Time is everything

Winter is well understood as a signal and opportunity for calming down, taking things more slowly, resting up, restoring and regenerating.  It encourages a period for what I love to think of as composting.

This new post from Early Childhood Outdoors’ co-director and outdoor practitioner extraordinaire, Menna Godfrey, celebrates our milestone of reaching 100 posts on the ECO blog!  What a great moment to pay attention to TIME as a critical element of outdoor pedagogy.

‘Time’ is one of the 10 core values in The Shared Vision and Values of Outdoor Play in the Early Years, agreed by The Vision and Values Partnership in 2004:

Young children should have long periods of time outside.  They need to know that they can be outside every day, when they want to and that they can develop their ideas for play overtime.

High quality play outdoors, where children are deeply involved, only emerges when they know they are not hurried.  They need to have time to develop their use of spaces and resources and uninterrupted time to develop their play ideas, or to construct a place and play in it or to get into problem-solving on a big scale.  They need to be able to return to projects again and again until ‘finished’ with them.  Slow learning is good learning.

The Froebel Trust’s recent half-day webinar The Urgency of Slow reconsidered the relationship with time in Early Childhood Education, featuring the fascinating research project by Professor Alison Clark, Slow knowledge and the unhurried child.  You can watch the webinar recording on their website, and I’m really looking forward to the book that Alison will be publishing with Routledge early in 2022 (there will also soon be a shorter project report on the Froebel Trust website).

As Menna’s pumpkin story so clearly shows, the more you look into the issue of TIME, the more there is to unpick and think about in terms of the pedagogical decisions we are constantly making: this is a very nice example of slow, attentive practice – or ‘Slowliness’.  Di Chilver’s chapter in Outdoor Provision in the Early Years, ‘As long as they need: the vital role of time‘, also supplies plenty of food to prompt your thinking about this core ingredient of really good outdoor play as you (hopefully) take your own time out over the festive period.

In Menna’s piece, it’s also well worth attending to the role the pumpkins were taking as active ‘play partners’ in the outdoor play lives of these children.  On the very same day that I received Menna’s post, I also received an alert to a fascinating research collaboration from Canada and Australia called Watching change: attuning to the tempo of decay with pumpkin, weather and young children:

This paper follows a group of young children in an early childhood education setting and their growing acquaintance with a pumpkin over a five-month period.  During this time, relations were forged between the pumpkin, weather and the children, and as we observed these emerging relations, we found ourselves attuning to the change of pace this brought to thinking and learning in the centre.

I’d like to express my gratitude to all the very many outdoor champions and fellows in the ECO meshwork who have taken the time to share aspects of their thinking and practice over the 3 years since we started this blog.  This gratitude extends especially to Kathy Brodie for getting our website up and running in the first place and her ever-patient support in sending out the email alerts.

What an amazing resource library we have made through our meshwork collaborative.  We hope that the next 100 posts (!) continue to nourish and energise you in your work to realise every child’s right to be, play and learn outdoors every single day!

Time is everything by Menna Godfrey

“I’m getting ready for Halloween.”  This statement came from one of our three-year olds on 19th November as he finished arranging a selection of squash and pumpkins outside the door of one of our play huts.  You may wonder whether I have got the date wrong; surely, it should be 19th October?  But no, this took place almost three weeks after most of us had forgotten about Halloween and indeed the shops had moved on to Christmas!

A selection of squash and pumpkins have been available to the children in the garden for about a month now.  We always struggle with how to offer new resources, sometimes we place them in a prominent position such as a builder’s tray, on other occasions we have placed them somewhat innocuously around the setting.

In previous years I have been given very large pumpkins which I have used to block a pathway, interested to see how the children tackle the challenge of moving or circumnavigating the heavy object.

Wherever they begin their experience at playgroup, our experience is that the squash soon move around the garden and become a rich part of play for a month or so.  The range of ways that children use resources, especially novel ones such as squash, always amazes me.

Counting as he pours water over each squash.

Over the years we have seen so many different uses of the pumpkins and this year has been no exception.

Babies in the nest.
Babies rocking in a swing; the packages are food, the hat is a blanket.

This year our aim was to enable children to come across the squash in their play, to be drawn to them, or even perhaps called by them, rather than the resources being an adult-directed initiative.

We arranged them on an empty trolley in the area where resources are stored.  We expected children to see them and possibly comment on them and were ready to support their explorations without leading them in a direction of our own.

This year’s exploration began as it often does with a request for wheelbarrows, of which we have plenty.  Children loaded them up and began the perilous journey around the garden, spilling pumpkins as they went.  This new cargo proved trickier than the leaves that they had previously transported, being both heavier and less evenly distributed.

Most children gained confidence quickly, whilst others decided that the best option was to reduce the quantity of pumpkins to enable a safer journey.  Children commented about size and colour, compared weights and explored the rollability of the different varieties of squash.

Every year they are eager to find ways to break into them and find out what is inside.  This year was no exception and one larger squash obligingly split in two as it rolled off a table.  Extracting the seeds is always an activity that most children want to get involved with, even if there is an initial reluctance to touch the ‘slimy’ insides.

This begins/continues the year-long project that these reliable germinators provide.  We collect and dry the seeds on a windowsill and then store them until spring; children often appear to play little part in this, although those who have a particular interest will notice if some seeds start to go mouldy and are quick to draw the adult attention to this.

When it comes to planting though children are all keen to take part and we are all excited to watch the little seedlings popping their heads up.  They watch the growing plants eagerly and are involved with watering and tending the plants, then discussing why some flowers produce fruit and others not.

Harvesting and cooking the fruits, sharing produce with parents and grandparents has brought great joy over the years.  But some fruits remain in the garden to enable the cycle to continue for another year.

But to return to where I began, allowing time to re-present experiences is vital; children so often process events weeks afterwards and if we remove the opportunities for them to do so they miss the possible learning.  Time gives opportunity for familiarity to develop, ideas to be revisited, predictions to be made, theories to be explored, anticipation to build..

Getting ready for Halloween is an all year round project in so many ways, and whilst we do not celebrate the event as a setting, we recognise the wonderful offer that squash and pumpkin provide.  Time is everything.

All images are (C) Menna Godfrey and must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.


2 thoughts on “Time is everything”

  1. Wonderful examples of practice – I was right there with these children in their exploration of pumpkins! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Love this! Rolling pumpkins down the mud hills is always a highlight. Like you this is an Autumn adventure that we all look forward to rather than a focus on Halloween.

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