A question we are often asked is what pieces of equipment should schools purchase for outdoor learning? Trim trails. climbing frames, fire pits, den building kits and outdoor classrooms are often found to be top of the list. These items can cost hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.
Whilst these things can be great and do look pretty, how much do they enhance your everyday teaching of the curriculum? How many teachers are fully comfortable in taking their class to use them regularly? We look at the arguments for and against.
Large, static pieces of equipment in the playground can encourage children to actively engage in play which enhances balancing, climbing, crawling, moving, pushing/pulling, riding, walking, and running (Cooper, 2015).
However, in contrast, it has been found the natural environment can increase the amount of physical activity compared to that of typical playground structures. Children who play in the natural environment had better motor skills than those who spent time in a traditional playground with large equipment (Trost, 2010 and Fjørtoft, 2001).
White and Stoecklin suggests a playground with plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, sand, mud, animals and insects would give rich developmentally appropriate learning environments where children would naturally want to learn and grow.
However, an environment like this doesn’t just benefit the children whilst outdoors. The benefits continue when children head inside to the classroom (Holmes, Pelegrini, & Schmidt, 2006). There are multiple studies which show that just 20 minutes outside increases attention of children, including those with ADHD (Faber Taylor and Kuo, 2009; Van den Berg and Van den Berg, 2011; Kuo & Faber Taylor, 2004)
Given that it can cost substantially less to develop a natural playground, (and there are plenty of funding opportunities available), and the range of benefits from natural areas, we suggest not purchasing large pieces of equipment if the main reason for doing so is simply to enhance outdoor learning opportunities but to look at how you can naturalise the area instead.
Fire pits, den building kits and the like are great for a one-off lesson but generally, they are rarely used regularly within a school to enhance learning but are instead treated as a reward for classes (this can be different within a nursery setting, where we have seen them used more regularly).
Rewards can be a great thing in schools, however, is it worth spending hundreds of pounds on something which will not regular make a positive impact to learning?
Whilst outdoor classrooms are nice and look amazing, are they actually required, or would a bench or clipboards do much the same job? Could clipboards afford more flexibility in how you use your outdoor space?
Given all of this, how do we answer the question from schools? What equipment should they invest in?
Well, our answer is simple. Spend the money training staff to help them understand how to fully utilise their playground using curriculum based outdoor learning. This can benefit teaching and learning every day.
We also suggest that every classroom is equipped with a basic kit bag full of the basics needed to take learning outside. These are cheap and easy to put together! We talked about them in an earlier blog.
In our opinion, outdoor learning should be cheap, easy and accessible.
“We have only to step outside of the classroom door to pique children’s curiosity and take learning to a new level.”
Jill L. Jacobi-Vessels, 2013
Funding for trees and plants:
Cooper, A., 2015. Nature and the Outdoor Learning Environment: The Forgotten Resource in Early Childhood Education. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 3(1), pp.85-97.
Faber Taylor, A. and Kuo, F.E., 2009. Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park. Journal of attention disorders, 12(5), pp.402-409.
Fjørtoft, I., 2001. The natural environment as a playground for children: The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children. Early childhood education journal, 29(2), pp.111-117.
Holmes, R.M., Pellegrini, A.D. and Schmidt, S.L., 2006. The effects of different recess timing regimens on preschoolers’ classroom attention. Early Child Development and Care, 176(7), pp.735-743.
Jacobi-Vessels, J.L., 2013. Discovering nature: The benefits of teaching outside of the classroom. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 41(3), pp.4-10.
Kuo, F.E. and Faber Taylor, A., 2004. A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. American journal of public health, 94(9), pp.1580-1586.
White, R. and Stoecklin, V., 1998. Children’s outdoor play & learning environments: Returning to nature. Early Childhood News, 10(2), pp.24-30.
Trost, S.G., Ward, D.S. and Senso, M., 2010. Effects of child care policy and environment on physical activity. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 42(3), pp.520-525.
Van den Berg, A.E. and Van den Berg, C.G., 2011. A comparison of children with ADHD in a natural and built setting. Child: care, health and development, 37(3), pp.430-439.