Sandpits and secret gardens – one London-based headmistress on the joys of outdoor play in education
Words Hilary Wyatt
A quick scan of the newspapers or a few Google searches throws up research that demonstrates today’s generation of children are spending more and more time engrossed in tablets and screens – and less time celebrating the great outdoors.
A recent report suggested even prisoners are spending more time outside than our children – and that we, as adults and parents, used to enjoy double the amount of time in the open-air compared to our youngsters.
The debate around the roles of technology versus outdoor play in education has long been a key point of discussion, both for parents and educators, and at Hyde Park Nursery School we firmly believe that a combination of both is crucial to helping our students flourish. But how we can strike the perfect balance? And what if some children respond better to one over the other?
As an independent nursery and prep school, we are in an incredibly fortunate position where we are able to tailor our learning environment to bring out the very best in each and every one of our students.
This means that, in addition to creating a stimulating and engaging educational programme, our surroundings – both indoor and outdoor – can be adapted so they are fun and exciting spaces that our pupils can enjoy and learn from. To encourage a combination of technology-based and outdoor-based play, we operate a free-flow nursery, where children have the option to spend time inside or outside throughout the day. We also encourage our pupils to decide for themselves when and how they want to utilise the indoor and outdoor space, rather than operating a rigid schedule that may not always suit their individual needs or goals.
By affording our students the opportunity to make these decisions for themselves, we believe we are enhancing their learning experience as they will naturally gravitate towards surroundings and stimulus that they find the most interesting and motivating.
Luckily, our nursery school – aptly named The Long Garden – has vast amounts of outdoor space where we have installed a huge sandpit, butterfly gardens and vegetable patches, as well as a large grassy space for our pupils to run around in. Our teachers and assistants encourage students to be out in the fresh air as much as possible.
We run weekly Outdoor Adventurer sessions where our children learn to make fires, cook marshmallows, pop popcorn and burn sticks to make charcoal. They also learn about the wildlife that lives in the garden. Den building forms part of the weekly challenge lessons and the Mud Kitchen is used to make imaginary stews and magic potions! Also caring for our three cute guinea pigs (Alvin, Simon and Theodore), and the chicks and butterflies when they hatch, is fun and teaches our children to be kind and gentle.