Is one hour a week outside enough for our under 5’s? Jenny McAllister's thoughts on the Scottish Government's Blueprint to 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland.
With the Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing hours of funded childcare in Scotland, attention is now on how this will look in practice with a focus on flexibility, affordability, accessibility and without a doubt the most important aspect: quality of provision. Quality must not be sacrificed for quantity.
What does Quality look like?
A question I often ask practitioners is ‘What does quality look like?’ As a nature pedagogue the key things for me would be a good length of time and space outdoors and opportunities to learn with nature indoors, outdoors and beyond supported by open, respectful adults.
The abundance of research and related evidence highlighting the benefits of outdoor learning and connections with nature for all children is irrefutable. Within Scotland this is recognised on the whole and ‘outdoor learning’ is embedded in national guidance available to support practitioner’s e.g My World Outdoors (Care Inspectorate 2015) Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning and Building the Ambition (2014). As I travel around the country visiting a range of settings it delights me when I see children being provided with nature based high quality learning opportunities indoors, outdoors and beyond into their communities but this is variable across the country from setting to setting. How do we ensure equity so that all children have these opportunities?
How much time is enough time?
The Blueprint for 2020 Action Plan (Scottish Government Mar 2017) states that “We will build on the commitment to a minimum of one hour per week outdoors by encouraging all providers to have access to a stimulating outdoor play area for children”. With an increase to 30 hours per week funded childcare, this would equate to a maximum of 29 hours a week indoors.
Looking at it from a rights based point of view, prisoners in the UK have the right to spend between 30 minutes and an hour outside in the open air each day. I would suggest that we need to do more than this for our children in childcare with the addition of nature based experiences indoors.
The Shared Vision and Values for Outdoor Play in the Early Years (The Vision & Values Partnership, 2004) of which our very own Claire Warden. States that “Young children should be outdoors as much as indoors and need a well designed, well-organised, integrated indoor-outdoor environment, preferably with indoors and outdoors available simultaneously.”
“Young children should have long periods of time outside. They need to know that they can be outside every day, when they want to and that they can develop their ideas for play over time. High quality play outdoors, where children are deeply involved, only emerges when they know they are not hurried. They need to have time to develop their use of spaces and resources and uninterrupted time to develop their play ideas, or to construct a place and then play in it, or to get into problem-solving on a big scale. They need to be able to return to projects again and again until ‘finished’ with them. Slow learning is good learning, giving time for assimilation. When children can move between indoors and outside, their play or explorations develop further still. Young children also need time (and places) to daydream, look on or simply relax outside.” My question would be can this be achieved in less than an hour? (Assuming the hour outside is broken up over a week.)