Play, learning and the brain
Play, learning and the brain

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Play, learning and the brain

5 Outdoor play and learning

Early years practitioners have always argued strongly for children to have the opportunity to play in both indoor and outdoor environments. But currently adult fears appear to be making outdoor play an ‘endangered activity’.

The following list offers some good reasons for making sure young children have the opportunity for outdoor play time.

  1. Play is an active form of learning that unites the mind, body, and spirit. Until at least the age of nine, children's learning occurs best when the whole self is involved.

  2. Play reduces the tension that often comes with having to achieve or needing to learn. In play, adults do not interfere and children relax.

  3. Children express and work out emotional aspects of everyday experiences through unstructured play.

  4. Children permitted to play freely with peers develop skills for seeing things through another person's point of view – co-operating, helping, sharing, and solving problems.

  5. The development of children's perceptual abilities may suffer when so much of their experience is through television, computers, books, worksheets, and media that require only two senses. The senses of smell, touch, and taste, and the sense of motion through space, are powerful modes of learning.

  6. Children who are less restricted in their access to the outdoors gain competence in moving through the larger world. Developmentally, they should gain the ability to navigate their immediate environs (in safety) and lay the foundation for the courage that will enable them eventually to lead their own lives.

(The above points were taken from the NAECS/SDE Position Statement: Recess and the Importance of Play.)

Activity 5 now asks you to consider your own setting and identify the contribution your outdoor play provision makes to learning.

The activities that can be provided depend on the type of setting, the resources available and the practitioner's views about the place of outdoor activities in the overall development of the child.

Activity 5

There are links to two articles below. Article 5 is of a general nature, while Article 6 focuses on school contexts.

Select the article on outdoor play that you feel is most appropriate for your setting.

Article 5: ‘Outdoor Experiences for Young Children’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Article 6: ‘Recess and the importance of play’

Make a list of the ways in which outdoor play is of specific value when considering children's learning and the development of their brains.

Draw on:

  • what you know about the development of the brain;

  • what you know about the ways in which children play outdoors.

You may find it helpful here to have an observational record or short video of children playing outdoors in your setting.

When you have done this, review and evaluate your outdoor play provision using the list of points you made at the start of this activity. If it is possible to work with a colleague, please do so.


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