ECT speaks on the importance of indoor/outdoor play
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > ECT speaks on the importance of indoor/outdoor play

ECT speaks on the importance of indoor/outdoor play

by Serena Lucas

August 07, 2023

Indoor/outdoor play is a common structure in many early childhood settings, allowing children to choose if they play inside or outside, and to move freely between the two. 


In the piece below, early childhood teacher Serena Lucas from Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure Ashmore provides an outline of how this way of play began at her service, and ideas and advice for other services wishing to adopt a similar approach. 


Why indoor/outdoor play?


“I am a huge advocate for the implementation of an indoor/outdoor program for all children enrolled in Early Years services,” Ms Lucas began. 


“The passion began about five years ago, when I joined a company that had some very sound rituals embedded into their philosophy and one of those was offering a program that saw children not stifled and restricted to one space at a time. It invited children to make informed decisions about which space offered them the elements that they needed to explore.” 


“I embraced this practice and revelled in the delight and opportunities that it provided for children, alongside myself as an educator, seeing many positive benefits the more I practiced this. There was a definite shift in my own philosophy and practice.”


What does indoor/outdoor play offer to children? 


This type of program, she continued, responds to the individual needs of children on another level. 


“Opening the doors to the classroom enables educators an organic spread of children engaging in learning experiences.”


Some of the benefits of structuring play in this way include:  


  • Children have agency in their learning 
  • Children are exposed to a wider scope of experiences available at one time 
  • One environment is not more important than the other 
  • Being out in nature and fresh air
  • Behaviours decrease when the doors are opened to offer a free-flowing space between the indoors and outdoors 
  • Sufficient space for all children 
  • Opportunity for smaller, intimate social groups 
  • Educators’ interactions are richer in smaller groups, as children are more settled throughout both spaces
  • The density of children in one space is decreased.


A challenge to educators embrace the freedom


“I challenge you to lessen the pressure on yourselves to keep environments spotless at all times and to re-imagine what a learning environment will look like; providing more possibilities for children as they gravitate to the space that best suits their learning needs,” she continued. 


“Not all children learn best inside and not all children learn best outside. Let’s be forward thinking teachers by offering multi-levels for children to explore and be present in; and promote all educators specialised areas of care and education.”


Making it work


“An indoor/outdoor program works if there is commitment from all educators and provides such flexibility for educators preparation work, as well as the opportunity to operate with smaller groups of children,” Ms Lucas said. 


Wondering how you can start this type of play? Here are some tips:


  • All educators need to be on board to get it started and remember it won’t feel perfect the first time and probably not the second time either but with perseverance, it will become an embedded part of your day.  

  • Start with small steps, have your inside time with gatherings and your first mealtime and then explain to the children that there is going to be the opportunity to be either inside or outside. Once finished, open the doors to the outside and observe and be present so that you can support and guide children to where they will find their happy place.  Another way is with small groups venturing outside on a staggered run, enabling educators to settle children to an experience before the next group of children comes out.   
  • Be prepared with experiences, ones that will ignite wonder and curiosity both indoors and outdoors. Be intentional with the experiences that you provide and ensure that both environments are as wondrous and sparkling as the other. Have a store of interchangeable provocations that you can access if necessary. 

  • The team needs to be responsive to the spaces that have children. If most children are outside, then the flow of educators needs to accommodate this but with a remaining staff member inside and the doors wide open. 

  • Children need to know that it is ok to be inside, but it’s also ok to be outside too, neither of those choices are either wrong or right.  
  • As a team, be proactive in having reflective conversations. Be honest and be clear but remain committed. Reflection is about collaborative discussions, sharing the challenges and finding the solutions, applauding the celebrations and giving yourselves a pat on the back for even the smallest of steps forward.    


“Do not shut the door however hard and messy it may seem at times,” Ms Lucas said. “These conversations will guide your program and make sure that amidst these professional huddles and conversations, you document the content.”


The door to new possibilities 


Opening the door, literally, to indoor/outdoor play will also open educator minds to consider what is possible.    


“These strategies though are just the building blocks that we use to achieve the ideal of opening the doors and the flow of children between the spaces. When involved in the daily routines such as bed making, setting tables, throw the doors open and invite children to help, to be part of the process, to take ownership,” Ms Lucas encouraged.


“At times you will find, more time is needed to be part of a whole group and it is ok to be inside together, but also remember that not everyone learns best in a small room that is restricted by space or recyclable air.”   


“Learn to read the behaviours of children and respond to these with the answer could possibly be the introduction of an indoor/outdoor program. I can guarantee that almost every time, you will find that the behaviours and often chaos will begin to extinguish itself over time and your job as educators will begin to feel easier.”   


Be present in the moment and embrace it! 


The Sector thanks the team at Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure for their permission to re-share Ms Lucas’ work. You can access it in its original form here.

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