Outdoors and Active

Outdoors and Active – an action research project commissioned by the London Borough of Newham – took practitioners from nurseries, schools, PVI settings and children’s centres on an eight-month long exploration of movement in 2- and 3-year-olds, which generated intriguing discoveries and practical, realistic changes to routines, resources and risk taking.

Motivated by the shocking and seemingly inexorable increase in obesity in children, and a corresponding decrease in physical activity, Newham Early Years team decided to tackle the problem head-on with a demonstration project involving 20 practitioners in exploring what high-quality physicality is, how we can plan for it, what kind of outdoor places and resources support it, and how we can encourage parents and carers to be more active and more playful with their children.

Partnering with Early Education, and using Jan White’s book Every Child A Mover as a source text, a thought-provoking and pragmatic programme emerged, consisting of practical workshops, visits to one another’s settings and to local parks and a 20-week, peer supported action research assignment.

The programme outcomes, providing simple, cost-effective ways of maximising opportunities to get children outdoors and physically active every day, are shared below.

Outdoors and Active was the joint winner in the Health and Wellbeing Award category at the Nursery World Awards 2017.

Project summary: What do we know about physicality in Newham? What have we learned?

In the spring and summer of 2010 the London Borough of Newham, in partnership with Early Education, carried out the Newham Outdoors project. This sought to inform and inspire schools and early years settings in Newham to see the potential of using the outdoor area to support the development of children’s social, emotional and communication skills. In 2015, Newham Outdoors and Active was launched with the intention of building upon the outcomes of the 2010 project.

Again partnering with Early Education, and based on key messages from Jan White’s book Every Child a Mover (Early Education, 2015), a programme of practical workshops, discussion forums, specialist advisory visits to settings and peer support was organised. This permitted not only an improvement in practice and provision for participating settings but also the production of these legacy materials which will also be disseminated through the Newham Connect website.

This time, our focus has been on understanding and supporting the physical development of children; that is, their milestones and skills identified under the Early Years curriculum, as well as to examine physicality: the state of being physical. This has invoked an understanding in the participants of how the vestibular system and proprioception develop in in small children, which is important to all aspects of children’s learning and development.

The project has involved 20 practitioners from all types of providers in Newham’s Early Years community, who have been led by prominent specialists in the field of early years physical development, namely, Jan White, Julie Mountain and Jasmine Pasch. Settings undertook an action research project over an eight-month period, which supported them in making positive and measurable changes in provision and practice. Topics ranged from creating opportunities for physicality in limited outdoor spaces, to increasing the physicality of less active children as well as increasing children’s resilience and risk taking.

Results from the project are showing improved practice in the use of the many outdoor spaces in Newham, as there is a greater understanding of the benefits of using the outdoors for learning and play. Participants have developed their knowledge base in relation to the role of risk and challenge through the use of a risk benefit, rather than risk avoidance, approach. Finally, it is clear there are improved educational and play based outcomes, in the areas of physical, cognitive and learning development for the children.

Our role now is to celebrate and disseminate the outcomes from the project with all Early Years colleagues to ensure the best possible outcomes for the children of Newham. These legacy materials include guidance on carrying out your own action research project, practical audit tools, guidance on loose parts and landscapes to support physicality, activity ideas, and overcoming the barriers to getting outdoors and active. Several of the participating settings have kindly agreed to allow visitors to see their changes in practice; if you’d like to do this, then please contact me and I will put you in touch with an Outdoors and Active setting that can help inspire your own changes.

Let’s get the children of Newham outdoors and active!

Tracey Schofield, Newham’s Early Years Advisor


More from the Outdoors and Active project