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Free-flowing and independent play in natural environments is crucial to achieving healthy life-style habits and robust physical and mental development.

Free-flowing and independent play in natural environments is crucial to achieving healthy life-style habits and robust physical and mental development.

Children’s Health and Physical Development

  • A growing trend toward sedentary and inactive lifestyles amongst young children and teenagers presents a danger to their health, as well to their social development and and future choice of lifestyle.  Kids who play outdoors have been shown to be fitter, healthier, and more physically confident.
  • Many health benefits have been linked to regular outdoor activity and exercise.  It raises metabolic rates, enabling the body to better process food, and impacting rates of growth.  Clean air and exercise may help to boost natural immunity to disease. Regular exposure to sunlight increases intake of Vitamin D, and can’t be had in sufficient quantities from diets or supplements. Vitamin D is vital for bone growth, and reports have suggested that healthy exposure is linked to a decreased risk of cancer and diabetes.
  • Being in the outdoors helps to improve distance vision, and may curb the effects of near-sightedness as children age.
  • Playing in varied, challenging and stimulating environments is crucial to the development of a child’s physical coordination skills, helping them acquire agility, balance and fine motor skills.

Mental Development

  • A healthy body produces a healthy mind.  The health benefits of outdoor play are also linked to a boost in mental skills like memory, and increases awareness of sensation and stimulus from the four senses.
  • Natural play has a calming effect on children.  It is effective at reducing stress, aggression, and anxiety.  It’s also thought to allow children to release excess and pent-up energy.
  • This ability to release energy may be a natural way of restoring levels of attention and concentration, and can be effective for children with ADHD.
  • In general, kids who play outdoors regularly have been assessed to have a greater general sense of happiness and well-being.

Note:  Information presented here is based on research findings, reports and literature views from leading UK and US charities and education organisations.  You can access these reports atPlay England and the Children & Nature Network.

Learning Outdoors is More Engaging – Scottish Natural Heritage

Learning outdoors more engaging, says Scottish Natural Heritage

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According to the report by Scottish Natural Heritage when teachers bring their children into the outdoors their learning is more enjoyable, challenging, active and collaborative.
In Scotland the Curriculum for Excellence has seen an increase in outdoor learning in schools and pre-schools. This is Fantastic news and in the survey of nursery, primary and secondary schools it is reported that over 1000 outdoor lessons are led outdoors.

The study suggests that there is a great opportunity to visit local green places to give children time outdoors, areas like parks, gardens, wildlife areas and woodland. It was found that these visits increased children’s engagement and enriched the learning experience no end.

Greg Mannion, a report authors at the University of Stirling, said: “Our study shows that randomly sampled nurseries, primaries and secondaries are now providing more outdoor learning on average than in 2006, but what pupils get varies a lot from school to school and schools in deprived areas are offering noticeably less time outdoors.”

In nurseries, the vast majority of time outdoors was in the grounds, with only occasional trips made further afield. Primary schools increased outdoor learning, especially in school grounds and by going on more residential trips. Pupils in secondary schools have had only slightly increased provision since 2006 but appear to have less opportunity to learn in local areas or in the grounds.

SNH Chairman, Ian Ross said: “This is the second time that such a comprehensive study has been carried out in Scotland. It’s clear that there’s a positive trend and it shows that teaching outside, especially in green areas, benefits our children – it’s not just a lot of fun but it helps them learn. The challenge for those of us working in this area is to find ways to help schools and nurseries – particularly those in deprived areas – get out more and make the most of the benefits nature can bring.”

“Across Scotland, through Curriculum for Excellence, early learning and childcare centres and schools are providing children and young people with more opportunities to learn outdoors. This is having a positive impact on learners, increasing opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and personal achievement. Learners are more engaged which in turn creates better challenge and enjoyment.

Suzanne Hargreaves is the Senior Education Officer for Health and Wellbeing and Outdoor Learning at Education Scotland and supports the report findings, but recognises that schools and nurseries will have to plan and manage outdoor learning visits.

“Whilst these findings are positive we have some challenges ahead. Greater provision is required, particularly in secondary schools in order to capitalise fully on outdoor learning of all kinds, including residential experiences. Schools in areas of deprivation also face challenges in providing this type of learning. We will continue to work with schools and outdoor learning organisations to support practitioners in realising and capitalising on the benefits of outdoor learning, and to help ensure these opportunities are open to all learners across Scotland.”

DAC Holiday Club SheffieldThe report was commissioned by partners Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Education Scotland, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority and Keep Scotland Beautiful and written by the University of Stirling

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Slippy Sliding and Mud Kitchens

Now lets consider the benefits of walking on muddy ground; environmental awareness and the consequences of the weather and potentially seasons on the earth and the woodland that we find ourselves. We discover that our boots slide about, and if its really deep, we can make funny noises, we can dance and it can gloop. If its gloops too much, we take some of the mud with us on our boots and it erodes that particular area of woodland potentially exposing tree roots. Now tree roots can then cause a trip hazard.

mud kitchen
But by each child becoming mindful of the ground and change that happens, then it can increase communication and language, it can develop empathy and social skills, self awareness and regulation. As a result of regulation it can allow us to problem solve and make decisions, How do I need to alter or change my initial plans?, Do I need to tell someone?, Do I need to walk around a different way?, How strong am I? Can I balance on here?, What are the other children doing?, Can I help them, support them and tell them of the dangers that are here?.
I can tell the practitioner and as such I can develop my relationship with adults as information sharers and people who value me as a person. They can give me instructions and I can then understand those, or ask more questions.

So the presence of the risk, even though creating a high likelihood of incident, or accident, also has surrounding it many benefits and positive outcomes. Emotions that are created in challenging situations produce neural connections and as such these help to store the memory in the hippocampus. If its there in my historical timeline of experiences then I can use that information in the future to make judgements and conclusions about new experiences, when I need to decide if I can achieve something, if its worth the effort, or if the outcome of the past experience was negative, as to whether to avoid that situation again in the future.

Perspective is everything

Forest Schools Kindergarten

Forest Schools Education

“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”

Water Pipes

 

Early Years Toolkit – Supporting Children’s Development

Research is out to show that if a parent reads to their child then this can have a dramatic and life long impact. If you imagine that around five months of development can be achieved through specific and identified parent interventions.

We understand that this could be more dramatic than attending more time at nursery.

It is the Education Endowment Foundation that has created this new Tool Kit to assess effectiveness of using a variety of different learning strategies through research.

Cost and Effectiveness are always being balanced in education

The Foundation has developed guidance on how Early Years Professionals to use the resources to aid improvement in learning for disadvantaged children, and the tool kit led by Professor Steve Higgins has been produced along with academics from the School of Education at Durham University.
Forest Schools Education bases its developmental ethos on enabling children to develop self awareness and self regulatory strategies, thus enabling them to understand the town behaviours and learning. The foundation found that these strategies had a very positive impact on disadvantaged children, as well as those from more socially economically sound backgrounds.

We know that the understanding and practice of self regulation leads to self motivation and as such has a lasting effect on learning at school, resilience and the ability to persist during life long learning because of a change and development in positive social behaviours.
So many wonderful things to make with mud
So many wonderful things to make with mud
The researchers suggest that this self regulation can in some children lead to an average of seven extra months of progress.

The report says, ‘It is not possible to tell from existing evidence whether providing extra hours (at nursery) is a more promising strategy for three-year-olds or four-year-olds.’ However, where the integral ethos to the nursery as it is at the Forest School Nursery, is to promote these aspects then it could have a positive benefit

Research has been formulated from 1,600 studies and the toolkit addresses the following topics

  • Communication and language,
  • Earlier starting age in early years education,
  • Early literacy,
  • Early numeracy,
  • Digital technology,
  • Extra hours,
  • Parental engagement,
  • Physical development,
  • Physical environment,
  • Play-based learning, and
  • Self-regulation strategies.

The new resource was launched by Dr Collins at 4 Children’s Early Years Matters conference in London this month.

Steve Higgins, Professor of Education at Durham University, acknowledges that evidence is now available to enable early years professionals to make important decisions around their every day planning and strategy. He is hopeful that the Early Years Toolkit helps to bridge the divide between research and practice and will enhance a more effective early years provision for all children.

The Early Years Toolkit can be found here