Outdoor Play and Emotional Well-Being.
“Well being” relates to a child’s physical, mental health and emotional well-being (HMSO, 2006) and is central to how we feel about ourselves (Laevers, F, 2005; Learning through Landscapes, 2010). When our well-being is high, we are at ease with our surroundings, our self- confidence increases as well as our self esteem and we are able to engage in activities at a higher level which in turn meets our basic needs (Pramling, Sheridan & Williams, 2004).
Loomis and Martin (2007) recognise the importance of basic needs and suggest that unless they are met, then there is no motivation to learn. It is this motivation that drives the child to engage in deep level involvement (Bertram & Pascal, 2001; Mayr & Ulrich, 2009) and it is suggested “the most economic and conclusive way to assess the quality of any educational setting is to focus on two dimensions: the degree of ‘emotional well-being’ and the level of ‘involvement” (Laevers, 2003:1).
In recent years there has been a shift in the experiences given to children in day-care with outdoor play now fairing quite high. Through play, children are stimulated to learn, which, in-turn, strengthens their well-being and most importantly is essential for children to do out of doors (Warden, 2007). Research suggests that children need opportunities to be outside and that the outdoors is where children like to be the most. By allowing children the freedom to be outside we reinforce their emotional well-being, which in turn enables them to embrace the natural world independently (Christie, Johnson and Wardle; 2005, Learning through Landscapes; 2010, Warden; 2007, White; 2007).
Outdoor provision can offer “high quality experiences [and will] have a significant positive impact on children’s social and emotional and cognitive development” (DCSF, 2008:9) “International research shows clear links between access to outdoors – and the natural environment, in particular, mental health and well-being…and exposure to nature has physical, mental, emotional and cognitive benefits that not only buffer the symptoms of these disorders but also positively affect children’s overall development” (Playnotes, 2010: 1).
However “too many educators, politicians and parents believe outdoor play takes time away from academic activities” (Sutterby and Frost, 2002, cited in Christie, Johnson and Wardle, 2005: 2) and that outdoor play is only needed for children to ‘let off steam’ once rigorous classroom activities have taken place (Greenman, 1993, cited in Christie, Johnson and Wardle, 2005).
The outdoors is seen as a place for children to recharge their batteries and prepare for a more structured approach to learning within the classroom. With children spending increased amounts of time indoors in front of the television and computers, their freedom to explore their natural surroundings is becoming more infrequent (DCSF, 2008; Forestry Commission 2006; Fjørtoft, 2004; Palmer, 2006; Stoecklin and White, 1998). Day to day “priorities have [now] shifted towards ‘screen based’ leisure time and where it is not considered safe for children to be outdoors unsupervised, the need for children to play outside in early years settings in crucial for their well-being” (Early excellence, 2009:1). However the EYFS practice guidance used to support settings in delivering quality experiences to children; only stresses outdoor play once within Personal, Social and Emotional Aspects of development and barely touches upon it within the effective outdoor play guidance (DCSF, 2008).As early years educators it is of paramount importance that we understand the importance of facilitating outdoor experiences for those children who have a desire to be outside. Children have different styles of learning and it is important to adapt practice to suit everyone’s needs (Cooper, 1998). Howard Gardner added ‘Naturalistic intelligence’ to his intelligence theory (Louv, 2005:72) and suggests that some children have an affinity to being outside, and that the outdoors supports their style of learning best (Cooper, 1998, Louv, 2005). Furthermore it is suggested that “people are suffering from nature deficit syndrome and mental health problems because they are so out of touch with the rhythms of natural life” (Rawstrone, 2008, Playnotes, 2010). It is therefore of paramount importance that “we…raise ourselves up a little to see naturalistic outdoor play in its simplest form…[and to allow children’s] connection with nature to nurture them…before we lose sight of what it is all about” (Warden, 2007:6).