The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Sarah Gaffney

Don't have any water buffalos? Get outside and get inspired anyway!

As we ease into the coming winter months the weather is due to get colder and many of us (myself included!) will be drawn to staying indoors and keeping warm and dry. But we shouldn't dismiss the many unique experiences which can be gained from exploring the outdoor environment, particularly for young minds as they develop.

Learning through Landscapes – the UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children – writes:

‘Being outside is important for children all year round, children are able to better understand their place in the world and engage with nature, they are able to utilise their gross motor skills that are essential for physical development, they can find space to make noise or avoid it, they can engage in activities that would simply not be possible inside. To deny children of this for over a quarter of the year simply because it is “a bit cold” would be a crime.’

Outdoor learning

During the winter months there are some specific benefits to children getting outside:

  • Developing an understanding of the world – for children to truly understand the concept of seasons they need to be outside experiencing them. It is only when children are outside that they will start to ask the questions like ‘why are there no leaves on the trees?’ or ‘where are the squirrels?’
  • There is a wealth of incidental learning opportunities that winter gives children they wouldn’t otherwise experience. Seeing their breath condense in the air, the friction of sliding on ice, how their fingers and toes get cold first, and so on.”

With this in mind, I've highlighted a few resources from Optimus Education which will help you overcome barriers to getting children outdoors this winter, and equip you with some new and interesting ideas to try.

You will need to log in to read the pieces below, but if your school or setting does not already have a membership then you can take a demo to gain access.

Diary of a trainee early years teacher: independent study on outdoor play – Emma Harris writes of overcoming various obstacles to getting outside in the wet and windy weather. 'Splosh-suits' for all the children are an inspired idea – that way you don't need to rely on the parents to provide appropriate clothing. Carrying out a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the outdoor area and resources on hand is also a very good place to start.

Outdoor learning: using your space for enrichment activities – Suzanne O'Connell talks to a headteacher who is actively using their school's outdoor space to provide enrichment opportunities for learners. As Suzanne points out, Ofsted is keenly aware of extracurricular and enrichment activities, praising schools who are achieving in this area. Whilst I doubt many schools are lucky enough to have a Bronze Age settlement unearthed nearby, or get their hands on any water buffalos, this school's experience will surely get you thinking about any unusual opportunities offered up by your school site. Plus, there's a handy supplementary sheet on making the most of your outside space included too.

Outdoor play during winter: advice from Learning through Landscapes – In this article you'll learn what to focus on (and, helpfully, ways to pose questions to children which don't implicitly shut down the prospect of outdoor play), what equipment you'll need and some fun activities to try. In addition, there's a section dedicated to how to get managers on-side with outdoor play, and some useful information about the practicalities and safety aspects of being outside when it's cold.

If you're not already pulling your coat and wellies on to dash outside, I do hope you'll be using some of these activities in your setting soon.

Further reading


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