When I first began thinking about getting back into the childcare field after a long break I was pleasantly surprised to read about some of the changes taking place including the introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework EYLF and the National Quality Standards. To someone who was first trained in this area over 20 years ago now I immediately noticed a shift back to some of the principles and practices that were important when I first began work.
I love that there is now more of a play based learning focus, the inclusion of natural elements and resources into programs and best of all an expectation of significant outdoor play time during care and access to well resourced and planned outdoor learning spaces.
However, I have noticed many home educators are concerned about providing these outdoor experiences and the cost it might entail. Many also seem to worry that children will get bored or will need to have intentional learning experiences provided for them constantly if they only have a small outdoor area.
I understand the concerns of the family daycare educator but there are many ways to ensure you are meeting the requirements of Quality Area 3 without it costing you a fortune or testing your sanity!
I’ve compiled some simple ideas and strategies that might help guide you in planning your outdoor environment and the outdoor activities you can easily offer to complement and extend upon your indoor learning experiences.
I’m not going to bore you with lots of explanations……most of the photos speak for themselves and should allow you to form your own ideas and inspiration….There are some links to posts with more information and activity ideas though. Just click on the coloured words to go straight there!
I hope to get you excited about play and learning outdoors!
Here’s a few ideas to get you started….
Budget & Upcycle
I’m a huge believer in not spending money if you don’t have to…there are so many ways to recycle and upcycle materials for use in the outdoor playspace. Look around you and begin collecting everything! Keep an eye on the dollar shops too for resources you can use in different ways. I use those black trays in the photo below for so many things….especially water play and they were only a few dollars each.
Kids don’t need fancy water stands or expensive climbing frames and outdoor equipment, they just need the chance to explore, discover, reuse and move!
The wonderful thing about children is that it is often the smallest things that keep their attention!
I’m very lucky to have a handyman partner who can pretty much build anything I dream up for our playspace but many of our projects are very simple and you just need some basic skills and tools to do them. You will save an awful lot of money this way and gain a lot of satisfaction knowing you helped to create the fun and learning!
We do have a very large area to work with outdoors so some projects wouldn’t be suited to some yards…but it’s about thinking outside the box and imagining what you could do on a smaller scale…especially with recycled goods like spools, cans, pallet timber, old paint and finds from the op shops and garage sales!
You might like to visit some of our recent DIY projects…
Pallet Sand Kitchen
Truck & Car Quarry
While building consider if there are projects the children can help you with or observe for an additional learning activity.
This Outdoor Blackboard
was built with some pallet boards and our own DIY blackboard paint so it cost next to nothing and is played with everyday!
Before you begin your planning always think about the safety regulations and what modifications you might need to make. Parts of your yard may need to be screened off but if you are like us and fencing is out of your budget at the moment then shadecloth, star pickets and pallet timber can provide a budget friendly option.
You’ll need an area to store your outdoor equipment
safely away from the children…we made use of an existing space and put a gate on it but keep your eye out for old chicken coops that can be locked or little sheds at garage sales.
Sturdy and weatherproof tables are a must and I use the cheap adjustable fold up ones that can be found at Bunnings, Officeworks and most stores now. They are light and easy to move around the yard to provide different experiences.
Think about what you already have that you can use to provide a few challenges for the children each day…sometimes changing the appearance or using a resource in a different way can provide a wonderful opportunity for investigation and discovery.
Embrace your Garden
No matter whether your outdoor area is large or small you can incorporate areas the children can help to look after and interact with. You can grow vegetables in pots and tubs if you need to or pretty flowers for picking and using in sand and mud cooking creations.
Children will learn to respect and enjoy being part of their environment…the addition of a compost bin or water tank can also be a wonderful learning experience as can the inclusion of pets such as chickens if you have the space.
You might like to visit some of my gardening posts for more ideas….
Provide Spaces for the Imagination….
Children are very clever at making their own fun and using simple tools, props and quiet areas to engage their imagination.
These posts might give you some more ideas for ways to invite the imagination outdoors.
Our DIY outdoor bus
cost very little to make but has provided hours of imaginative play!
There are lots of ways to provide props in the outdoors without purchasing expensive equipment…just let your own imagination wander too!
Use your natural resources….
For us this is rocks….we have so many here that every time we dig to landscape we find more….you probably don’t have as many rocks as us but bags of small pebbles and coloured gravel and gems don’t cost a lot but provide the opportunity for exploration and discovery as well as an awareness of the environment and its resources.
Whether on a small or large scale there are always possibilities when you include natural elements in your play areas. Perhaps your neighbours just cut down a tree and you could ask for some stumps or wooden offcuts, perhaps you have lots of different leaves growing that could be incorporated into sand play or cooking fun. Maybe there are branches just waiting to be collected from the ground and turned into construction tools….
Using natural materials outdoors always adds a little bit of excitement, sensory discovery and mess! A few more ideas for you to incorporate nature into play….
Add loose parts….
I love to add bits and pieces to areas around the yard to promote self directed play. Sometimes they are little invitations to play, sometimes they are just left in little areas to find…they don’t cost much but they provide lots of opportunity for engagement and discovery.
You might like to visit my post on the loose parts containers
I added to our retaining wall for children to help themselves to each day.
This old terracotta plant saucer is one of the most played with items in our yard…I regularly add different items to it and enjoy seeing how the children use them!
Use your plank!
Planks, logs and wood offcuts are magical resources in the outdoor playspace and don’t usually cost you anything. Raid the garage or junkyards, check for splinters and rough edges and then just lay them everywhere!
The kids will do the rest! One day they are a balance plank, the next a prop for dolly, a makeshift seesaw or a canvas for painting. They provide more opportunities and experiences for creative play than the expensive planks from catalogues any day!!
Some more ideas for you…
I really don’t need to say to much about the absolute star appeal of water in the playspace environment do I? Such a wonderful resource to have available at all times…in cold or hot weather.
Finding ways to allow the children to access it themselves encourages a sense of autonomy and control over their own play experiences. In the photo below the girls are using a recycled water dispenser
with a tap that is easy for little hands to turn on and off to conserve their water supply.
A few more ideas with water for you….
Water Whisking Real Life Play
Water Play Round Up
Grassy Slime Cooking
Toddler Car Washing
Bring indoors outside….
There are so many play experiences and resources that we traditionally use as indoor learning experiences but they can quite often be moved outdoors to extend the learning opportunities.
Why not bring home corner or doll play outdoors, set up a farmyard or fairy hollow, play musical instruments, read stories on a mat or construct with blocks and other manipulative’s.
There are always new experiences to discover with resources outdoors…..
I think the absolute best part of using outdoors more often is that children can get messy and have fun with craft, painting and sensory activities without spreading it throughout your house which might stifle their creative exploration. they can explore and interact with their play on a larger scale outdoors.
I do the majority of my messy play and craft outdoors and the children can come to and from the experience as many times as they like this way without needing to ‘pack away the mess’.
For more outdoor messy play ideas and inspiration you might like to visit…
90 Frugal Fun Ideas for Outside Play
Cornflour Paint Cooking
Fun with Foam
Easy Ideas for messy play
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