Over the past year there has been an increasing focus on the pressure and stress that early years practitioners feel in the workplace. I’ve read a lot about the causes, but not as much on what is being done to support change. So what can we do?
Last year, Swansea University published research that showed that as little as an hour a week of outdoor learning not only has tremendous benefits for children but also boosts teachers’ job satisfaction.
This research involved pupils and teachers in Key Stage 2, but after reading the paper I feel the benefits are just as relevant to early years settings.
Emily Marchant, who led the research, said, “Initially, some teachers had reservations about transferring the classroom outdoors, but once outdoor learning was embedded within the curriculum, they spoke of improved job satisfaction and personal wellbeing.
This is a really important finding given the current concerns around teacher-retention rates.”
The research sits alongside a large body of evidence which shows that time outdoors and time in nature can do much to improve both physical and mental health, including
So that leaves me wondering, if there is more access to outdoor space in early years than any other key stage, why aren’t more staff feeling the benefits?
Many settings work hard to develop great spaces for their children, but with a few tweaks these spaces can also be highly beneficial to staff – why not try the following ideas?
Create comfy spaces
Use waterproof bean bags or mixed-level seating to create space for quiet time, conversations and reading. Movable planters with high planting are a great way to create quiets zones.
Encourage staff to take breaks outside (or inside if they’ve been out for a long session – everyone needs to warm up!).
Make sure staff are dressed appropriately
If staff are expected to work outside, they need to be comfortable and warm.
Good outdoor clothing can be expensive, but there are lots of ways to upgrade a basic outfit: sheepskin/neoprene insoles can transform a cheap welly or shoe, and a lot of the budget supermarkets sell thermal base layers.
We spend lots of time ensuring the children are dressed appropriately, let’s remember the adults.
A nursery manager spoke to me recently regarding her staff being worried about controlling children’s behaviour outdoors.
“Some of them just run around and they don’t listen as well as they do when they’re inside,” she said.
It’s important to set behavioural expectations with the children when they are outdoors; they will enjoy it more and so will you.
Make sure that all staff are spending time outdoors each week, but equally ensure that staff don’t feel they are ‘always outside’, unless they want to be!
How does it sound?
If you’re close to a busy road, listening to traffic noise all day can feel quite draining.
A Glasgow nursery recently installed some easy soundproofing by attaching natural boards to their existing mesh fencing with cable ties.
It had an amazing impact on their outdoor space. Green planting like bamboo in planters or easy hedge plants can be a great way of reducing noise and pollution!
Make it natural
A lot of the research suggests that nature connection is a key part of being outdoors, so make your space as green as possible. There are fantastic ways of doing this, including planting green walls with recycled bottles and using old split wellies to grow herbs.
Remember, if you are thinking of making changes to the use or design of your outdoor space, make sure the whole team feels part of it; it is more likely to be maintained and used if everyone sees why it’s important.
Carley Sefton is CEO of Learning through Landscapes, a UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. Visit ltl.org.uk/free-resources to download free early years resources.