Outdoor play spaces in early learning programs are most fulfilling to children when they are uniquely designed to provide places where they can hide and climb and run and pause. The space includes places where children become deeply engaged in thinking and exploring, wondering and imagining, tinkering and discovering. And, outdoor play spaces change with the seasons and with children’s varying interests.
Outdoor play environments are most effective when they are planned for and with children with or without disabilities that “encourage children’s active participation” (Hanline, 1999, p. 290). Early learning teachers benefit in examining space from the perspective of being “a planned arrangement of ideas, people, time, space and resources” (McLean, 1995, p. 7). Outdoor play spaces that offer a variety of options and opportunities support children in gaining a sense of belonging, using their senses and exercising the feeling of freedom that contributes to them exploring and discovering (Dietze & Kashin, 2012).
There is an increased movement among early learning programs to observe children’s interests and skills and use such information as the foundational strategy in the design and changes that occur within the outdoor play spaces. Advocates of outdoor play are suggesting that early learning programs focus on children’s potential play experiences rather than on commercial equipment as the primary strategy for designing space. Taking such an approach requires an examination of the characteristics of the space and the types of resources available that would complement children’s ideas. Space that has the possibility to change rather than be static increases children’s ability to engage in play that is child initiated and reflective of their ideas and desires.
When planning outdoor play space, it is important to consider the stakeholders – the children, staff, parents and the organization.
Reflect on the following question and then record your answer in the comment box below. If you had a blank canvas of an outdoor play space for children, how would you proceed to develop the space and what key resources would you hope to put into the space? Why?