Is outdoor learning best for children?


The photo above is one I took recently of Juliet Robertson who was leading a Messy Maths workshop at Stramash in Fort William. Juliet is an enthusiastic trainer with a passion for outdoor learning and it was a pure joy to have got a place on this workshop even if it did mean an early drive to Fort William.

But back to my original question, is outdoor learning best for children? The answer is simply (but loudly) YES!!!!!

Stop and think about it for a moment, you can plan an activity for your children and it can easily be done inside in a nice controlled way. But it’s not that difficult to take it outside either. Outside you have the benefits of sunshine (very important top up of vitamin D), you have space and you have nature. Children thrive more when given space to problem solve, their learning becomes their property and they control how it goes, with some careful input from practitioners of course.

Having seen how the children in my care react to activities done outside compared with inside I’ve noticed so much more engagement from them. Take a recent gluing and sticking activity. When we did this inside I was lucky if I got 4 children fully engaged with it. However when we took it outside a couple of days later more children wanted to come and take part and stay for longer. So it’s totally beneficial to the children’s engagement and enjoyment of the experiences we offer when they are done outside

This could be a good time to talk about my love of loose parts play but maybe I’ll save it for another post?

Move your body!

No, that’s not a demand it’s merely something we should be doing every day with our children. Making time for physical play is so important but what we do is equally important. It’s not just a matter of taking out some bikes and climbing equipment and letting them get on with it – where’s the challenge?

A few years ago I was lucky enough to train as a children’s Yoga teacher and have used various elements of this in planning for physical play. In my current setting I have set aside a space indoors (yes, physical play can be indoors too!) with a Yoga mat and a small selection of poses for the children to try. I started by sitting on the mat and showing them but, 2 weeks after setting up this space, the children are now taking themselves there to try out the poses and have made huge progress. So why not try a little bit of Yoga in your setting?

A healthy mind – looking out for our own wellbeing.

As practitioners we are constantly thinking about the well being of our children; clean noses, healthy food, toilets, exercise, rest, activities to nurture and stimulate. The list is endless and is something we do without a second thought.

What about ourselves?

That made you stop in your tracks didn’t it. It’s not a selfish thing to be thinking about our own wellbeing too. Let’s reason this out, if we are not taking care of ourselves then how can we give the children our best? It’s not possible really. This is a highly stressful job that we do with so many demands on our time which often feels like we are being distracted from our core role; to care for the children who come to our settings. A little bit of mental housekeeping does you the world of good, I often feel it’s better than a holiday at times (although I do enjoy my holidays too!) One great way I have of getting my work and personal thoughts in order is running. I’m a member of jogscotland and go out with my local group twice a week. Also I go to Parkrun most Saturday’s as well, also whilst doing the 5k I sort some work priorities for the next week. Both of these are free so you don’t have a financial commitment which can add a bit of stress when you feel obliged to attend because you are paying for it.

Running isn’t for everybody but for me I find it a great way of escaping the cares of the world and work and making time for me. If you fancy going it a try here are the websites for more information:




This article has not been endorsed or paid for by either Jogscotland or Parkrun.

The joy of cones!

No, I don’t mean the red and white things that are constantly popping up on our roads (I mean, seriously, traffic cone manufacturing must be the most profitable industry to be in!) The cones I refer to are the lovely natural pine cones. They seem to be in constant supply around my house, the joys of the country I suppose.

I have to say that I do collect them, in fact I currently have a large bin bag full of them ready to surprise my little darlings with once I decide exactly what I’m doing with them.

You see my dilemma don’t you? The possibilities with something so natural and free are endless. If you think about maths and numeracy then the simple use would be to put a bowl of them out and use them for counting. You could even make up laminated cards (or squares on the ground using twigs) and put a specific number beside them for the children to count up to. Add more challenge for older children such as using high teen numbers (or beyond).

How about getting creative? Lots of glue and glitter and you’ve got an instant Christmas decoration (did I just mention the “C” word in August?)

How about attaching labels with the children’s names on. You could use this as a form of self-registration when the children arrive. Perhaps take it a step further and put them on a tree. You can get reasonably priced artificial trees from various bargain style shops.

So, there’s 3 suggestions, what’s yours?



A healthy mind – the introduction

There’s no doubt that having a healthy mind is one of the key factors to being happy and healthy at work. However it’s not always that simple.

There are frustrations in both your professional and personal life which can hamper this and cause us so much undue stress and strain until breaking point is only a melting Mars bar away!

I’m going to search around for some great stress relieving techniques to try out.

Stay tuned!



It’s only recently  I’ve started hearing this word in relation to Early Learning and Childcare. I subscribe to Alice Sharp’s “Adventures with Alice” on facebook (it’s quite useful for nuggets and photos for inspiration), Alice uses this word quite a lot and has even spawned a series of training courses through Experiential Play (Alice’s company).

I thought I’d dig a bit deeper about provocations and apparently it’s been around for quite a number of years but has had a resurgence of late. Put quite simply it’s a way of provoking a learning opportunity from the child; this way you get a true indication of what the child’s interests are and what you can do to aid their learning.

Now, at the start of this post you may have notices a picture of a cardboard box?

It turns out I’ve been using provocations for a long time.

I often place objects in a box to create an air of excitement and mystery. This builds anticipation in the children and provokes curiosity and questioning which in turn leads to learning opportunities.

So what would you fill your box with?

Dinosaur roar!

No, not the story (although it’s a good one!)

I was out recently at a heritage centre for a visit after and event,  it was rather interesting and I came away with at least one fact. Now while browsing through the gift shop I spotted this rather eye catching knitted dinosaur. It was love at first sight (but don’t tell my long suffering partner!)

Now as a practitioner I’m very rarely off duty and tend to spurn a variety of ideas from things I see while out and about. You can imagine that a trip round Tescos is never speedy with me!

On this particular occasion I thought that this dinosaur would be a brilliant home link object. There is a great emphasis on parental partnerships in Early Years and this is a fantastic and super simple way of doing it. I’ve already decided to get a dinosaur notebook and backpack so that he can be sent for a “sleepover” at my children’s homes and be involved in their lives for a week.

In order to make more of this and expand learning opportunities available to my children a quick scan through the “dino-diary” (great name huh?) should reveal some of the child’s interests so that we can add them to our planning and make learning more relevant to them.

It’s great when you can gain observations without having to do the hard work!

Risk it for a biscuit?

In years gone by (the black and white days of Early Learning) there was a steady move towards a culture amongst some practitioners that tried to eliminate risk from play outdoors. This meant that activities that took place outdoors had to be on soft surfaces and using plastic fantastic toys and all this in the name of Health and Safety. However there has now be a cosmic shift in the opposite direction to allowing more natural play outdoors and supporting children in their adventurous play. Hallelujah!

Last year I was fortunate enough to stumble across, what I consider, to be a brilliantly written series of articles in the Play for Wales magazine produced by Play Wales, the national body for the promotion of play opportunities for Wales. One of the first articles that grabbed my attention spent a great deal of time busting those self-perpetuating myths surrounding Health and Safety.

Now when you mention Health and Safety to some practitioners you may be met with one of two responses; either a roll of the eyes or a shudder of fear. Sadly the latter might be more common than the former! Written by Judith Hackett CBE, chair of the Health and Safety Executive, she actively encourages practitioners to promote that adventure and challenge of risky play. She states “Wrapping children up in cotton wool achieves nothing. Children who grow up unable to anticipate and deal with risk can lack self-confidence and may be less prepared to make decisions as adults.” Promoting ‘Confident Individuals’ is at the heart of everything we do for the children in our care so we don’t want to be missing out on such a huge opportunity to encourage this confidence. Is that myth still floating around that HSE wouldn’t approve? Well perhaps we might consider it banished as Judith Hackett says in her eye-opening article “HSE never seeks to ban activities on the basis that they pose a risk to those taking part. We take account of the wider benefits to physical and mental health and to society as a whole. This is exactly how we ought to view children’s play.”

Play which involves risk and adventure is truly individual to the child as they will all have different ways of approaching this challenge not to mention differing physical and cognitive abilities. Facilitating a child’s access to a supportive environment to explore and problem solve is truly inclusive. If you stop and think about it for a moment, a child who has a disability will explore challenge and risk in a different way to a child without a disability, they still get to the same point of the challenge just doing it in different way. Further on in the same issue of Play for Wales an article by Ally John, an equality, diversity and inclusion writer, makes the valid point “As responsible adults we have a responsibility for keeping children safe but this extends to supporting all children and young people to manage risk for themselves, not just physical risk but also the intellectual, social and emotional risk they expose themselves to.” Food for thought!

Ally John goes on to say “All children need and want to take risks as they play, enabling them to test their limits, undertake new experiences and develop their skills. Children would never learn to ride a bicycle, swim, climb a tree or use a skateboard unless they were intrinsically motivated to respond to challenges that involve the risk of failing or being injured.” How can we progress the capabilities and resilience of the children we care for if we wrap them up in cotton wool?

I say bin the cotton wool and let’s go out to play in the woods.

(this article was adapted from an article I wrote for another blog)

The Magazine, from Autumn 2016, can be downloaded from THIS WEBSITE

You’re a Male Practitioner, what’s the difference?

The simple answer is . . . no difference at all.

I’ve always believed, since I did my training (back in the days of sepia), that my gender should make no difference to my ability to do my job. Regardless of whether you’re male or female you are still there to care for an educate the children who attend your setting and in principal that is exactly what I do particularly in these days of equality and diversity.

However back in the early days of my career it wasn’t always like this. I’ve experienced sexism and prejudice because of my gender.

Not long after graduating I applied for a job in a gorgeous private nursery, I mean this place was stunning. I went for the interview and it seemed to go ok (I was a bit nervous but I’d never really done a job interview until then). I never heard a thing back from them despite me giving them a call and being promised a call back.

The second interview, many years later, was for a small chain of private nurseries. The interview was seriously odd, not so much an interview more a quick look at my qualifications and a rapid tour around that setting. On this occasion I was offered the job but felt unable to take it as, to me, the interview felt too skewed towards my gender.

Thankfully that has been the only issues I’ve experienced and I suppose it could have been worse. Possibly it hasn’t because I’ve always believed that I’m equal to my female counterparts. We do the same job; end of story.

Counting Ladybirds

Numeracy has been a bit of a focus for me lately. One sudden burst of inspiration that involves counting was making Counting Ladybirds which are devilishly easy to make.

I started by buying wood slices from Amazon (£7.99) then popping to Hobbycraft and buying a tube of red artists acrylic for £2.00 (by the way I’m not sponsored by either store!)

I simply painted one side of the slice red and left the other blank. Once dried I took a black marker pen and drew the ladybird on the red side with the amount of spots needed (i.e. 1 spot for 1, 2 spots for 2 etc) then wrote the number on the plain side. As I had 20 slices I did numbers 1 – 20.

Here’s a few pictures of how I did it: