The Head of Early Years at Edge Grove School, Carys Henwood, on how to change teaching approaches with the seasons, and how children benefit from this
The majority of children enjoy being outdoors. They enjoy the freedom of the large-scale space around them, and they have the opportunity to build independence, self-esteem and confidence in a natural environment. Children can also learn a great deal about the natural world from being outside. For example, we have installed bird boxes all around our Pre-School, so the children can see first-hand how birds make their nests by collecting twigs, and how they lay their eggs and search for food. Being able to sit outside near one of our bird boxes and watch the birds fly back and forth helps children to understand how birds live and survive in the wild.
Converting school facilities can also be really useful in nurturing curiosity and creating an exciting learning environment because children are naturally interested in what is immediately around them. For instance, we converted our school shed into an ice-cream stand at the start of the new school year, not just to benefit from the late summer sun, but also because lots of children had been on holiday and were able to relate to the ice-cream and hot weather. But we also used this as an opportunity to help them to identify different colours, textures, flavours and also counting the number of scoops to support numeracy skills. This opportunity also helped to support the children’s communication, speech and language development as they were having conversations with each other, writing down orders and serving their friends.
Capitalising on the seasons to stimulate play
As the weather turned colder and autumn set in, using the same facilities, we transformed the shed into a fire station around bonfire night. This was designed to teach the children about fire safety. We discussed the importance of being safe around fire and how we should act and behave. They also had the opportunity to spray water on fires (painted on a tuff tray) while wearing a firefighter uniform which encouraged social development and role play. To put their learning into context, the children also had a visit from our local fire station to see what the inside of a fire engine looks like.
Seasons are part of the natural world and changes happen right in-front of our eyes, which can be exciting for younger children. So why not use this to our advantage in school and incorporate this into their everyday learning experience? Recently we have experienced below freezing temperatures, so the children have been able to observe the frost on the grass and water turning into ice. We recently combined this with reading a story called One Snowy Night, which includes lots of woodland animals who are too cold to sleep outside. After reading the story the children went on a hunt using a map of the learning space to find the animals, and they created habitats for them using junk modelling.
Now that spring is on the horizon, we have started to transform our outdoor space to create a little garden centre. The children will have the opportunity to plant bulbs in pots all around the outdoor area and watch them bloom over the coming months. The garden centre role play will also allow children to develop their social skills, language and physical development as they will be digging holes using trowels and scooping soil. They will be able to watch the staff tend to the bulbs and learn what they need to grow. Giving the children the independence to choose which flowers to plant and where in their outdoor space, will help them to connect with the environment and witness with their own eyes what the bulbs will grow into.
Learning without limitations
Transforming the learning environment is really all about learning without limitations. This is supported by children being able to use the outdoor space in whatever way that they would like. We have created different areas outside to guide children in their play, but what they do is up to them. As staff we are there to guide and support, but we are not there to interfere with their play. For example, we have created a large construction area outside where we have planks of wood, large crates, pallets and building bricks for the children to use to create what they wish. Open ended areas encourage the children to use their imagination and include these resources in their play.
Inspiring learning and creativity through play involved watching children, listening to them and spending time with them playing in their environment. This way, we as parents and educators, will gain a greater understanding of their likes and dislikes and will be able to create a learning space filled with activities they will enjoy. Ensuring the environment is child-centred helps children to learn more naturally through their play. As their learning becomes more organic, they will naturally gravitate towards those activities and settings that are of particular interest to them.