Recently I’ve been seeing lots of photos that early years settings are sharing of their outdoor spaces and some of them are just amazing. Clearly a lot of hard work, time and money has gone into creating these outside areas and the results really reflect the love gone into them.
My garden, however, is just that. My garden. As a childminder I offer a home-from-home setting so I like to keep my garden as you’d expect many family gardens to look like. There’s no laminated number lines, no dedicated “areas”, no mud kitchen and no masses and masses of toys. Instead there is space and grass and trees and plants.
Here’s how my garden looks right now and this is how it pretty much looks 365 days of the year (ok this was taken when it was sunny last week, it’s currently grey and miserable and raining!).
During my last Ofsted inspection I was asked about my outside play space. I discussed with the inspector how I believe that as it is my garden adeuqatley covers the 7 areas of learning and development as set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). We chatted at length and both agreed that an uncluttered environment leads to lots of learning opportunities.
Being a self-employed childminder and working for myself means I can choose how my setting looks both inside and out. There is no right or wrong way to set up an outside space for childminding. There is nothing you absolutely must have or anything that you most certainly shouldn’t have. In fact the only mention of outside space in the EYFS is this:
3.58. Providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis (unless circumstances make this inappropriate, for example unsafe weather conditions).
So what do the Little Tots get up to in the garden? Having such a calming and open space free from clutter and distractions means my Little Tots are free to explore and discover and have fun learning through lots of open-ended and child-led play. I’ve put together some of my photos from my Instagram feed to show them having fun.
So what to do I have in my garden?
- A slide
- Ride on car
- 3 bikes
- 1 scooter
- A play house
- A sand pit that either has sand, water or messy play in and sometimes I isn’t even out.
….and that’s it. I now also have a water table which I brought for my sons 1st birthday which isn’t out all the time as well as just one box of garden toys in the shed.
I believe having too much in a garden (and playroom) results in over-stimulation which can lead to problems such as unwelcome behaviour, sensory overload, lack of concentration and often chaotic play scenes. If I put up some numbers or words in my garden I doubt any of my Little Tots would pause long enough to look at them, they’re to busy running round in circles or digging up worms.
All my Little Tots and my own two children have always LOVED the garden. We use it nearly daily and they’re excited to get out in it. I’ve never seen them appear bored or unstimulated in the garden and I don’t believe babies and toddlers need anything more than what I have.
Below I’ve shared some of the ways my garden meets the 7 ares of learning and development but this is by no means a comprehensive list and I’m sure I will add more as I think of them.
Personal, Social & Emotional Development
- Gaining confidence trying new and higher risk activities
- Learning to manage own risks
- Selecting and use resources independently
- Observing adults and children and making new friends
- Following instructions when gardening
- Developing gross motor skills – running, climbing, lifting, moving objects
- Understanding safety measures
- Personal hygiene washing hands after we’ve been in the garden
- Awareness of own space and others during play
- Handling garden tools with increasing control
Communicatoin & Language
- Learning new words about natural environment such as names of flowers or insects
- Talking with other children, problem solving, playing in a group
- Listening to the sounds in the garden
- Talking about what we can see
- Mark making in sand, mud, water etc
- Reading labels on gardening supplies
- Making letters using leaves, sticks, stones etc.
- Using books to further research minibeasts or types of plant
- Measuring items such as sticks, leaves
- Counting natural items
- Looking for shapes and patterns in the plants, stones, trees etc.
- Filling, emptying and pouring mud / water / sand
Expressive Arts & Design
- Exploring natural colours and textures
- Imaginative role play and open-ended play using natural resources available
- Create using different mediums and tools
Understanding the World
- Sensory exploration
- Questioning and investigating the natural environment
- Finding out about and identifying living things
- Construciton using real tools and equipment
- Using cameras to take photos / videos of the garden
- Understanding the changing seasons and weather
- Learning about growth and decay through gardening and observing changes
I would love to see pictures of your outside space? Do you keep it simple or do you prefer to have lots on offer for the children?