Why children need weekly outdoor outings to wild spaces
By Kay Woods, Forest Childcare Association
If children want to play outside of their own back gardens today they have to wait for an adult to take them. The world is not the same place as it was when Christopher Robin was allowed to wander around his 100 acre wood all day long, playing Pooh Sticks and climbing trees (gasp!) completely unsupervised! As a society for many reasons (from justified fears about traffic, to out-of-proportion fears about strangers) we no longer let children visit their local woodlands, fields or even parks by themselves. Children must be continually supervised, and sadly this means that very few get casual access to their local patch of nature to play alone or in wild places any more.
And the consequence: many children today are growing up missing out on a connection with the natural world. They don’t spend enough time outdoors and they are suffering the results including obesity, mental health problems and a growing inability to assess risk for themselves.
What all this means is that one of the key positive influences that parents and child care providers can give to the children they look after is time playing in the great outdoors. Children need adults to take them to ‘wild’ places and then they need adults to stand back and give them time, space and encouragement to explore on their own while they are there. Parents are busy, parents are working. Therefore the responsibility for taking children on these outings frequently falls to childcare providers to give children the experiences they might otherwise miss out on.
Weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces have benefits for everyone
When I was a childminder I always took the childminded children on outdoor outings. Once a week, whatever the weather, we went somewhere outdoors. Our trips ranged from simple visits to the park, duck pond, and urban green spaces, to more planned trips to our local ‘wild’ areas like woods and nature reserves.
Outdoor outings contribute to learning and health. These benefits apply to me as well! I always said that being out in the woods with the children was one of my favourite parts of being a childminder. It was wonderful watching how alive the children became when they were exploring outdoors and how recharged I felt watching them play. I also felt great because I knew that when they are out in the woods with me, I was giving them a really great experience, better than the most expensive toy in our play room, and more special than anything they would be ‘learning’ in an overcrowded nursery room.
Lots of childminders feel exactly the same as me about the outdoors and outings, and understand how special the experiences that we can give to the children we look after are. Others may feel less confident about taking groups of children of mixed ages and abilities to the woods on their own. So I started the Forest Childcare Association to support and encourage other childcare providers to offer this ‘best practice’ policy of weekly outdoor outings to the children they look after.
It is not possible to roll back the clock and send children out to play alone and unsupervised in wild spaces as they would have done in the past. But this doesn’t mean that caring adults can’t offer children the next best thing by taking them on outdoor outings on a regular basis.
Outdoor outings have benefits to children regardless of their age. For babies, they will be intrigued by the sights, smells and sounds of the environment and reach out towards things that interest them and catch their attention. Toddlers want to explore the natural world around them by crawling and walking. Preschool children will explore more purposely, play games of imagination and enjoy challenging themselves outdoors.
You don’t have to plan anything complex to do with the children while you are out. Sometimes it’s fun to go on a scavenger hunt, or collect things, but other times the point of the trip is simply to be outside and experience the outdoors. As a childcare provider you can instruct them about important safety issues like not eating red berries, touching fungus, or stroking strange dogs, but most of what they need to ‘learn’ is for the children to discover for themselves.
They are learning about textures when they pick up a sharp rock. They are learning about the weather and self-care issues when they take their coat off because they are hot. They are counting conkers and acorns, learning about space and shape when they squeeze themselves under a branch, and learning that if they work together it is easier to shift a log than trying to do it alone.
Most importantly, they are learning the importance of not littering, respecting wildlife, trees and other people’s right to enjoy the outdoor space as well. They are learning an appreciation for the environment that they will take with them as they grow up.
Wherever children live, they need to spend time getting back to nature. Natural environments give children and the adults who look after them untold benefits in terms of health and wellbeing. Weekly outdoor outings is a “best-practice” goal that all childcare providers can aim for with some support, advice and a little encouragement.
Join the Forest Childcare Association and make a commitment to taking children on weekly outdoor outings or look for a Forest Childcare Provider for your under 5s
When you join the Forest Childcare Association for just £15 I will send you a pack of information including risk assessments, links to the EYFS, all the forms and paperwork you need to make outings happen, plus 50 crafts and activities you can do with childminded children. You will also receive marketing tools to help you to use the idea of weekly outdoor outings to promote your childminding business.