Why getting Outstanding for an outdoor nursery shouldn't be (so) newsworthy

Cath Prisk
Friday, April 21, 2017

Did you see that another all-outdoor nursery got Outstanding from Ofsted? It was in a lot of papers, with a very cute picture of a small child with an adult sized saw.

Their report shows they are hugely achieving for the children in their care, stating that the children showed extremely high levels of confidence and independence and their ‘physical health and development benefit greatly from the vast range of opportunities to learn in the open air'.

This made me both really, really pleased, and just a little bit sad.

Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely delighted for The Elves and Fairies Woodland Nursery in Dorset. I'm sure this reflects the hard work and dedication of their team and those that support them and their space. I'm also delighted that Ofsted is seeing past the lack of walls and ceilings to recognise the achievements in their space. I like many others took the chance to share this widely, and will be showcasing it on the Outdoor Classroom Day website.

I'm just a bit sad that the outdoors bit is so very newsworthy. I mean we have masses of research showing that all outdoor kindergartens are better for children and staff, that children will by default be more active, learn to take on more challenges and be more emotionally engaged if they are outdoors. They will be happier and when they go home they will have a healthy appetite and sleep better.

It's not as though ‘Outdoor Learning' is some new-fangled concept. Froebel, Montessori, Steiner all hailed the outdoors as the critical learning environment. More recently, a review of 61 studies found evidence linking forest schools with improved social skills, self-control, self-confidence, language and communication (Gill (2011) in Fiennes et al 2015).

I'm currently in Vancouver and will shortly be going to the conference centre to set up my stand at Richard Louv's Children and Nature Network conference, where hundreds of professionals from all over the world will come and share the incontrovertible evidence that getting outdoors for large parts of the day is undeniably good for children of all ages.

So the question I'm asking, is how many cute photos of children rolling around in mud do we need before the newsworthy bit is celebrating the Outstanding result, and the saws and mud rolling are simply expected? What is stopping that?

How can we elevate the importance of play and outdoor learning for children enough so that the Metro, Telegraph and Huffpost are reporting with horror that some nurseries and kindergarten programmes still don't go outdoors for at least half of the school day?

Please join the Outdoor Classroom Day campaign, to inspire outdoor learning and play every day.

*Cath Prisk runs her own social enterprise Outdoor People, and is heading up the global campaign Outdoor Classroom Day working with UK based NGO Project Dirt and funded by Unilever's Dirt is Good brands. She was a founder member of The Wild Network, formerly director of Play England and before that a Children's Centre Deputy Head and Early Years teacher.

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