Analysis of outdoor environments within early childhood education and care

This blog is designed for new educators within the early childhood education and care sector.

By Karen Elzinga 9/06/2018

Outdoor environments

The first environment l would like to discuss is an outdoors natural environment of a long grassed area with no toys or outdoor equipment, just simply nature at it's finest, and how these types of environments can promote children's development and learning taking in the EYLF and NQS frameworks.

Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) Practice -Learning environment, specifies that children's outdoor environments offers a plethora of opportunities to develop explorative skills like spontaneity, appreciation, problem solving, protection for the environment, and natural material awareness skills (DEEWR, 2009; Early Childhood Australia, 2011). And that outdoor environments need to achieve a sense of safe risk taking if children are to acquire skills in resilience and be capable and resourceful in their life (Early Childhood Australia, 2013). In this vibrant eclectic space the child has nature to engage with, the emptiness of any artificial stimulation allows for the abundance of natural environmental sensory discoveries. This includes numerous learning competencies including building language and literacy skills that can be developed by inviting children into conversations about what they say, hear, see and do (Early Childhood Australia, 2011). Marcelle Holiday (Every Child, 2013, p. 9) suggests that when literacy is learned through pragmatic and hands on play based participation, children's engagement is more likely to be significant in meaning and successful in outcome (Early Childhood Australia, 2013). Learning language and literacy is etched in a combination of child centred and teacher centred ways of working. An outdoor environment can offer children deliberately focused activities centring on their natural curiosities and outdoor discoveries (Early Childhood Australia, 2013). Examples of activities include animal sightings, or the feeling of grass, these provide ample opportunities for children to learn word association and descriptive language use, as children become aware of and show respect for their environment as proposed by the EYLF-2.4 (DEEWR, 2009).  ECEC centres have a long history of utilising outdoor environments both naturally occurring and constructed for learning and development opportunities. These settings provide deliberate, purposeful and spontaneous interactions focusing on open ended lines of questioning to occur (Early Childhood Australia, 2011).

What knowledge can children learn in this environment according to the EYLF and NQS

Outcome 5 of the EYLF showcases language and literacy most effectively highlighting that 'children are effective communicators'. This includes children learning through gesturing both non verbally and verbally, and by language and text engagement. Children understand that sounds turn into patterns which turn into symbols that equate to words that have meaning. (DEEWR, 2009; Early Childhood Australia, 2011). Anstey and Bull (1996, p.153) argue that literacy is an everyday routine that is socially practiced in a variety of settings such as home, the community, via religious activities, and through mass media representation. Literacy expansion arises from everyday experiences and interactions with people, places, and things (Barratt-Pugh, 2000). These interactions can be stimulating, engaging and typically explorative productively adding new information to existing knowledge in a scaffolded way as Piaget (1896-1980) theorised (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010).

Outdoor environments as described by the NQS-3.2 promotes inclusion, competence and exploration via play based learning (ACECQA, 2018), these could include supporting language and literacy by the promotion of creative activities using natural entities such as pine cones, leaves or twigs. Or through dramatic play using logical thinking and problem solving skills to imagine and act out scenarios such as superhero rough and tumble play in the grass. It could be by listening to or singing songs whilst playing games like drop the hanky, these provide valuable and ample opportunities for peer and educator interactions, and thus language accumulation (Early Childhood Australia, 2011).

What is the educators role in this environment for promoting children's ability to develop and learn

Many in the ECEC community believe that children's effective learning does not start when they are of formal school age, but actually starts from birth, and that a mix of quality early childhood educators and home experiences build better school ready children (Moss & Moss, 2008; Early Childhood Australia, 2011). Educators can support this early learning language and literacy by setting the environments productivity; this could be singing songs, reading rhymes, poems, or jingles (Early Childhood Australia, 2011). Christine Topfer suggests the repeated actions through music and rhymes, teach children about sounds. She suggests that children learn by tuning into particular sound patterns within language, making rhythmic and repetitive jingle play a big part in the development of language (Topfer, 2007).

As stated previously by combining the NQS 1.1.2- Child centred learning and NQS 1.2.1- Intentional teaching, this allows educators to plan activities around children's interests, strengths, culture and ideas (ACECQA, 2018). By using the EYLF-5.4 educators can increase this awareness by challenging and extending children's thinking and understanding of topics, so children begin to identify repeated patterns and symbol structures, and extend upon previous learning (DEEWR, 2009). One method of engaging children in this style of learning is through the reading of flora or fauna related picture books in the outdoor environment. In the book entitled 'Young Children and Picture Books' by Mary Renck Jalongo, she states that when young children interact positively with picture books they form a basic skill set to later become a literate adults. She believes that educators have a role to share knowledge that promotes and teaches literacy basics to children through the use of quality books that include engaging visual picture content (Jalongo, 2008). 

By developing prosperous health and wellbeing in the child's first six years is paramount to aiding not only the child's long term success, but it has also been scientifically linked to their country of origins prosperity. How a child develops in the early years has been defined as having a significant impact on later self esteem, social skills, heath outcomes, academic performance and employment opportunity. One way that educators can utilise outdoor environments to enhance short and long term competencies in language, literacy, cognitive and physical development is to foster collaborative partnerships with parents (Cook, 2010). Utilising NQS-6 educators recognise that parents are their children's first teachers, know them best and generally want the best outcomes for them. By providing programs that are inclusive to parental participation, educators can invite outdoor participation by parents. With this involvement educators are able to pass on knowledge that can actively and in partnership increase language and literacy skills. Parents are supported to understand the importance of the first six years, and encouraged to create independent language and literacy activities that cross over into the home environment. When quality programs facilitate individual developmental learning opportunities from well educated instructors, linked to positive outcomes, and in partnership with families and communities, children achieve greater learning competency (Cook, 2010; ACECQA, 2018).


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