Last reviewed 11 November 2009

Knowledge and understanding of the world is a key area of learning and development, forming part of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. It offers children numerous opportunities for learning and exploration activities, many of which can take place in the outdoor environment. Many settings have outdoor play and learning as a key feature for their development plan.

Aspects of learning contributing to knowledge and understanding of the world

  • Exploration and investigation — children can find out about change, pattern, similarities and differences. They can find out about different objects and materials through activities based on exploration and investigation.

  • Designing and making — children can learn to use a variety of tools safely, learning new techniques while assembling and constructing in a variety of practical situations.

  • ICT — children use programmable toys and computers to support their learning. Digital cameras can be used by children to record their learning and achievements.

  • Time — children enjoy finding out how their lives fit into past and present events. They enjoy finding out about the wealth of experiences that members of their families have.

  • Place — children can further their interest in the natural world, in their own neighbourhood and discover new interests.

  • Communities — children can learn about their own and other people’s cultures discovering their own and their family identity.

Advantages of the outdoor environment

Many practitioners have successfully met the requirements of this area of learning through developing the setting’s outdoor environment. The outdoors is no longer viewed as “the place where children are sent to let off steam”. More likely it is seen as an extension of the indoor learning environment where children can move freely to continue their play and learning. Children experience a sense of freedom where child-led activity can become a reality and learning can be enjoyed. In the outdoors environment, independence and physical activity are encouraged and many children who finding learning uninspiring when indoors become enlivened and inspired when outdoors. In order for the outdoor environment to be well used there are some practical considerations.

Using the outdoor environment effectively

  • Staff ratios and organisation should be adequate to enable children to move freely between the indoor and outdoor environment.

  • Protective clothing and wellies should be available for children and staff to use the outdoor area in all weather.

  • Resources should be freely available to children and sufficiently substantial to cope with the outdoor environment.

  • Resources need to include a wide range of natural materials, as well as items traditionally linked to indoor learning such as a number line, books and writing materials.

  • Ideally, a covered outdoor area will increase the use of the outdoor environment.

  • An effective risk assessment of the outdoor area should be done, which recognises that taking appropriate risks is part of a child’s learning.

  • Planning can effectively embed the use of the outdoor area as a freely accessible learning space and not as an additional area to be used occasionally.

Encouraging child-led activities

Where children have access to the outdoors together with a range of resources it is highly likely that children will further their own interests with a passion and involvement not seen in some children as they play and learn indoors. They use their imagination, solve problems, make decisions, develop confidence, further language skills and generally have a sense of well being. An example of this is when children build a den or home to their own design and then use it for a variety of activities. Language is promoted, construction skills developed and children learn how to work together and negotiate as they discuss and talk together about what they think needs to be done. The children will enjoy taking photographs of their design and of themselves working and playing in their den. This example will enable practitioners to demonstrate how they meet the needs of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework in promoting child-led activities.