As I am sure with any new building development, discussions around what is essential or desirable are paramount, and the same is true at my school, as we finalise plans for a new Early Years building. Yet, whilst making sure classrooms and toilets are perfectly positioned, creating quieter work areas as well as noisy, creative play, it is the outside space that I think is increasingly important for all children as well as those in Early Years.
The DfE states that outside provision for EYFS is essential, but with an increase in the number of children attending Nurseries, there is rising concern about the wide variation in provision of outside space, some of which can be inadequate. We hear statistics stating that over 1 in 5 children are overweight before they begin school, rising to 1 in 3 by the time they leave primary school. The recommended amount of physical activity is 60 minutes a day for young children, but with screen time on the increase for children when at home, with many under 5’s being able to use an iPad better than their parents, it is the responsibility of Nurseries and Schools to ensure young children are exposed to outside physical activity.
It is not just the health benefits of physical activity that are important, but being outside makes a significant impact on children’s emotional wellbeing and their ability to learn. Last week, I took a Music lesson with Year 1 children, and we went on a listening walk around our grounds, simply getting the children to stop, close their eyes and listen to all the sounds around them. Their concentration when back in the classroom improved as expected after being in the fresh air, but noticeably, the lesson became child led, with them enthusiastically describing what they had heard and talking about which instruments they could use to replicate these sounds. Taking children outside enables them to be more creative, asking questions about what they see and hear rather than seeking permission. Instead of following rules of a game, they create their own games and interact more with each other, which can only be of benefit to their social interaction development.
Most under 5’s are naturally very energetic and need to spend time outside, even if it is deemed to be “bad weather”. I am proud of the fact that the children at our school are happy to be outside in all weathers, at playtimes, (unless severe heavy rain), for sport and other lessons. I often see our Nursery and Reception children outside on mini-beast hunts, nature walks, or going to our Yurt for their outdoor lesson, wrapped up warm, with their wellies on if it’s cold and wet. Being welcomed at the Yurt by the warm fire, ready to make hot chocolate or popcorn makes it even more fun.
We are so very fortunate at our school to have such extensive outside space for a primary school that enables us to enhance our curriculum. Simply walking across the fields to the outside area for their lesson gives the children the well needed fresh air, vitamin D and exercise they benefit from and teachers at our school are keen to incorporate our outside space when planning for all subjects.
So, while I deliberate over the internal plans for our new Early Years building, we need to bear in mind that it is not just a well-designed internal space that facilitates learning, the outdoor provision also enhances education. Therefore, space to store warm coats, hats and wellies is definitely an essential.
Helen Stiles, Headteacher.