Policy Brief: When the Roof is the Sky – Tusla’s guidance for outdoors services

Policy Brief: When the Roof is the Sky – Tusla’s guidance for outdoors services
Léargas and Early Childhood Ireland Erasmus+ ECEC Exchange

In early June, the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate (EYI) launched its guidance for outdoors services, When the Roof is the Sky. This document and suite of supporting literature provide guidance to those services operating fully or mostly outdoors. It is further hoped that this guidance will support providers to meet the requirements set out in the regulations and ensure that children’s experiences outside are maximised. This piece will examine some of the headline parts of this guidance and how this differs from previous iterations.

The Importance of Outdoor play

Outdoor play is recognised as a fundamental right for children and is crucial for children’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Furthermore, it provides opportunities for them to develop educational and essential life skills such as problem solving, teamwork, creativity, and independence. Ensuring children’s access to outdoor play and learning experiences is an important responsibility for educators, parents, and policymakers. This includes creating safe and accessible outdoor spaces, promoting outdoor play and learning, and advocating for policies that support children’s right to play outdoors. Ireland’s First 5 strategy specifically acknowledges the importance of play for children, and that children need the space, time and freedom to engage in self-directed play, and that play is essential, particularly in developing cognitive and social skills and promoting neurological development.

The regulatory landscape

The Childcare Regulations 2016 and Tusla’s Quality and Regulatory Framework outline the requirement that all children in Early Years settings must have access to an outside area. This access can be in all weather conditions, except where risk assessment does not allow. The outdoor area should have equipment that supports play, movement, and exploration and provides exclusive opportunities for the outdoors. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more interest and focus have been placed on outdoor play and outdoors settings. With this impetus, Tusla developed specific guidance for outdoor play in 2021. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) welcomed this move and has committed to undertaking a review of relevant legislation and regulations. This is to ensure that outdoors services are recognised and that specific requirements for the outdoors are established. The Tulsa EYI launch of When the Roof is the Sky is a welcome addition to the guidance available for providers, educators, children and their families. This guidance will further enhance outdoors provision and quality experiences for children.

“When the Roof is the Sky” report

When the Roof is the Sky signals a marked departure from the implementation of the current regulations, and there are several noteworthy developments included. Firstly, the Tusla EYI notes that they are taking a more balanced approach to risk, in essence moving away from what members have experienced as ‘a deficit model’ which was perceived as risk-averse, and the EYI hopes that the new approach will be sufficiently ‘risk-benefit’ to support children. This is evident in the acknowledgement and guidance around the benefits of risky play, fire-pits and sharp tools, items that previously would not have been included in guidance. To assist with managing these risks, the EYI has developed a Risk-Benefit Assessment template, further underlining this departure.

When the Roof is the Sky further sets out guidance regarding premises and structures on the property of outdoors services. It sets out that the premises should have clearly defined boundaries, an entry and exit system, and appropriate structures for shelter, shade and an alternative environment. Children should have access to these structures whenever they feel and not just for reasons of shade and shelter from the elements. Should these structures be floored, these can be used to calculate clear floor space – something which also marks a departure from previous guidance. Should structures support the needs of the children in terms of comfort, rest, shelter and opportunities for learning and play, then that structure can be used to calculate floor space. It should also be noted that premises must include adequate sanitary facilities, facilities for staff and adults, have appropriate access to heat and warmth, and nappy changing facilities.

Conclusion

Early Childhood Ireland welcomes the launch of When the Roof is the Sky outdoors guidance. This guidance will ensure that children continue to experience high-quality provision in the outdoors. Early Childhood Ireland will continue to advocate for and work with members to ensure quality experiences for all children and will monitor developments in this area carefully. If you would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact [email protected].

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