.
There is no evidence that a child who spends more time learning through formal teaching methods as opposed to learning through play – will gain greater academic achievement. In fact, research suggests the opposite. Too formal too soon can be counterproductive. In 14 of the 15 countries that scored higher than England in a major study of reading and literacy in 2006, the children did not enter school until they were 6 or 7 as opposed to our enrolment age of 4 or 5.
In short, in play there are no boundaries to learning so children explore to the very edges of their own experiences, reasoning and imagination. As long as our little investigators are surrounded by interesting things and as long as they feel secure, they will continue to investigate and learn.