Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Importance of Learning Through Play Outside - Wigwams and WOW moments

Big Game Hunters WigWam
Wigwam from Big Game Hunters

One of the biggest mistakes we can make as educators and/or parents of young children is planning for and seeing the outdoors as something entirely separate to the indoor setting. In the Early Years, wherever possible the outdoor area should be an extension of the indoor classroom - not a carrot dangled on a stick in the form of 'playtime', used as a reward once the more 'important' work and activities have been completed inside. Often, when 'outdoor play' is confined to short bursts, we see a lot of 'low level' learning taking place and 'playing around' rather than quality play - simply because the children don't have the time to engage in all of those important processes that result in quality learning and interactions, deep level learning and sustained shared thinking...

The fact that some children are often lead to the view that outdoor play, or 'playtime' is used as a 'reward' for those who have been 'good' ( as can often be assumed when children are made to miss playtime as a consequence) means that the idea of the learning environment outside being a useful and important learning tool for all children is diminished, and leads to a separation of 'work and play'... for young children, 'play' is how they learn. All work is play, and a good learning environment will allow for no separation between the two.

Toddler playing and learning outside musical instruments water and washing up liquid play outside

This can be really tricky to manage (or to feel like you can manage) if you work in a setting with a high number of children per adult, such as a Reception class (where the 'legal' minimum is 30 children to one Teacher, but almost always includes one Teaching Assistant as well), it can often mean that in these situations, one member of staff stays in and one goes out. I've often heard this referred to as feeling a little bit like 'crowd control' and there are always concerns about certain groups of children who only ever want to play outside, missing out on indoor activities - please don't ever feel that this is a good reason to minimise outdoor play. If anything, this is an even greater reason for needing high quality resources, provocations and learning opportunities outside, completely separate and independent to the indoor learning but just as valuable.

water balloons in a bathtub outsideunder the sea tuffspot tray outside play 

I am not teaching in a setting at the moment, the majority of my teachable moments and activities with Arthur are planned and carried out at home, but I will admit that lately ( in spite of knowing all of the above) we haven't done as much outdoor play as we perhaps should have. Whereas once we would have had the patio doors open and ready for all manner of investigations (the ability for free flow is a massive advantage) my recent morning sickness and pregnancy nausea has meant that I've been working VERY hard on making indoor play seem super appealing (often with the help of Mr Tumble or Fireman Sam) whilst I've been convincing myself that the downstairs bathroom really isn't such a bad room to spend so much time. It can be hard to make a change, and for those who ARE working in a setting where outdoor play really is just low level playtime, it can be daunting to know just how to make a change.


diggers and wheetabix tuffspot tray outsidesensory shell play outside building and construction play outside

The best thing to do when attempting change and trying to encourage high levels of engagement within a larger group is to go with a WOW moment. Something that will kick off their interest straight away. Whether this is discovering that Goldilocks has stolen the porridge you'd left outside at lunchtime to cool down, finding a giant dinosaur egg or a spaceship has been left in the outside area or simply introducing a new and exciting piece of play equipment to spark their interest, the options are endless - but always remember to try and match this to the children's interests for maximum impact.

sensory water play outsidewater balloon play outside

Buying resources for the Outside Area:

For Arthur, I decided to give this Wigwam a try from Big Game hunters. Their 'school play equipment' area on the website has some great resources for outdoor play, but you don't have to just be a school to order. It's super easy for settings and/or parents to order online which makes it a good choice to mention here as some of you may be looking for equipment for school, others for personal use at home. They DO have a dedicated EYFS section coming soon - hurrah! (yes, of course I asked - birth to five is THE most important period of learning and development for the brain) they are just working really hard at the moment to make sure this section is perfect. 
 It is worth noting here that delivery for this item was really fast and super organised - I was emailed upon dispatch and then given a time slot on the day so I could plan around this.

wigwam from Big Game Hunters and inflatable Rody
Our grass was a bit too muddy so we used the patio instead

The thing that I like about this particular wigwam is that the canvas is made from wipe-able, waterproof calico cotton making it a perfect choice for outdoors and also indoors. I like the option of using this inside to carry on the learning experience if the weather outside is just too 'British' ! It was pretty simple to put together, the poles came in two separate parts which fit together with hard-wearing plastic connectors and are held together at the top with a thick string and wooden spacers. To be honest, the hardest thing for me was threading the string through the spacers and poles ( you'd think as an Early Years Teacher I'd have had plenty of threading practise!) but this became a bit more simple once I realised that the other end of the string was glued together and much more 'firm' to allow for an easy thread...I can use baby-brain as an excuse here right?!

Big Game Hunters Wigwam inside
This wigwam also works really well when carrying on the learning experience inside

Resources which help to promote imaginative play, such as this wigwam, are perfect for children of all ages. Arthur absolutely loves role play, and like most 2 year olds he loves little enclosed spaces to play, read, hide etc etc - the key is how you extend the learning by provocations, modelling and questioning - depending on what your focus is.

The main areas of focus for this wigwam activity will be on the following Learning Areas:

(obviously other Learning areas will also be appropriate depending on how you extend the activity or use effective questioning)

Characteristics of effective learning - particularly 'Playing and Exploring':

Finding out and exploring: 
•Showing curiosity about objects, events and people 
•Using senses to explore the world around them 
•Engaging in open-ended activity 
•Showing particular interests

Playing with what they know: 
•Pretending objects are things from their experience
•Representing their experiences in play 
•Taking on a role in their play 
•Acting out experiences with other people

Personal, Social and Emotional Development: Making relationships 

•Interested in others’ play and starting to join in. 
•Seeks out others to share experiences.
•Can play in a group, extending and elaborating play ideas, e.g. building up a role-play activity with other children. 
• Initiates play, offering cues to peers to join them. 
•Keeps play going by responding to what others are saying or doing. 
•Demonstrates friendly behaviour, initiating conversations and forming good relationships with peers and familiar adults.

Expressive Arts and Design: Being imaginative

•Engages in imaginative role-play based on own first-hand experiences. 
•Builds stories around toys, e.g. farm animals needing rescue from an armchair ‘cliff’.
• Introduces a storyline or narrative into their play. 
•Plays alongside other children who are engaged in the same theme. 
•Plays cooperatively as part of a group to develop and act out a narrative

And just in case you need a bit more inspiration for outdoor activities, here are some we have undertaken at home in the last 2 years:

Sensory water play outside: I added mint leaves, sliced lemon and some fallen rose petals from the garden, along with some containers for filling and emptying, watering cans and a pipette....Arthur loved to smell the mint leaves and apparently those lemons were just too tempting! He couldn't help but taste them! Sensory activities are a great way to introduce new language to your child within a 'real life' experience - talking about and demonstrating what you can see, smell, feel, hear and taste (if appropriate), naming different objects and exploring as much as possible - the more senses we use whilst undertaking an activity the more likely we are to remember it! #EYFS #learningthroughplay #learningisfun #sensoryplay #sensoryplaytime #waterplay #playtolearn #playingtolearn #playbasedlearning #playoutside #outdoorplay #toddlerfun #toddlerplay #toddlerhat #toddlerlife #toddlersofig #kidsofinstagram #kidsofig #momentsnotposes #letthembelittle #dailyparenting #oureverydaymoments #simplychildren #pblogger #eyfsideas #mblogger #mbloggers #pblogger
A post shared by Sarah - Arthurwears (@arthurwears) on

A post shared by Sarah - Arthurwears (@arthurwears) on

Disclosure: I was sent this wigwam in return for an honest review.
You can read more of my Learning Through Play posts here:

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  1. We've used Big Game Hunters in the past, they sell some wonderful trampolines and we have a giant 4 connect too which is great for the garden or a school outdoor space. Outdoor learning is something I feel quite passionate about and the children on holiday here experience it big time from animal feeding to arts and crafts. #KCACOLS

    1. how wonderful!! i was so tempted to have a sunken trampoline built into our garden but if i did all of the things I wanted to do there would be literally no space left lol!

  2. We are literally starting this week to transform our enclosed back garden (our main garden is at the side of the house and more open to the road) into a child friendly space for our son. This has given me some great ideas for it! #KCACOLS

    1. Good luck Rebecca, enclosed spaces are much safer - we have a small area near the front but hardly use it for the same reason x

  3. What an interesting post. I was brought up in an era where outdoor play was seen as a reward. I remember in infant school the naughty children had to stand on the veranda while he others played during break times. You have a great imagination for thinking up fun activities with your son and can't wait to try some of these with my little boy. The wigwam is adorable! #KCACOLS

    1. having worked in a school, this is unfortunately still the norm in most places above the age of 'early years' where the outside playtime is their main time outdoors....lots of schools are starting to think about outdoor classrooms now and the idea of forest schools which is great!

  4. Great post, I think that times change and I can remember when I was alot younger and lived in an area where we didn't lock our doors and played outside all day in the holidays. Then I seem to remember that there was a big change and it became alot more restrictive and we all became more safety conscious. Luckily I've got a garden for mine to play in so they get to be outside lots. You've looked at loads of really neat ideas that keep the mind going and the hands at work.

    1. definitely, i think we all have to be so aware now don't we? When we bought our house we were adament we needed a decent garden for this very reason. We lived in a flat before we had Arthur and there was no outside space - i hated it. x

  5. Loved reading this, it's so informative! And sort of making me long for warmer, less rainy days so we can spend some time out in our garden again! x #KCACOLS

  6. Oh I love these ideas. Now spring is well on its way here I will be getting good Zach out into the garden much more. I've always wanted to get him a wigwam! Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

  7. Great ideas, my son would love the bubbles, will try that! xx #KCACOLS

  8. Interesting what you are saying about playing in or out. I think nurseries are taking this into account now and the kind of activities in your post are used both in and out. You seem to do so much with your little one! Fab ideas . Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

  9. I can't wait to get outdoors more, we moved house at the beginning of autumn to our first place with a garden and I can't wait to start getting out there playing now the weather is getting nicer. I'll definitely be keeping all of this in mind when we do! #KCACOLS

  10. I can't wait to eventually buy a house so we actually have some outside space! At the moment we have to visit Nanny and Grandad to borrow their back garden! I love the idea of an outside chalk board! #KCACOLS

  11. Good tips and some great activity suggestions! #KCACOLS


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