It was a happy Monday to me when I got to visit Beatle Woods Outdoor Nursery in Balsall Common. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the sound of children jumping off a bridge into splashy, squelchy, slimy, oozy, thick, MUD could be heard from base camp-through the long wavy grass, trees and willow dens.

This is the first outdoor forest nursery in the region and Rachel her team have just made it through their first winter. Yep, that’s right from 9am-3.00pm the children are free to roam, explore, discover and make their own choices in 10 acres of woodland. From cutting carrots and making mud pies in base camp to revisiting their own fascinations such as dinosaur bones, streams, hills and creatures.

The ethos is wholeheartedly committed to play and it just so happens that this is in an outdoor nursery and one where children are skilfully encouraged to be curious, capable and confident-it was a joy to observe them absorbed and engrossed in their play and work together to pull each other out of muddy gloopy puddles where their wellies are stuck-negotiating risks and sharing ideas.

After visiting an outdoor nursery so many Early Years practitioners were fascinated with the concept of and it got me thinking how often most Early Years settings spend outdoors. It lead me to consider how we value outdoor play and in turn ask this question, ‘do you wish for muddy puddles?’ Do you wish to enjoy the experience and magic of sharing a gigantic hop, jump, leap and a splash in a muddy puddle with a delighted child?

At Beatle Woods the children have the luxury of endless opportunities to revel and delight in their environment which just happens to be outdoors. They have the time to just be, just be-navigating their way up and down muddy slippery slopes helping one another as they go. Just be-jumping on and off a bridge into the muddy swamp below, absorbed in cause and effect. Just be-exploring the woods and trees for dinosaurs and creatures and identify it might be time for some lunch when they recognise that large aeroplane zooming across the sky!

The impact this will have on their lifelong learning; emotional wellbeing, cognitive functions and overall development will be massive. So we must value the learning opportunities presented within the outdoor environment and ensure children have plentiful opportunity to just be free! Every day access to experience the weather and seasons, to take risks and challenge themselves, to explore and become absorbed in the world around them or to simply run, jump, climb and experiment with movement.

Of course Early Years settings are all different, I’m not saying you have to spend the whole day outside nor am I advocating that we should all become an outdoor nursery. But I am saying this, if you value play and truly believe that children learn through meaningful play based opportunities then we need to improve our personal effectiveness to break down the barriers and get outside!

 In your setting how do you organise adult led or focused activities? Are they at a table inside and do you often have to go and search for children from wherever they might be and coax them to the table to tick off the activity you have completed that day? How do you consider ways in which to extend learning opportunities that happen in the moment. Perhaps planning for future areas of development by extending ideas and fascinations from curiosities you have observed, none of which needs to be indoors.

 On Monday morning when you go back to work, whatever the weather, come rain or shine-wrap up warm and get outside wishing and hoping for those muddy puddles.

#LetThemPlay #EYFS #ForestNursery #Outdoor #Solihull #BeatleWoods #EarlyYears

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