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Making it Count

By: MICHELLE QUINLAN AND THERESE ROCHE

Tuesday 15 May 2018

At Totally Kids we like to play outside. Actually, we love to play outside. In fact, we are almost always found playing outside!

But it has not always been this way. We are an ECCE service based in St. Joseph’s School in Tipperary town. Our story began eight years ago, and back then our routine and facilities were very different to how they are today.

Our play space is at the back of the school. In fact, it’s a 0.5km round trip from our room. This is great for some daily exercise, but can be very frustrating if you are about to make kites but forget the string, or if children suddenly need to go to the bathroom! It is just too far away for a quick dash back. The rain sometimes comes down seemingly from nowhere and, when you have a long walk to get inside the room, it is just not practical. Mud kitchens are fabulous, but, as the name suggests, very muddy and access to water for cleanliness is essential. The more time we spent outside the more challenges we came across. But slowly, we changed things, adding little by little and improving our outside facilities so until we could stay ‘out the back’ for as long as we liked each and every day.

The benefits are so well documented. They are obvious when you look around at all the busy children, immersing themselves in natural surroundings and its rich learning environment.

We embrace the rain (most of the time)! We run with the wind and we take the sun when we can get it. It invigorates, stimulates, and completely refreshes both the mind and body to be outside for those few hours of the day. It is truly a gift from nature and one we try to truly unwrap each and every day. It’s not always easy, or always possible, but with some careful planning it can become a way of preschool life.

Looking back on our journey, the moment our dream of an outside classroom seemed to become reality was when we erected the rain shelter, which the children named ‘The Club House’. It is a very simple wooden structure, large enough for some tables and chairs and storage areas, but it has completely transformed the way we work and play.
Another change we made was gaining access to an existing bathroom within the school building. We added a new doorway – again, a simple but effective change. However, we found that we still had to go back inside to eat so we decided we would build The Lodge! This provides somewhere clean, warm, and inviting. It feels so snug and cosy and is just perfect for having lunch.

Adding different play resources is an ongoing (perhaps neverending) project. We have turned pallets into dens and flower beds into sand pits. Researching outside play areas has almost become an obsession, but all of the above has been rewarding, fulfilling, and most importantly achievable.

Regardless of the type of setting or building – be it as parents or childminders at home; practitioners in crèche or an ECCE room – we all face individual challenges in creating and sustaining consistent outside play.

Perhaps it is a lack of outdoor play resources. Perhaps it is the time allocated to the play area. Perhaps it is the adult-to-child ratios. Perhaps it is a very small space. Perhaps it is that by the time you get ready and out, it’s time to come in again. Perhaps, and almost certainly, it is the weather. But whatever the challenges, we owe it to both our little learners and to ourselves as practitioners, guardians, and parents to overcome by making change happen.

Could the outside play schedule be moved to provide better use of time outside?

Could the children arrive ready for play, perhaps in rain gear and wellies?

Could the local tyre shop donate a few old tyres for use as an outside play resource (a sand pit or vegetable patch)?

A smaller outside play area may require clever storage ideas. Are there any parents with skills they might be willing to share - gardening or even carpentry? You may be able to build a rain shelter for children to run into during a particularly heavy shower.

Whatever challenges there may be, there are so many small things we can do right now that make a big difference. So, whatever amount of time we all spend outside, let’s make sure it really counts!

 

Bio

Michelle Quinlan and Therese Roche opened their privately-run preschool and afterschool in the grounds of St Joseph’s School in Tipperary town in 2010.

They passionately believe that outside play is essential to the development and wellbeing of the children in their care. They have endeavoured to create an environment that allows children to play outdoors for substantial amounts of time on a daily basis.

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