By Felicity Thomas
Norfolk is putting ‘Learning in the Outdoors’ at centre stage for their Early Years training and development programme. Their annual Early Years Conference this year consists of three days promoting outdoor learning, investigation and information. A ‘Training Garden’ has been developed at the Early Years Hub in Norwich to show how all learning can happen in the outdoors and to give both staff and children a ‘wallowing experience’ in outdoor learning. This ‘wallowing’ was introduced through a two-day course designed by minds4learning for practitioners and managers.
Norfolk Early Years invited us to develop this new course that would do just that – they wanted practitioners to have a holistic and deep experience of being outdoors and what this means for learning, socialising, mental health and well-being. We decided to call this course ‘Fresh Air, Freedom and Fun’ to reflect the key elements we felt were at the core of outdoor learning.
The first day took place at the Children’s Garden Day Nursery in Colney, Norwich by kind permission of the owners Claire and Edward Kenyan. This nursery has five acres of woodland and access to a further 87 acres with the River Yare running through the woods. The topography is somewhat unusual for Norfolk as it is valley and hillside of quite high proportions! All the practitioners attending were asked to come prepared for whatever the weather as we would be outside all of day one of this two day course. We explored the area, made dens in the walled garden, all took turns in being a leader walking through the woods and sharing our knowledge of nature and memories of outdoor freedoms. We made our own ‘healthy lunch outdoors’ and enjoyed eating together under the sky. We listened to a traditional tale of ‘The Three Little Pigs’ in the woods and then using found objects from the woods made houses for the three little pigs. Some of these had inventive and technical traps for the Wolf!
We discussed our fears and joys of learning outdoors and shared tips and practical ideas. Participants were then asked to go away and engage colleagues, parents and children in similar experiences. Day two was spent sharing their action research and learning about the underpinning pedagogy of outdoor learning using the values and principles developed by Jan White, Liz Edwards, Suzanne Scott, Ann Thompson and Menna Godfrey. This showed just what an amazing impact they had in their own settings.
Some typical comments have been ‘Inspired, trusted, motivated’
‘Very confident to promote with children, confident to try with parents’
‘I felt everything we did was fun and we were able to explore, be creative and exchange ideas and opinions’
‘I feel confident to inspire other members of my team to feel engaged and enthusiastic for outdoor learning’
‘I have so much knowledge that I had temporarily forgotten about’
This impactful outdoor training will run three more times next year and is open to all Norfolk early years practitioners. See more about the developing Early Years Wellbeing Garden at Norfolk Early Years Hub on their blog at https://norfolkearlyyearsgarden.wordpress.com/author/hollisi/