Outdoor learning – Fad or Fab?

Katie Paynter Head of Pre-Prep at St Nicholas Prep tells us why outdoor learning is so important in the early years

We hear a lot about schools having outdoor learning nowadays, but not everyone embraces it as much as they probably should.  Some question it in its entirety and others say it is just a fad. As an Early Year’s practitioner for many years, I would say that it’s not just a passing gimmick. The power of outdoor learning, particularly for younger children, cannot be underestimated and in my view it is here to stay!

Nowadays, many children just don’t have as much access to the outdoors as they used to. This may be because parents are concerned about their children’s safety or it may be because children are more engaged in sedentary indoor activities.  Children’s developmental needs however haven’t changed and the outdoors continues to be vital for their well-being, health and development.

For me, outdoor learning liberates children from the constraints of indoor learning and this is reflected in the Early Years Foundation Stage framework, which emphasises the value of daily outdoor experiences in ongoing learning and development.

Outdoor learning allows children to interact with the natural world, offering them experiences that are unique to the outdoors.  For example, they can observe subtle changes that take place as one season passes into another, they can connect with the environment as well as understand and respect nature and the interdependence of humans, animals, plants, and lifecycles.

Learning outdoors also helps with children’s problem-solving skills and creativity and helps them develop their personal interests and curiosity.  Children need to grow up in an environment where there is space, places for exploration, experimentation, discovery, inquisitiveness, where they can be be active and healthy and develop their physical capabilities.  The outdoors undeniably facilitates this.

Active movement supports learning because children’s developing bodies and brains are interconnected. Before young children can speak, they express themselves non-verbally and learn predominantly through sensory and physical experiences and activities which support brain development and the formation of neural networks.  Large spaces encourage our children to improve their posture and develop gross motor skills. Not only that, but outdoor spaces also help develop fine motor skills.

Playing outdoors helps young children assess risk and develop the skills to manage and adapt to new circumstances. It helps them develop their emotional and social intelligences, as they work collaboratively with others.

Anyone who takes children outside regularly can see for themselves the enjoyment, sense of wonder and excitement that they get when they actively engage with their environment.  

The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum comprises 7 strands of learning.  Each area of learning can be supported, developed and implemented outdoors. Schools with a strong Early Years unit will be executing a considered outdoor learning programme which is embedded into daily practice.  

I fully support outdoor learning.  I’d encourage everyone to embrace it wholeheartedly, as it has significant social, emotional, physical and intellectual benefits for your child.

Katie Paynter

Head of Pre-Prep

St Nicholas Preparatory School

23 Prince’s Gate, London

SW7 1PT

0207 225 1277

www.stnicholasprep.co.uk