Under Eights Week– “Children Celebrating Outdoor Play and Learning”
I love spending time in nature, and I see the importance of a strong connection with nature everyday as a mum of 3 boys, studying my bachelor of teaching, working as an educational leader and having been in the early childhood industry for 16 years. Under Eights week is coming up and they have chosen the wonderful theme of ‘Children celebrating outdoor play and learning’.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in nature. I spent my childhood in Papua New Guinea until I came to boarding school in Brisbane for year 8. Our family lived in a village but there was nature all around us, from amazing rainforests to colourful reefs, a place to fish and explore in the 4×4. Parts of our life were more restrictive with high fences surrounding our house. We had a large backyard and this is where I spent most of my afternoons, making up games with my brother, playing on the trampoline and in the swimming pool.
I remember epic games of tag from primary school. During our lunch break we would take off into the bush behind the school, running around trees, jumping creeks, ducking and sliding until eventually, we would hear the cowbell ringing to call us back in. We would race back uphill and arrive back at class (only a little late!). This is a lot more freedom than most primary school students get today and helped to develop my confidence and love of nature.
When we compare our childhoods with our children most adults would notice a difference in the amount of time spent outdoors and being physically active. Our modern lives are busier and our communities don’t seem as safe. Children used to spend their time outdoors in mixed age groups, with older children helping out with younger children. So as families we need to be consciously promoting a connection with nature if this is something we want our children to develop.
What the experts say
Spending time in nature, engaging in unstructured, free play is one of the most important things for our children’s learning and development. The importance of outdoor play and learning are emphasised in our guiding documents and curriculums:
- The Australian Curriculum: “There is an opportunity to encourage this curiosity and develop skills and knowledge to safely enjoy the outdoors. It is also important that students at this age learn the skills to assess and move on uneven and varied surfaces” (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], v.8.4, 2018).
- The Early Years Learning Framework: “These spaces invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery and connection with nature. They foster an appreciation of the natural environment, develop environmental awareness and provide a platform for ongoing environmental education” (DET, 2019, p. 18).
- The National Quality Framework highlights outdoor learning in Quality Area 3 – Physical Environment, “The service environment is inclusive, promotes competence and supports exploration and play based learning.
- At Rise we place great importance on our connection with nature, which can be seen through our bush and beach Kinder programs.
What to do with your family
So we know outdoor play is important and that we want our children to develop a connection with nature – but how do we achieve this? Early Childhood Australia shares this as their vision for Under Eights Weeks “This year’s theme is about creating cultural change, promoting sustainability and meaningful engagement in outdoor learning environments for young children.” (Early Childhood Australia). I love the idea of celebrating the outdoors! Children follow our examples so here are some ideas to get you started:
- Visit your local community garden or composting hub and get involved. We love taking our food scraps to our local composting hub.
- Look out the best short walks in your local area https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/161917/short-walks-guide-south-east.pdf
- Complete a family nature hunt. Make a list of things you could find and then go for a walk and see what you can discover.
- Balance ‘screen time’ with ‘green time’.
- Mix up park visits – take bubbles, a kite or a bag of balls.
- Go outside at a different time of day! Check out the sunrise or look at the stars.
I am so pleased that my children are growing up with the same love of nature that I have. While it can be hard work to get outside as a family, I know that it is worth it!