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Outdoors and Active case study: Early Education Practitioners Sally King and Tracey Warden

Sally King works from Oliver Thomas Children’s Centre in Newham and is responsible for supporting childminders and families in the Centre’s catchment.  A self-described “outdoorsy person” herself, Sally embraced the Outdoors and Active programme and set out to find out what she could do to make a tangible and lasting difference to the amount of physical activity minded children were achieving.

Collaborating with her colleague Tracey Warden, who works from Sheringham Children’s Centre, Sally tested a variety of interventions with her childminders and their minded children, starting with an information workshop for childminders to convey the importance of outdoor play, introduce the BoingWhooshRolyPoly approach, explore the benefits of risk taking and share ideas about where children can access adventurous, physically active outdoor play.

Childminders were then invited to apply their new knowledge by playing with and observing their minded children in the grounds of Oliver Thomas and Sheringham Children’s Centre.  At Oliver Thomas, Sally harnessed parent power (and her own husband) to create a richly resourced Mud Kitchen area.  The Centre has extensive grounds, with level changes, trees and shrubs, sand and water, and childminders were keen to test their newly acquired tolerance of risk taking as children delighted in their physicality.

Trips to the local parks were already a feature of Sally and Tracey’s provision, but they introduced new activities to their hosted trips in order to demonstrate the breadth of possibility.  Again, childminders were able to try the risk benefit approach and build their confidence in trusting their own judgement.  Using trees, shrubs, park furniture and the play equipment, children were able to explore all aspects of their physicality – strength, resilience, stamina, agility, flexibility, co-ordination and using their ‘sixth sense’, proprioception to navigate obstacles and one another.

On another trip, they took a Big Book copy of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, which was read to the childminders and their minded children.  Everyone then acted out the story, using the whole park as their stage and their whole bodies to communicate the story’s sounds and actions.

Bottle Babies were a huge success back at Oliver Thomas Children’s Centre, and many childminders made them at their own settings.  These 2 litre bottles contain coloured water, along with glitter or other tiny objects that float about when the bottles are moved.  Bottle babies are a cheap, open-ended resource that supports open ended, schema based physically active play, and adults and children alike adore them.

Sally recognises that to sustain the enthusiasm for physically active play, she’ll need to continue supporting the childminders in her patch.  “I’m going to have to keep running outdoor sessions for the childminders, reminding them that children need physical activity and what the benefits are,” Sally told me.  “I did a questionnaire with them at the start of the project, to find out what they thought the barriers were to going outdoors more, or getting reluctant children more active.  I based my project on their answers, so I plan to revisit the questionnaire to get new childminders involved and find out what the longer term improvements have been for the children of the first set of childminders I worked with.”

A version of this case study was first published in Nursery World magazine, November 2016