With a Curriculum for Excellence now in place, children in Primary 1 are expected to follow a more traditional nursery curriculum. One of the greatest changes therefore is considering how outdoor play can be integrated into a Primary 1 day. At the very least time outdoors will be a valuable “brain break” for children and staff where the work focus is less intense. Helen Bilton (2002) suggests that children and adults are much more successful if they do have periods of time away from “work”.
Bilton (2002) also states that for outdoor learning to be a successful component of the Primary 1 day there are three key factors:
- Staff have to believe in the value of outdoor play. Commitment and motivation is required to see this happen. Where there is a will, there is a way.
- Both the indoor and the outdoor environments have to work simultaneously. Ideally:
- The outdoor space needs to be just outside the classroom.
- The space needs to be fenced. If this is not possible, it may be necessary to create some kind of boundary in the form of a chalk line, or a foldaway fence, or with careful placing of outdoor furniture.
- The area needs to be well thought out and planned alongside indoor play and in such a way that it is not seen as an area to play in once the work has been done, but as part and parcel of whole learning and teaching setting, otherwise this can lead to behavioural problems.
Some Strategies to Consider
- If nursery and primary 1 staff work together to plan and implement the early stage curriculum then this can help ensure Primary 1 children have a more play-based approach to learning.
- Share resources between Primary 1 and Nursery. This could include creative use of staff and volunteers.
- Remember to let Primary 1 children have lots of access to an outdoor area, preferably on a free flow basis and whatever the weather. This may be shared with the nursery children, if there is enough space. Ensure children have appropriate outdoor clothing.
- Where space is limited, groups of children from Primary 1 may be able to visit the nursery outdoor area. They can be given specific tasks or activities to complete.
- Primary 1 may need its own outdoor space. If space is limited, it may be that only part of the curriculum is offered in this area. For example skipping or ball skills development. It may be that the area has to be structured so that it is only for a limited number of children at a time, and offered on a rotational basis, as part of one of the activities for that day. In some schools it may be possible to house two or three activities at a time.
- Children can be taught how to walk independently from an indoor area to an outdoor space that is not directly connected. This can be done by using arrows or footsteps to mark the way along the corridor. If there are other doors, children can be taught not to enter. The ability to move independently between the areas can be viewed as an acknowledgement for children who can demonstrate responsible behaviour. Rules can be put in place such as going in pairs so that if a child has an accident the other knows where and how to seek assistance.
- A limited outdoor area can be very effective for imaginative play as it gives children space. This sort of area can have its own resource boxes and equipment with children also being able to access the indoor equipment.
- It is essential for an adult to work alongside children in the area, observe how they are getting on and assess their learning. Research from Cleave and Brown (1991) found that where there was no adult outside children were less likely to move out of doors.
- Some children may feel more settled in the outdoor environment and for such children, more formal work can be incorporated into their play outdoors. Outside can also be an area where children can work quietly. Quiet corners can be very difficult to find in a classroom.
- Periodic reviews and discussions with the children about issues which arise does help minimise behaviour concerns outside.
- Where possible, ensure that:
- The Primary 1 and Nursery class are close together or next door.
- The Primary 1 class has direct access to an outdoor space
- Timetabling use of the school grounds to ensure Primary 1 has daily access, if a designated outdoor space is not possible.
- EXPERIMENT. Try different things until you get a system in place which works in your setting, with your children and early years staff. Give yourself lots of time to build up routines – at least 3 months. Be positive and remember the sayings:
- “Never worry about falling flat on your face. At least you are moving forward.”
- “Experience is the toughest teacher. She gives the test first and the lessons come later.”
Bilton, H. (2002) Outdoor Play in the Early Years, David Fulton Publishers ISBN 1-85346-952-1
Cleave, S. and Brown, S. (1991) Early to School. Four Year Olds in Infant Classes, Windsor: NFER_Nelson Publishing