In the 18th-19th centuries, industrialisation caused some serious changes in the lives of people (Knight, 2009). In the UK, for instance, industrialisation significantly decreased the schools’ provision of outdoor activities. However, such educators as Friedrich Froebel, Margaret McMillan and Maria Montessori contributed much to the revival of interest in outdoor play. Due to their efforts, the outdoor play provision occupies a crucial place in a contemporary early years setting. This essay analyses the issue of outdoor play in an early years setting. It will start with the definition of the concept of outdoor play and will proceed with the discussion of the first early-years practitioners who accentuated the need to integrate outdoor play into the curriculum. The analysis will then discuss in more detail the significance and use of outdoor play in an early years setting, juxtaposing theoretical and empirical evidence. Finally, the essay will identify the challenges to the successful provision of outdoor play in an early years setting. In view of the fact that children perceive and interact with the world using different senses, it is essential for early years practitioners to use the methods which provide children with an opportunity to learn through these senses (Ouvry, 2000). Play is especially effective for learning because play evokes positive feelings in children and thus motivates them to learn (Ouvry, 2000). According to Johnston and Nahmad-Williams (2014), it is rather difficult to understand what constitutes play within an early years setting because educators and researchers cannot agree on whether to consider structured play (e.g. play activities developed by early years practitioners) as play. Johnston and Nahmad-Williams (2014, p.273) define outdoor play as “a carefully planned outdoor environment that covers the six areas of learning”. These six areas include: 1) physical development; 2) creative development; 3) social, personal, and emotional development; 4) understanding of the world; 5) literacy, language, and communication; 6) reasoning, problem solving, and numeracy (DCSF, 2008). In contemporary early years settings, two types of outdoor play are used: free play and structured play (Johnston and Nahmad-Williams, 2014). Free play is initiated by children: in free play, children choose the resources and materials to play with, although early years practitioners are responsible for preparing the materials. In free play, early years practitioners do not control play; however, they supervise children and provide necessary support. In this regard, free play reinforces children’s independence and their interactions with each other (Johnston and Nahmad-Williams, 2014). In structured play, it is an early years practitioner who chooses the resources and materials and who prepares specific tasks for children to complete (Johnston and Nahmad-Williams, 2014). Although structured play activities are created taking into account children’s interests and needs, structured play is controlled by an early years practitioner who ensures that specific learning outcomes are met. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) was one of the first advocates of outdoor play in an early years setting (Riddall-Leech, 2002; Knight, 2009). According to Froebel, outdoor play contributes to the development of children’s imagination which is essential for successful learning and healthy growth.
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