Special interview with ISB’s Assistant Head of Early Years Training & Development Ms Emma Kato.
Tell us about the inspiration behind designing the new ISB kids outdoor activities area.
The inspiration behind the design of the new ISB Early Years outdoor area was the children, those at ISB and my own! Good outdoor playgrounds are large enough and designed in such a way that children’s play can come to full expression, where children can make a mess, run, jump and hide, where they can shout, whistle and explore the natural world. Many of the developmental tasks that children must achieve—exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge—can be most effectively learned through outdoor play. I wanted outdoor areas where the children could use all of these skills and more. I wanted to create learning spaces where every child could find a place they felt comfortable, happy and safe.
You mentioned that your outdoor area is still a work in progress. What more can we expect in the future?
We still have a few extra things to add into our Early Years areas. All children love to perform so the addition of an outdoor stage / raised platform is one thing we are looking into. We see these as an integral part of a child’s development. We are looking at the possibility of extending / adding to some of the existing features and also adding fun car parking spaces with colours and numbers on for the children to park the bikes. The idea of an outdoor mud kitchen is exciting…an outdoor space for the children to create, imagine and get messy! A mud kitchen includes elements of the much-loved domestic corner and cooking from indoor play, which are then hugely enriched through the special nature of being outside. We are planning that the mud kitchen will become a core element of our continuous provision outside.
What are some of the tips for home owners to consider – when they plan their outdoor spaces for children?
If you are thinking about creating your own play areas at home you should consider the following -:
1. Make it as natural as you can! Kids love to climb logs and trees, play in huts made out of wood, sit at wooden tables and have tea parties.
2. Give them a space to move around, run, climb and slide.
3. Provide opportunities for imaginative play whether you make a play house or other types of structures. Imaginative play is something a child can do on their own but also with siblings, friends and parents!
4. All children love sand and water play so adding those to your outside area would be great.
5. Build upon your child’s interests! Involve them in the planning and ask them what they would like!
As a child development specialist, can you comment on why outdoor activities are important to a child’s development?
Learning outside the classroom supports the development of healthy and active lifestyles by offering children opportunities for physical activity, freedom and movement, and promoting a sense of well-being. It gives them contact with the natural world and offers them experiences that are unique to the outdoors, such as direct contact with the weather and the seasons. Outdoor play also supports children’s problem-solving skills and nurtures their creativity, as well as providing rich opportunities for their developing imagination, inventiveness and resourcefulness.
The outdoor environment offers more space than indoors and therefore is particularly important to those children who learn best through active movement. For many children, playing outdoors at their early years setting may be the only opportunity they have to play safely and freely while they learn to assess risk and develop the skills to manage new situations. Parental involvement in children’s learning is particularly important in the early years as parents and carers are the child’s first educators.
One of the key features of your Pre-Kindy outdoor area is the grass carpet slope with holes for children to claw through. The final outcome doesn’t look like it’s too difficult or expensive to achieve but it is definitely the childrens’ favourite play area. This is a classic example of how a little imagination can go along way.
Can you comment more on the design process and the functionality of the slope?
A large proportion of toddlers learn to walk without crawling. I wanted to develop a play activity that the children would enjoy but would also give every child the opportunity to develop the art of crawling. Crawling helps to develop balance, strengthen muscle tone and develop eye-hand coordination. This is necessary for future reading, writing and physical activities.
I researched many play areas around the world and came up with the tunnel and slide concept for Pre Kindy. Using astro turf it is soft enough on the children knees to crawl through the tunnels and also helps them to slide safely.