The research, which highlights the importance of outdoor play and learning in helping children to make the transition from early years education to primary school, shows that opportunities for pupils to spend time outdoors decline sharply as they move into formal schooling.
A team of researchers from Plymouth University, the University of St Mark and St John (Plymouth) and the Institute of Education equipped 32 children in four foundation stage classes with digital audio recorders to record their play and conversations. They continued to follow 15 of the children into year one.
Two-thirds of the recordings took place outdoors while the children were in the EYFS, compared to one-third when the children were in year one.
The researchers argue that outdoor lessons and free play opportunities for children to learn independently become less common in year one as schools tend to focus on attainment and pupil testing.
According to the study’s lead author Sue Waite, from Plymouth University’s school of education, their findings indicated that outdoor learning had a different quality from the teacher-led lessons which took place in the classroom.
She said, ‘Outdoor spaces offer opportunities for children to be more creative, inquiring and socially skilled, as they can pursue their own lines of interest and talk together. In classrooms, dominated by specific learning outcomes and teachers talking, it is very easy for learning to become something which is spoon-fed.’
The researchers also noted that children who experienced a longer transition of play-based outdoor learning had increased readiness to learn, and that more playful approaches, which were not necessarily planned, laid important foundations for learning.
The study, 'Opportunities afforded by the outdoors for alternative pedagogies as children move from Foundation Stage to Year 1’, is funded by the ESRC.