The children of today live in a much more insular world than the generations that came before them. We see less and less of children rolling down grassy banks and climbing trees, and an increasing number of children using tablets, iPads and watching TV to pass their free time.
Spending time on digital devices rather than being outdoors can be a seen as both a positive and a negative thing for children. Why? There’s no doubt that the children of today will need to use digital technology to do the jobs of tomorrow. In fact, as the world evolves, proficiency using digital and social media will become increasingly important.
But what skills and experiences will today’s children risk missing out on? Perhaps the joy of running around in an open, grassy space and doing handstands. Climbing trees and riding bikes. Looking at mini-beasts and bugs. Getting out into the local community and interacting with people.
It’s easy to assume that parents wrapping children up in cotton wool are contributing to this ‘indoor culture’ but, equally, childcare providers – fearful of disapproval from parents and the risks associated with planning activities outside the safety of the setting – will undoubtedly have an influence too.
Last year, Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman warned of the dangers of an over-zealous health and safety culture, making it difficult for children to learn to cope with “normal everyday risk”.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Ms. Spielman, said: “Trying to insulate your pupils from every bump, germ or bruise won’t just drive you to distraction, it will short-change those pupils as well – limiting their opportunity to fully take advantage of the freedom of childhood, and to explore the world around them.”
Childcare settings, therefore, have an essential role to play when it comes to enabling children to learn more about their local community and the world around them. And, whilst it can be a pain to write up risk assessments, calculate staff-to-child ratios and plan for the weather, the educational opportunity afforded to children by these visits is invaluable.
Undoubtedly, children learn more by playing and doing. Taking children outside of the setting enables them to practise skills which they’ll use for the rest of their lives. If they’re exposed to controlled risks, children can build up vital resilience and problem-solving skills.
Outdoor trips also provide a springboard for learning and further activities for role-play once you return to the setting. They’re key in helping you fulfil most of the prime and specific areas of learning in the EYFS framework (2017). One specific area which states that childcare providers should offer activities which help children piece together the wider world around them is:
1.5 Understanding the world – ‘[this] involves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community through opportunities to explore, observe and find out about people, places, technology and the environment.’
As an additional benefit, off-site visits provide an exciting talking point for prospective parents (and for when Ofsted comes knocking!). Despite the stress of planning these visits, they’re highly enjoyable for both staff and children.
|Benefits of off-site visits||Drawbacks|
|Building links between your setting and people in the local community||Calculating staff-to-child ratios for the trip can be problematic|
|Providing valuable and interesting learning experiences for your children|
|Carrying out a risk assessment|
|Positive marketing for your setting – especially if the general public can see your nursery logo on hats, bags and jackets|
|Overcoming negativity or reluctance from certain staff or parents about the trip|
|Helping children to understand the value of local services/businesses|
|Planning for different variations in the weather|
Whilst children must be taught to be aware of the potential risk to them posed by strangers, it’s also equally important for them to learn about being friendly to members of the community. Some settings build links with local residential care homes, where children visit regularly to interact with or perform in front of elderly people.
The benefits of inter-generational visits such as these are reflected on both sides. Older generations can impart their wisdom and recount interesting stories to young children. Conversely, research has shown that spending time with children can help older people feel less isolated and more optimistic.
Trips into the local community to visit a place of worship and speaking to members of different faiths is also a valuable way for childcare providers to help fulfil their obligations to promote British values. This will help children understand more about cultures and faiths that are different from their own, which falls under the value of Mutual Respect and Tolerance.
Here are some ideas to get your children out and about in the community:
- Go fruit picking
- Visit an aquarium
- Go on a walk in a natural reserve
- Visit a historical National Trust site
- Have a tour of a local fire station
- Take in the sights and smells of a bakery
- Visit a recycling centre
- Explore a local pottery shop
- Go to a supermarket
- Have a tour of a police station
- Spend time in a forest school
- Play in a local playground
- Visit a farm
- See a sorting office in action
- Visit a zoo/animal sanctuary
- Experience the wonder of a butterfly house
- Go to a local library
- Visit a church, synagogue or mosque
- Take children to a science museum
- Spend time in a soft play centre
Remember – the journey is just as important as the destination itself! Taking public transport such as buses or trains helps increase children’s understanding of how the world around them operates. They are often fascinated to watch the world go by whilst looking out of big windows. This visual stimulation can open up lots of opportunities for questions and further learning. Children can also observe the role of the conductor/driver and passengers, which can open up a number of role-play and other learning activities once back in the setting.
In summary, off-site visits help strengthen your setting’s connections with local people a great deal. Not only does this increase children’s confidence and social skills, it also builds a foundation to help them become responsible adults who understand and value their place in the local community.
So why not get planning your next visit today?