Lockdown has highlighted the benefits of getting outdoors


I am constantly being asked about how we have responded to Covid-19.

What are the problems, levels of anxieties, health and safety issues, business risks and leadership approach? Throughout, I have responded with positivity and hope. If you lead an organisation that is all about children, we need to be optimistic and brave. Their future pathways are being laid by us, physically, cognitively and psychologically and so need to be solid and robust so they can march forward with confidence and cheerfulness. Their pathways cannot be full of weeds and cracks grown from our modern obsessions and insecurities.

I have been very interested in the emergence of the Covid-19 pedagogy. I have noted and repeatedly commented about the benefits of the smaller ratios between adults and children, the sense of calm as smaller groups gave staff and children time to wallow in their self-directed play, the long and enjoyable conversations and the joy of family groups which has boosted the children’s confidence and ability to build friendships.

Another benefit from Covid-19 was a consequence of the scientific evidence that the virus spread less outside. It was great to be able to go outside, sit on the grass, enjoy the dappled light through the trees and listen to the birdsong while also re-discovering your neighbourhood. I was amazed to find two shortcuts through green woodland to the South Norwood lakes. Many people started to garden, whether edible window boxes, or full-scale planting. I competed for space on the kitchen table with my permaculture obsessed daughter re-potting cuttings, propagating spider plants or creating terrariums. It felt a bit like Mary Mary Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow…

Of course, the sound of traffic will soon compete with the birds and the pollution which dropped so amazingly will increase and the hustle and bustle of our lives will return, but let’s hang on to the benefit of nature. There are a great many reports which advocate the benefit for children to enjoy nature. And spend a great deal of time playing outside. At LEYF the children spend two hours outside every day, but we frequently need to address adult anxieties about pollution, injuries and weather. Over the weekend, Claire Warden sent me a report to read called: Who is John the Snail and when can we meet him: Parent Perspectives on Children’s Engagement in Nature by Louise Zimanyi and Olga Rossovska from Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Canada. Their study explored parent perspectives on how time spent in nature and natural settings might influence their child’s play, learning and holistic development and connections in and to the natural world. Parents reported that benefits far outweighed risks related to weather, insects and injuries.

Are we surprised? No! We wrote about children gardening and can only see the benefits. The findings strongly support the many pedagogical guidelines for the early years, the spread of the Forest School, the importance of gardening and active play in nature and outdoors, with its risks, are essential for healthy child development. And while we are outside let’s have fun and be brave and have plenty of risky play. Here is the place to have vigorous physical play where children can use their whole bodies to engage with the world. If you are nervous about letting children simply discover, climb, dig, build, hide, sing, skip, swing, shout, dance, ride their bikes, enjoy their friends, or just mess about, be assured every activity and experience can be linked to some element of their development. Remember, children use their whole bodies to learn so allow it and then just stand and observe the learning in action.

Lala Manners from Active Matters has spent her career pushing for an appreciation of physical development not just a few limited movements but the joy of allowing children to use their whole bodies as a central to their learning. She constantly complains that physical activity remains stubbornly low, obesity rates are high and opportunities for children to be physically active are compromised by curricular demands, enticing technology and the lack of safe and accessible outside spaces.

She has now developed a physical development course with the Open University that needs volunteers to be part of the pilot. Led by Dr Jackie Musgrave the course is free to access, is 18-hours long and divided into three-hour sessions over six weeks. If you are interested call 0300 303 5303 or go online.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website

 

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