Environment in School Aged Settings

                  
Hi everybody!! Welcome back to our series of School Age Childcare blog posts. This week, we are going to focus on Guideline 3 from the document which was recently distributed to services National Quality Guidelines to School Aged Childcare Services – The Environment.

Amy Dempsey, Development Officer, KCCC

Our environment is so important to us, for our health, well-being, comfort and enjoyment. As adults, we try to make our environment comfortable yet functional and pleasing to the eye and the mind. The same goes for children and young people – the environment within which they are cared for needs to be comforting, pleasing and functional as well as safe.

                                    

Guideline 3 looks closely at environments, including legislative requirements, involving children in the layout and design, health and safety and much more, which you can read about in the Guideline Document.

Today we will look at and reflect on the outdoor environment.

We are all familiar with the benefits of being outdoors, our physical health as well as mental health can be improved by spending time outside. Over the past year, more than ever, we have understood just how important the outdoor environment is and the range of opportunities it provides us with – time to relax and switch off, time for learning skills and enjoying new hobbies, time for connecting with others and time for appreciation and reflection.

The outdoor environment in a School Age Childcare service is just as important for children and young people and can be as engaging and important as the indoor environment. The outdoor environment provides space and opportunity for children and young people to:

  • play imaginatively
  • move more freely and to further develop gross and fine motor skills
  • learn new skills and try new sports
  • developing life skills and learning dispositions such as problem solving, inquiry skills and thinking and reflecting.
  • engage with nature and the environment and learn about horticulture
  • the opportunity for challenge, the opportunity to take risks and learn how to assess risk for themselves
  • develop social skills such as turn taking, co-operation and following games with rules
  • have quiet time, relax or just the space to unwind after a long day in school

The daily schedule of a school age childcare service can be hectic and challenging to fit everything in – by the time children arrive back from school, have a snack or meal, change out of their uniforms and do their homework it can sometimes seem hard to fit much else in. Sometimes, where the SAC is part of a full day care service, the outdoor environment is shared and requires scheduled times. These are just two examples of barriers to outdoor play for children and young people in school age childcare.

                    

So how do we overcome challenges like this to ensure that children and young people have the opportunity to spend time outdoors in a meaningful and engaging way?

  • Collaborate and consult - Talk to children and parents and staff to get their feedback – how would children like the daily schedule to run, can we cut back a little on the amount of time spent doing homework, what are the barriers for staff in engaging with the outdoors more? What changes can we make to support more outdoor play?
  • Think about access – does your service have the capacity to allow free movement between the indoor and outdoor environments so that children and young people can exercise choice? If not is there a way you could establish this? Can you allow for flexibility depending on the needs or interests of children on a given day?
  • If children and young people are sharing the outdoor environment with younger children, what can we do? Can they explore and play safely together? Is there an area that can be used for sports and risky play by children and young people without the fear of hurting the little ones?
  • Think about what activities can be just as engaging in the outdoor environment – snack time, meditation, yoga and story time. Can children bring some of their toys and resources outside, such as Lego and other constructions toys or small world toys. What about art – can painting and messy play be brought outdoors? Can we encourage the practice of transient art (using natural items found outdoors to create pictures, patterns, designs and words)?

For the month of May, KCCC are running a series of events on Outdoor Play, looking at engaging with nature, risky play and using open ended materials in the outdoors. We will also be running follow up events throughout the year.  These events are open to ELC and SAC providers so we would love for you to sign up and enjoy some very interesting and engaging material on outdoor play.

We also would like to share some amazing materials and resources from a recent conference we attended Outdoor Play Mayo Conference. There are some wonderful and very inspiring videos on outdoor play provision and great practical workshops. All the videos can be found at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/c/GMITMayoOutdoorEducation/videos

If you have any questions about these events, or would like any support in relation to outdoor play, please feel free to contact us on 045-861307 or email info@kccc.ie. We would love to support you in any way possible.