By Guest Blogger, Bianca Gay, Educational Leader
I am a mum to three energetic boys, studying my bachelor of education and working as an Educational Leader. A strong connection with nature has always been important to me and I was delighted when I saw the theme for Under Eights week this year ‘Children celebrating outdoor play and learning’.
My Early Years
I grew up in Papua New Guinea, before moving to Brisbane to attend boarding school in year 8. In my early years I was immersed in nature. We lived in town but were surrounded by rainforests, colourful reefs, fishing opportunities and chances to explore the wilderness. It was every child’s dream. Parts of our life were also quite restrictive, living behind high fences, but I spent my afternoon exploring the leafy gardens with my brother, making up games in the pool and on the trampoline.
At my primary school in PNG we would play intense games of tag. During lunch we would rush off into the bush behind the school, running, jumping, ducking and sliding down the hill. When we heard the bell ring for the end of lunch we would have to race back uphill to class, hoping we wouldn’t be late! Having this much freedom as a young child really developed my love of nature and grew my confidence.
Changes over the years
Traditionally we have encouraged children to play outside, often unsupervised and in large, mixed age groups. This has meant that older children have looked after younger children and learning has occurred across age groups. Our modern lifestyles often don’t offer these opportunities so we have to be intentional about creating them.
The Importance of Outdoor Play
Experts understand the importance of outdoor play and learning and this is reflected in our curriculum and guiding documents.
- 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 Arden one our core values is ‘Environments’: “We believe our environments are the third teacher. Our indoor and outdoor environments are developed and maintained with children in mind, to support their individual learning journey. Our spaces are inviting, inspiring and spark the imagination of every child.”
So we know it’s important, but how do we build this connection to nature? Early Childhood Australia shares this vision “This year’s theme is about creating cultural change, promoting sustainability and meaningful engagement in outdoor learning environments for young children.” (Early Childhood Australia). Here are some ways you can celebrate outdoor play and learning as a family.
- Discover your local community garden or composting hub and get involved. We love taking our food scraps to our local composting hub.
- Found out about the best short walks to do in your local area https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/161917/short-walks-guide-south-east.pdf
- Try 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’.
- Take something different to your local park, try bringing 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.
My children are developing a love of nature and I hope that these ideas help you as well.