Physical development: Stepping outside

In this new series on making the most of your outdoor space, Karen Hart suggests foraging for materials to make a woodland sensory play area, building a bug box and making a fun assault course.

Small logs or sections
of logs; small lengths of bamboo; woodchips; water play trough or small paddling pool; small world gures; buckets and spades; short lengths of bamboo; pine cones; cardboard tubes; 
corrugated cardboard; a strong wooden box or crate; string; paper (not too thick); chunky wax crayons.

Step Gently Out by Helen frost (Candlewick Press)
Bugs in the Garden by Beatrice Alemagna (Phaidon Press)

Key vocabulary: Bamboo, logs, wood chips, jagged, craggy, habitat, campfire

In this new series looking at ways to make the most of outdoor play areas, we look at the best activities and resources to use on a month by month basis, including good games to take outside, simple building projects and things to look out for as the seasons change. This month focuses on logs, woodchips and bamboo to encourage minibeasts. All activities are suitable for children from two years of age.

  • Playing and exploring
    Children investigate natural materials.
    They negotiate space and use coordination skills while imagining new purposes for familiar objects.
    Children ‘have a go’ at manipulating and moving natural objects.

Make a woodland sensory play area
You will need small logs or sections of logs, small lengths of bamboo, woodchips, a water play trough or a small paddling pool, small world gures, buckets and spades.

Clear away bikes, prams and scooters, replacing these with logs, bamboo and woodchips for some real hands-on imaginative play. Encourage children to make their own games using the natural resources, supplying a selection of small world toys to extend play. Children love building and constructing their own worlds, and here they can build walls, roads, cages for animals, castles etc. Another idea is to organise children into small groups for a ‘how high can we stack the logs’ challenge, and ‘who will make it all fall down?’ Also, try using small log sections as stepping stones, laying a winding path for children to step or jump along. If you have little barrows or trucks, children can use these to manoeuvre logs, branches and other materials around the play area.

A good activity for younger children
Fill your water play trough or a small paddling pool with woodchips and bury some dinosaurs and animal gures inside. Supply some buckets and spades for a treasure hunt, seeing how many figures children can dig out.

Building a bug box
Another idea for using these natural materials is to build a bug box. You will need natural materials such as short lengths of bamboo and pine cones, cardboard tubes, corrugated cardboard, a strong wooden box or crate, string for tying bits together.

Pick a spot in your outside area that ideally should be in partial shade. You want the wood to stay damp but not too cold for attracting bugs. It is best to have your bug house standing upright rather than lying down, so that children can easily see the creatures inside.

Pack your crate with pine cones, pieces of bamboo, twigs, bark, offcuts of wood, etc. Pack out your box as tightly as you can, lling gaps with both fresh and dried leaves. You could organise a nature walk so children can collect some of the items themselves, and then help sort out all the objects back at the nursery, putting all the leaves together in one pile, twigs in another and so on.

If you nd some of your bits and pieces keep falling out of the box, try stuf ng them inside an empty cardboard tube first, making it much easier to keep everything in place. Corrugated cardboard is really good for both packing out 

your box and helping to keep objects in place–bugs love to get in the grooves too. You can also tie bits together to make it easier to keep everything in place. Aim for a well- packed out box so little bugs can crawl in and hide.

Let children visit the bug box regularly to see what has taken up residence, using magnifying glasses to get a better look. The bugs you are likely to nd may include earwigs, woodlice, spiders, ladybirds, caterpillars and all sorts of grubs and beetles. Add some fresh grass and leaves as needed as some fresh plant matter is important for some types of bugs such as ladybirds and snails, while others, such as woodlice, will be happy with the old dead stuff.

Use your bug box to inspire extension activities, such as drawing the bugs found and drama or PE sessions with children imagining themselves moving around as bugs.

  • Active learning
    Children concentrate on using speci c skills for each stage of the course.
    They are encouraged to ‘keep trying’ to complete the physical activities.
    They are offered challenges suitable for all levels of ability, allowing them to ‘enjoy achieving what they set out to do’.

Make an assault course
This is a very easy activity to set up. Keep the course really simple so your youngest children can have a go too. Some ideas for activities include: pushing a doll’s pram along a path; egg and spoon walking with either a bouncy ball in a spoon or, for younger children, a cotton wool ball which is much easier; walking along a line of tape without stepping off the line; jumping in and out of hoops; hitting a ball off of a wall with a bat; and if you have a bubble machine, popping ve bubbles or, you could get older children to blow their own bubble.

Take photos of each child taking part to use as a record of achievement.

  • Creating and thinking critically
    Children master a new skill: ‘achieving through practice’.
    They are offered a follow-on activity looking at habitats, helping them make links.
    They are encouraged to ‘choose ways to do things’ through trial and error.

This simple activity is deceptively complex in the range of skills it covers. There is a great deal of small muscle development being used here. It is a really good activity for encouraging language skills too.

You will need paper (not too thick), chunky wax crayons and trees or logs with raised bark. Encourage children to feel the bark on trees or logs and talk about the way it looks and feels. What does it remind them of? Introduce some new words such as jagged, craggy and rugged.

Demonstrate how to hold the paper with one hand while rubbing over the surface of the tree bark with the at side of a crayon. Encourage children to have a go at holding the paper themselves–a tricky manoeuvre. Make sure children understand they need to use the at side of the crayon to make a rubbing.

Children can go on to add a little caterpillar to their pictures using nger paints.

Extend the activity further by making crayon rubbings of other objects such as leaves, coins and interesting surfaces around your setting.

Enabling environment
This simple activity was a massive hit with children at my local nursery. It is all about imagination and having fun with natural materials. Begin the activity by taking children on a twig hunt, collecting a couple of carrier bags full.

Back at your outside space, let children help you build a camp re. We showed children a picture of a camp re before we started the activity so that they had an idea of what to aim for.

We pretended to light the camp re and toast marshmallows–simply pushing marshmallows on short skewers and pretending to roast them over the re. Everyone had hot chocolate to drink and sang songs round the imaginary re. Children had so much fun, and the theme was continued later that day during circle time, with a discussion about the dangers of real res, why you must never play with matches and the job of the re brigade.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

By looking at habitats in the insect world, exploring their textures and physical properties and by observing and talking about these, the following Understanding the World early learning goals are covered: ‘Children know about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things. They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another. They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.

‘Exploring and using media and materials’ by building with natural materials, exploring textures while making bark rubbings and singing round an imaginary camp re, the criteria for the following learning goal is covered: Children sing songs, make music and dance, and experiment with ways of changing them. They safely use and explore a variety of materials, tools and techniques, experimenting with colour, design, texture, form and function (Expressive Arts and Design).



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