My post about nature play stimulated a comment from Abbie about her son that did not/could not play outside in nature ... it has made me want to return to my thoughts and concerns about outdoor play, and why I wrote that we need to be aware of the children's individual needs.
I sometimes feel that there is a tendency for some people to hop onto the bandwagon - well meaning people, with the very best intentions at heart, but all the same they get an idea of what is good practice/high quality and go with it... whether it be Forest Schools, Reggio or any other early years idea, if the adult is focussing on the idea rather than the child/ren then the result is not going to be the desired quality.
I have experienced, and I have spoken with others that have experienced, preschools that follow a Reggio approach without any understanding for the philosophy/energy driving the preschools in Reggio Emilia. I fully understand that what is happening in Reggio Emilia cannot be lifted and transported somewhere else - because that is hardly useful to the children and the preschool elsewhere. What the RE approach has taught me is that I need to STOP and LISTEN - what are the children saying to me, what are their needs, their interests and how can I support them and challenge them appropriately. I have seen teachers taking time to document and to plan - but are forgetting the children - instead it has become a process of documenting, planning, documenting and planning - I have even felt that some teachers prefer to document and plan and rearrange furniture rather than be with the children... surely it is BEING WITH THE CHILDREN that is the important bit - the documenting and reflecting/planning is just to support the "being with the children part" - I have felt, and I know others have too, that some adults working in early years seem to be with the children so that they can document/reflect and plan!!
So applying this experience to the outdoors - there is an increasing interest in creating opportunities for children to play outside - for more genuine free play - which I think is fantastic. BUT it must be creating opportunities that we focus on - not demanding all children do this.
"It turned out that he has a physical genetic condition that means he is in constant pain when standing or walking, and I didn't realise this until he was 7.
I felt like you that nature play and free play was very important, but to a certain extent I actually put him off playing outdoors, as he came to associate it with pain. He is now 16 and spends all his time indoors, usually at his computer, as that it the only thing he can do. He has no interest in what goes on in our garden or on the organic farm next door."
I believe that we should encourage children to appreciate nature, and to help them create a love and respect for it. But in the end free-play is exactly that - FREE. Not what we, as adults, expect free play to be - but what each child experiences and chooses it to be - whether that be running around forests pretending to be pirates, playing in mud or dreaming up journeys through quantum worm holes - the imagination and the play belongs to the child - and our roles should be to enable that play.
By observing and by listening to the children we can then apply our theories and our philosophies and all our inspiration to create the right opportunities to allow each child to thrive, for each child to achieve their potential and for each child to be a valued member of the group (society).
Sometimes I have felt that when summer finally comes to Sweden there is this HUGE need for preschools to be outside all the time - reminds me of my mother "you have to make the most of the weather". And while I understand the longing for the sun and the warm weather after more than half the year being dedicated to wintery weather (hats, gloves etc from October to May) the adult need to get out and enjoy the weather should not come before the children's needs. It is OK to be inside a few hours - or even a whole morning - to do a project, read a story or whatever else is required to meet the needs of the children. It is STILL the children that we should be listening to and NOT the weather. As the Swedish saying goes "Ingen dålig väder, bara dålig kläder" - "There's no bad weather, only bad clothing" (it rhymes in Swedish) - so really, the weather should not be making any difference to what activities/play opportunities we are offering the children.
Yes to nature
Yes to free-play
on the children's terms
and not "but this is how we have always done it" - but stop and listen to the children now - in this group, in this situation. Tomorrow it will be different, as will the next group and the group after that. One year it might be all outside and all nature driven and packed lunches every week; the year after it might be art museums and galleries and packed lunches once a month... or...
(and I appreciate that we are very lucky in Sweden that we do not have to write risk assessments every time we want to go on an excursion - we can literally decide with the children the same day is we want to go to a park or the forest...)