I have been having many moments of inspiration in our outdoor environment this year. I keep thinking of new ideas to make it a more exciting and engaging place for children to be. I aim to cover all areas of the EYFS in this one space so thought I would share with you all, where we currently are in that journey.
I introduced a herb area which allows the children to explore the smells and taste of many plants as well as adding a Lavender on the top. I placed plastic insects inside and added magnifying glasses close by so that the children can inspect the plants and bugs and even hopefully find real bugs!
This encourages the children to explore nature and learn about the natural world around them. (EYFS Understanding the world) They will also be using fine motor skills to look and carefully pick up insects (EYFS Physical development) and this invitation to play will encourage lots of language and chatter. Taking about the smells and taste of the herbs, the bugs they have found, even counting the bugs, talking about their colours and size, possibly grouping them. (EYFS Communication and Language, Mathematics)
I have also created a road outside, along a low wall. This was first created for a child who spent most of his time inside playing with the cars and garage. I wanted to encourage him to try new things so added this to entice him outside but with a familiar toy.
This area encourages conversation and we have already had lots of chats about traffic lights and what the different lights mean. We talked about what side of the road cars drive on and some road safety as well. (EYFS Understanding the world, Communication and Language) We have counted cars, talked about their size and colour and grouped them by type or colour (EYFS Mathematics)
I have started to collect different materials for building dens. Building on this large scale, works different muscles to the small intricate movements of collecting bugs and pushing cars down a track. Children make bridges to walk along and use logs to climb on. (EYFS Physical Development) The children have the opportunity to build something that they can crawl in to and this gives them a very different feeling of achievement to say, building a house of lego bricks for example. This helps to boost their confidence and self esteem. (EYFS Personal social and emotional)
The children often extend this play in to an imaginative game using the den they have made as a tent, house, cave or boat. This creative role play requires children to use current knowledge and to build on that, sharing ideas and past experiences with others, re-enacting everyday activities that they see the adults around them doing, like cooking dinners and caring for babies. Children love to role play the jobs of grown ups or act out stories they have been told. (EYFS Expressive Arts and Design.) This type of play also requires children to work together and allow others to express their ideas. (EYFS Personal social and emotional)
I have included several small world play areas which I am trying hard to make appealing to both genders and all ages. I do not believe in gender stereotyping, but in truth some children seem to naturally be drawn to a stereotype in their interests. This will also provide alternative areas that the children can try out and may well find as enjoyable as the ones they are naturally drawn to by their personality and character. Hopefully this will encourage a new interest!
Small world play builds a child's imagination and imaginative play. It gives them the opportunity to play out situations using toys, that may have been hard for them to understand. They can play out real life scenarios or create Fantasy worlds using their imaginations. Small world play gives children the chance to be in control of their world and make the decisions. They create stories and use lots of language. (EYFS Personal social and emotional, Expressive Art and Design, Communication and Language Understanding the World).
I gathered some large tree cookies for use in den building, for climbing on, to attract bugs and really just to see what the children would do with them. (EYFS Physical Development, Expressive Art and Design)
We have the outdoor kitchen area as well which has changed a little over the years as parts of it have worn or broken. It has continued to remain the most used area in the garden through out this time and through all seasons and weathers. We try to contain most of the messy play to this area but it often spreads across the garden as the ideas grow and play evolves.
This is another place where Physical skills are developed. lots of pouring water in to tiny bottles and mixing of potions takes place, picking herbs for their dinners and chopping up bits of wood or leaves. (EYFS Physical Development).
I LOVE to stand in this area and observe them playing. The language is wonderful. The stories and scenarios they create often have me giggling. They become so engaged and eager to share their ideas and the direction they would like to take this story. Its a very busy and animated area! (EYFS Communication and Language, Expressive Art and Design, Personal social and emotional, Physical Development.)
We often find pens and paper have been brought out to this area or chalks. Potion ingredients are recorded so that they can be re-made at a later date. Menus are drawn up and orders taken. I need to add more permanent mark making resource's in this area. (EYFS Literacy)
I have an old sink in the outdoor kitchen area. The contents of which is often changed depending on what interests are being displayed at the time. We filled it with soil while we were looking at plants and vegetables and growing our own seeds. We currently have sand in it to fit in with our Oceans and Seaside theme.
This is sensory/ messy play area that gives the children textures to explore and experiment with.
I find that the children often cement their learning in this area. When we read about planting seeds and then planted beans in a jar, the children spent a lot of time in this area using beans and pots to plant up seed after seed. Talking about the elements that a plant needed to grow. Asking me for water and revisiting all the things we had talked about during story time or during a more focused learning activity. (EYFS Understanding the world).
We also have our music wall here which provides the children with a great place to make lots of noise and sing loudly! I would say that it tends to be used to create" maximum noise" as opposed to the most "pleasing to the ear" noise! Either way the children get a lot of fun from this area! (EYFS Expressive Art and Design).
I also like to make sure that there is water available in buckets for the children to use. Sometimes this is mixed with other things in the outdoor kitchen, sometimes we have fish in it and a fishing rod. Sometimes we just experiment with the properties of water, how it moves and behaves when you do different things with it or add different items. What will float and what will sink? Often we have paintbrushes and spray bottles out here and the children can make marks and patterns on the patio and fences. (EYFS Understanding the world, Physical development, Literacy)
We also have our nature area where we throw lots of wild seeds and hope for the best. We feed the birds here and watch them as they come to eat. We have sparrows, coal Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, Starlings and even Doves feeding on here! The plants encourage Butterflies, Ladybirds, Bees and Caterpillars!
(EYFS Understanding the world)
I hope that this gives you all some ideas that you might like to use at home or in your setting. I also hope this helps the parents of the children in my care, to understand the importance of the time their children spend in the garden and how much learning is being achieved here and how it links to the EYFS. I will continue to include more areas as I think of them and will share them on this blog. I haven't mentioned the Chicken run where we collect the eggs and learn about how we get them. I also haven't mentioned how we care for the Rabbit and chickens and how the children pick them weeds and herbs to feed them, how they talk kindly to them and stroke them. I am sure there is lots more learning that I have forgotten to mention so I do apologise!
I would love to hear how other are using their outdoor areas to teach children. Please do add a link to your garden posts in the comments box below so we can pop over and share our ideas!