One teachers’s adventure to improve motor skills and time spent outside
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One teachers’s adventure to improve motor skills and time spent outside

Every year, teachers reflect on their classroom practices and always try to improve some area of their teaching. This year, KG teacher Elvira Oskam decided to improve the time spent outdoors with her class. That’s why she took her students – and colleagues – on a journey.

By Elvira Oskam, classroom teacher KG Orange

As mentioned, it all started with me reflecting on the time I spent outdoors with my class. In the Early Years, we are outside twice a day: 45 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes after lunch. When we moved into our current building in March 2015, the Early Years playground felt enormous and had a lot to offer, for example: a mature tree, a nice grassy area and a bigger play hill.

The playground changed over time to allow for more classrooms being built. And as we now have 11 Early Years classes, there is a lot more demand on our outside space and play equipment. All of a sudden the Early Years playground lost its appeal to me as a teacher and I felt it no longer provided enough options for exploration and development. The children, of course, still really like their playground but I felt it was time to explore how we could better utilise our outside space and the time spent there!

Exploration areas

I started with observing Anne van Dam, an early childhood education consultant and teacher at primary school Het Startpunt in The Hague. The playground this school has is amazing in itself, but I was equally impressed with how Ms Van Dam set up outdoor play time by creating different exploration areas. These areas each have their own materials. Soon I realised that although the size of the Early Years playground in the Hague is similar to ours, it somehow felt much bigger, because it offered the students a host of different experiences. After my visit to the Hague, I bought some practical outdoor play books and noticed that these books also mentioned the idea of “exploration areas”. I realised how easy it would be to create these areas our own Early Years playground.

Testing out different outdoor activites

Next, Ms Dana, the children and I were ready to test out some activities on the playground and the best way to do this was when it could just be us on the playground. We started with motor skill activities. Usually these take place in the classroom first thing in the morning and we set up different stations for this. However, being inside, we often feel limited to developing fine motor skills, while large motor skills are equally important. So, being outside, gave a whole other dimension to the motor skill activities. It was also lovely to see that the emotional and social skills, when developed in a different setting, made for a richer and broader learning experience

Focused outside play

We are now three weeks into our journey and both kids and teachers, absolutely love it. Every Monday morning, we now start outside doing different activities. First, we clearly instruct the children on how to use the different materials. This way their play becomes focused straight away, instead of them testing the materials by themselves. This often results in students testing the strength of the different materials, which in its turn results in broken items. After the instructions, it’s time to play.

What have done so far?

  • Following a path on the beams, jumping off at the end from a higher log
  • Observational drawing; choosing an item on the playground and draw it as precisely as possible
  • Throwing cones off a table with small bean bags
  • Skipping ropes
  • Walking on stilts
  • Painting with water
  • Throwing spears on the tower in the sand
  • Throwing and catching large and small balls
  • Number drawing; roll a die, count the amount and find something on the playground with that amount and draw it
  • Picking small items from the sandpit with thongs
  • Aiming small beanbag fishes onto Velcro sharks
  • Jumping in various ways from hoop to hoop; forwards, backwards, sideways, one leg, two legs.

What would we like to try out next?

  • Construction with large boxes
  • Playing music on a – hopefully – new sound wall
  • Measuring weather using observation tools
  • Building different kinds of shelter
  • Gardening
  • Wood working; whittling and figure sawing
  • Exploring mini beasts and other animals