Practices and policies around early childhood education have progressed significantly over the last 30 years, through dedicated research, education and advocacy. We now have all day kindergarten in many schools, with a play-based curriculum. But while it is universally recognized that play is the basis of early years learning, the quality of that play and the play environments that support them are not necessarily well understood.
Many of us remember fondly the gardens where we wandered and played as small children and made our first discoveries of the world in a lush environment that felt big to us, although our caregivers knew they were safe. This is the idea implicit in the concept of a kindergarten.
Unfortunately, many daycares provide our children with barren outdoor environments where exaggerated “safety” considerations outweigh every other common sense provision for good quality play, effectively roping children off from the world they are meant to discover. Inflated safety considerations create a world of sensory deprivation, where grass, trees, flowers and stones live just outside the fence and child care workers must therefore get very involved in manufacturing things for the children to do outdoors. This form of play provision narrows the world that children can discover, while depriving them of the full experience of their own agency in play.
Improving the landscape of early childhood education in conjunction with a shift in attitude towards supervision would enrich early childhood education as intended by the research, returning childcare workers and kindergarten teachers to their role as providers of enrichment. Danger does not lurk in plants, mud, sand, water, climbing vines or a change in level – except in the negative impact on children who don’t get to learn and develop in natural and enriched environments.
If you are a parent or early childhood educator looking for help with your early years play setting, PLAYbynature wants to help you. We are trained in the award winning OPAL programme, Outdoor Play and Learning, and can assist you with daycare improvements through play audits and strategies specific to your institution. We can write you a play policy, prepare design briefs for play spaces and assist you with physical improvements as well as supervision training in playwork principles.