10 benefits of outdoor learning

10 benefits of outdoor learning

We know that children love to be outside and most will play happily for hours in the fresh air. As the weather begins to change for the better, you will find more and more opportunities to get the children outside. At this time you are liking to see some of the best learning that a child can experience – both physically, mentally and emotionally.

"Show them how to look after our environment by letting them practise it in real life"

We know outdoor play is great for children, but why?
Here is a list of 10 great benefits of outdoor play:

Outdoor Learning

  1. Gives new and exciting learning opportunities. Picking up a rock and finding lots of mini-beasts underneath, for example, is such an amazing opportunity to develop language, understanding of the world and to learn about caring for living things.
  2. Improves physical health. Children are able to exercise on a much greater level than they can inside, plus they breathe in fresh air whilst doing so. Win/win.
  3. Boosts social and communication skills – when outside, children are likely to be moving around a lot more, navigating one another and negotiating the toys they are playing with. What better opportunity to get them interacting with their peers and solving any problems. This also boosts self-esteem.
  4. Allows you to make the most of wet/windy weather. Teach children that it can be fun to splash in puddles, play under an umbrella and fly ribbons and scarves in the wind. Don’t forget that many parents will just stay indoors in such weather so if you don’t let children experience this, then they may not ever get the chance. This is also yet another opportunity to develop language and understanding of the world.
  5. Encourages good mental health. As adults we are told that fresh air and exercise is good for our mental health. It’s the same for children.
  6. Gives the opportunity to develop gross motor skills as well as fine motor skills. When you are indoors, it is a lot easier to provide activities that develop fine motor skills than gross motor skills, but they are both extremely important. Many outside play areas give children the opportunity to climb/swing/throw – all of which are developing gross motor skills. Children are also able to mark-make on a large scale, for example using chalk on the ground or painting water on the walls.
  7. Teaches children how to look after our environment. We can tell children about this from outdoors but we know the best way for them to learn something is to experience it. Show them how to look after our environment by letting them practise it in real life.
  8. You get to take learning to a child’s favourite activity. If you have a child that is reluctant to engage in a particular activity, then try taking it outside and mixing it in with something that they love.
  9. Teaches about the local area - Going for a walk teaches children about their community, plus they will also begin to learn the basics of road safety.
  10. Offers different sensory experiences – this can be both things specific to outside, such as digging in the mud, or it could be bringing an indoors activity outside, but experiencing it in the wind or sunshine.
The important thing to remember is that some children won’t get these opportunities at home, so make sure you provide them in your setting. It might be that they live somewhere that doesn’t have a garden, or that their parents just don’t take them out. If you don’t have a large outdoor area (or even if you do!) get out and about for walks or visits to the local library. In these vital early years, you can give children a love of the outdoors that they can carry with them into adulthood.

About the author

Gina SmithGina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.


Email: gina@createvisualsaids.com

The benefits of storytelling in music: using royalty & magic

The benefits of storytelling in music: using royalty & magic

Stories are a natural way of communication. They have been used as far back as human records have been found, in all cultures and communities. A little like music. To start this series, I am going to share how the pre-school story-theme of magic and royalty can be used to develop musical skills. You may be inspired to create your own musical story!

The story

Royalty and magic are guaranteed winners for children because they suggest escape, power and freedom. There are few things in life that children can control, so this idea is very appealing.

A good and noble King lives in a castle with his Queen. They live with a Knight who is married to a Lady. The King’s daughter, a Princess, meets and marries a Prince. A naughty music-hating Goblin steals the King’s jewels (in the storybook for older children, Elfen steals the Princess). The Knight went in search of the jewels (Princess) and found Goblin hiding them in a dragon’s lair. In the meantime, a passing Fairy heard about this, looked for Goblin, found his gold, and hung it out of reach, on a moonbeam. As the Knight was about to get back the jewels (Princess), the Dragon trapped both him and Goblin in a tower. A beautiful unicorn heard about this, came to the rescue and brought them all back to the castle where they had a big party (Goblin went back to his cave, and Dragon went back to his lair). “And at night, when the moon is right, you can still catch a glimpse of Goblin’s gold in the moonlight.”

The story is in 10 parts, with 10 characters and 10 musical skills. This allows for the story to be told over 10 weeks, introducing a new character along with a new musical skill. This mirrors the benefit of gradually building skills through regular practice.

Rhythm planning

Rhythms are the building blocks of music. Like Lego, they can be long or short, with different shapes added on that make them more interesting. Being familiar with the core rhythms makes learning music much easier, and these can be easily introduced through movement. Dalcroze Eurhythmic movements are perfect because they use specific actions for different rhythms. A crotchet (quarter) note is walking; a quaver (eighth) note is jogging; a dotted rhythm is skipping. The focus skill can be easily introduced as a warm-up at the beginning, clarified during the character song, and reinforced at the end.


Music Note 

Pulse / crotchet / quarter note

Casual walk to the beat


King Crotchet

Melody planning

In order to make these rhythms clear, I either made up my own songs, or used traditional songs (with changes in the lyrics to fit the story). Songs in the minor third (nee-naw ambulance sound) and songs in the pentatonic anhemitonic scale (black notes on a piano) help children to successfully match notes and sing in tune. (All songs are available free on YouTube on the Musicaliti channel; the CD is available on Amazon.com.)

Age planning

For infants 0–2 years, all songs focus on the pulse using a variety of instruments to shake and tap, and the storyline is introduced through toys or puppets.

Children 2–4 years alternate between walking and jogging, using instruments to beat including drums and triangles, and transition from toys or puppets to dressing up and playing/acting.

Children 4–6 years use walking and jogging, introducing skipping to their movements. They use cymbals and glockenspiels and dressing up to play games and dances.

Week 1: King Crotchet

Physical Warm-up

As we begin, shoes off, we calmly listen to instrumental music as we walk around the room, any direction, either holding baby, or holding hands with our new walker or pre-schooler.

Vocal Warm-up:

We then warm up our voices: Do you have your whispering voice? Yes, I have my whispering voice. Do you have your speaking voice? Yes, I have my speaking voice. Do you have your singing voice (singing like an ambulance tune)? Yes, I have my singing voice. Ready to sing!

Song 1: Old King Glory (game)

“Build” a mountain of scarves, blankets or pillows in the middle of the room, and take turns leading each other around the mountain while singing the song. When you get to the last line, the person at the back goes to the front as the new leader.

Song 2: I am King (instrumental)

This original song uses one word per note. This makes it great for tapping an instrument, like a drum or a pot!


Make and decorate a paper crown. Walk around the room, singing the song!


A long time ago in a magical musical kingdom far, far away, there lived King Crochet. King Crotchet was big and strong and when he walked past, everyone stopped to watch him because he was so loud and took such big steps. King Crotchet ruled wisely and justly and had a great crown full of every precious stone in the world. People loved King Crotchet so much that they travelled far and wide to find the most precious stone, and every week, he would choose the best new precious stones to add to his crown. The rest of the precious stones were added to the walls of his magnificent castle that shone each morning on the magical hill. Every day, King Crotchet loved to play croquet, a game where he would hit four balls though four hoops in the ground.


Play a modified version of croquet by taking turns standing up, legs wide, and rolling a ball between them.

Music extension:

Find instrumental music with a royal sound and a clear beat. Children can walk to the beat wearing their crowns, acting out the story.

The next article includes the development of the next sessions, showing how different rhythms can be introduced at these early stages by musicians and non-musicians alike!

About the author

Frances Turnbull

Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.

She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.

Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.

Starting a musical journey part 2: Learning how to learn

Starting a musical journey part 2: Learning how to learn

It’s 2006 and I have a new baby. I love music, so I look for a local baby music group. I’m not even sure what to look for, and as a new mum, I cannot find a central directory of services. Finally, I google the right keywords to find a local franchise, but it has a waiting list. (A waiting list? For baby music?!) I look further afield. I find another franchise about an hour’s drive away, with free spaces. Chatting to the teacher after the session, she suggests that because I live so far away, I sign up to the same low-cost franchise and start delivering my own sessions – that way, my little one will definitely attend! Being fairly musical (I had taught myself guitar as a child and sung in the school choir for a couple years), I did it.

Supporting skills: (Part 1)

  • In a circle, children can: (learning relationship)
  • In a line, children can: (learning sequencing)
  • When leaving out the last line of a song, children can: (planning skills)

Supporting skills: (Part 2)

  • Children use language by: (language skills)
  • Weekly sessions: (concentration skills)
  • Children can learn: (memory skills)

Musical skills: (Part 3)

  • Children keep the pulse through: (pulse skills)
  • Children recognise: (rhythm skills)
  • Children can use: (percussion skills)

Musical skills: (Part 4)

  • Listening to music, children can: (listening skills)
  • Children match the pitch by: (pitch skills)
  • Children recognise: (interval skills)

I found out that, firstly, Kodály, Dalcroze and Orff were names of composers from Europe; secondly, they had very similar ideas; and thirdly, they were all, if not friends, then contemporaries who knew of each other and had slightly different views on “the best way to learn music” as a child. “Learning music as a child” is the operative phrase, because learning as an adult is very different – as adults, we already have experience in learning that helps us to relate new knowledge to what we already know. Children have much less experience, and depending on the age of the child, community music leaders may even be their very first experience with teachers. Researching the music education approaches, I noticed a clear progression in 12 skills, loosely divided into supporting skills and musical skills, and all easily introduced using easy-to-learn singing games. This article is part two of a four-part series describing the musical behaviours that we can see and encourage from birth to 7 years old.

Children use language by: (language skills)

Language development plays a big part in singing. It helps to introduce and develop awareness of the child’s surrounding culture and conventions, and introduces ideas and activities from history. We see how language develops from pointing to things, to learning names. Role-play and games allow for language concepts to be explored, particularly games in songs, where characters may perform or behave in a particular way in one line, and then stop in the next. This gives children the opportunity to practice healthy ways to express emotions like being happy, sad, angry or surprised. By allowing children to experiment with behaviours and expressions in a safe, undemanding space, they can safely return to being themselves within moments, helping to develop mastery of emotions by understanding that they are temporary states.

Weekly sessions:
(concentration skills)

Private music sessions with new or unfamiliar people are often advertised from between 30–60 minutes, and part of the reason that many children work well with this arrangement, is the novelty of seeing a new person or going to a new place. At home or in a nursery, where the adult is familiar, it is easier for children to lose focus and attention – put simply, it is easier to say ‘no’. However, we know that to learn effectively, like reading and writing daily, playing music daily is an effective source of creative expression. The compromise is to recognise that not every music session needs to be instructive – we can play for enjoyment. The weekly time guidelines suggest instructive periods with familiar people, ranging from 10 minutes of focused musical play a week, gradually building to 15-, 20-, 30- and then 45-minute sessions. Focused musical play involves deliberate skills scaffolding, sensitively following the interest of the child, and this can be done by introducing a new song, developing a known song (matching the pulse or rhythm), or even creating a new song using newly-developed skills.

Children can learn: (memory skills)

Just as children develop skills gradually in languages, sciences and humanities, so music is a progressive development of skills. Different studies have found that babies can show that they recognise a minimum of 3 out of 5 new songs. But each year, as we know, children are able to recognise or sing more and more songs. This means that in their second year, children may recognise or sing a minimum of an additional 3 songs if they are taught another 5 new songs - in total, they will recognise or sing 6 out of 10 new songs. In their third year, this increases to learning a minimum of an extra 6 out of 10 new songs (or a minimum of 11 out of 20 in total). In their fourth year, they can often recognise or sing one extra song out of 8 new ones (a minimum of 12 out of 28 in total) as they perfect the songs they already know. In their fifth year, children can recognise an extra 4 out of 7 new songs (or 16 out of 35 songs); in their sixth year, children can recognise an extra 6 out of 8 new songs (or 22 out of 42 songs in total). In their seventh year, again, children can recognise a minimum of an extra 6 out of 8 new songs, or 28 out of 50 new songs altogether - bearing in mind that children will often exceed the minimum.This recognition may be in the form of eye contact to start, progressing to movement and singing along, and will vary between children – some will memorise all 50! While it is true that there are some young children that can sing long and complicated songs, they often have significantly more experience from home. Choosing child appropriate songs, with smaller pitch ranges (fewer notes), allows for all children to be successful and therefore enjoy music. By choosing more complex songs, with wide note variations, it is a little like expecting all children to perform complex calculus equations in their heads, or perform Olympic gymnastic routines, or create photo-quality drawings – some children can, but most are not interested enough to practise sufficiently. It can be challenging to find songs with two and then three notes, but a good starting point is the internet, which is full of Kodály material, often free.

These foundational skills set the stage for your child’s future success in learning: once we learn how to learn and not just copy, we can literally learn anything. Sharing skills progressively, one step at a time, helps both adults and children learn new things more thoroughly, and they are remembered for much longer. This is why we take out time in the beginning: using limited pitches/notes helps us to recognise individual notes more clearly; limited rhythms allows us to repeat rhythms more accurately; introducing dynamics one at a time (instructions on loud or soft, fast or slow) allows us to explore the emotion created by playing quickly or quietly, slowly or loudly. And then using these skills in more complex songs in your favourite style, whether pop or rock, country or classical, becomes even more fun! Next month, we look at the ways in which musical skills develop by looking at pulse, rhythm and percussion.


About the author

Frances Turnbull

Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.

She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.

Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.

Ambitious & inclusive sensory stories

Ambitious & inclusive sensory stories

I wrote about the Wonders of a Sensory Story back in 2018 for Parenta and expressed in that article just how hard it is to even consider trying to articulate how fabulous sensory stories are in a single article. When I first encountered them, they transformed my teaching and made my practice so much more inclusive than it had been before. In this article I am going to give you a glimpse into how you can do even more with a sensory story, using them to increase access to new experiences and extend the impact of novel educational adventures.

Sensory stories are concise text, typically 8–10 sentences long, each sentence of the story is partnered with a rich and relevant sensory experience that supports engagement with the story and makes the story accessible to those unable to access it through the verbal narrative. I run a project called The Sensory Story Project and if you explore the webpage associated with that, you will find lots of free downloads that will help you in your sensory story practice.

How to use a sensory story to make an event more accessible

Consider the scenario of a school trip, perhaps you are visiting a farm, a swimming pool or a local church. For some children the differences between this environment and the one they are used to being in will inspire extra curiosity and attention. For other children, the differences between the known safe familiar environment and this new different place will cause stress and anxiety. Children are unlikely to be able to articulate feelings of discomfort or of being unsettled, even children who are brilliant linguists would struggle to describe feelings of unease.

Children distressed by an unfamiliar environment communicate that distress through their behaviour. For some, this behaviour will be obviously linked to distress, they might cry or refuse to enter a space. But for many others, their behaviour will be an attempt to counteract the feeling: a child who feels uneasy needs extra reassurance, one of the best ways to be reassured when you are a child is to know an adult is paying attention to you. Adults keep children safe. Children know that if the adult is noticing them, they will be safe. So you may see an increase in those annoying attention-grabbing behaviours that just seem silly and unnecessary. It helps to recognise that the child is seeking reassurance, rather than attention; at the very least it will save you from getting so frustrated!

"Focus on the sensory aspects of the experience: for example at a swimming pool you will smell the chemicals used to clean the pool, you might be asked to wear a rubber band against your wrist or ankle, you might see the steam from the showers and so on."

Create a sensory story that very clearly and accurately describes the experiences related to the new environment in the sequence they will be encountered. Focus on the sensory aspects of the experience: for example at a swimming pool you will smell the chemicals used to clean the pool, you might be asked to wear a rubber band against your wrist or ankle, you might see the steam from the showers and so on. Weave these experiences in order into your story and then share your story ahead of your visit. Tell it often so that the children get lots of practice at experiencing the sensations and can get excited for the visit ahead. When you get to the venue, it will not be so new and distressing but it will retain all of its excitement and interest.

How to use a sensory story to extend the impact of an event or activity

We have wonderful moments that happen in our settings, perhaps we all visit a petting zoo, or a dance troop visit us and share their fabulous skills with us. The novelty of these events makes them stand out in our memories, we should make the most of this impact and not restrict it to the day that it happens.

Creating a sensory story of an event or experience just takes a little bit of thought and prep work. You may need to make sure you have memory space clear on your phone so you can record sounds, or you may want to take some Tupperware with you for stashing smells in!

As the event unfolds, consider it in sensory story terms, what are the sounds, sights, smells, touches and tastes that define this event? Can you capture them?

Catch as many as you can and weave them into the story, then you will be able to retell the story and revisit the wonders of that special day.

Readers curious to know more may be interested in Joanna’s Ambitious and Inclusive Sensory Storytelling Course or her books:

Sensory Stories for Children and Teens with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Published by Jessica Kingsley

Voyage to Arghan - a sensory story

Ernest and I – a sensory story
Published by LDA resources

About the author

Joanna Grace

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.

Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.

Joanna has published four practitioner books: "Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic"“Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”“Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”.

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Do we have unrealistic expectations of children?

Do we have unrealistic expectations of children?

We all want to instil positive values and behaviour in children. However, it’s important to remember that they are just little people trying to navigate a sometimes, unfamiliar world and we should not expect a level of perfection that we as adults don’t even adhere to ourselves. Children are constantly learning about themselves, about boundaries and limitations and about the world around them. Through this learning process, there will always be ups and downs because they don’t have all of the answers. Let’s face it, none of us do, do we?

This is why it is so important to model the behaviour that we want to see in children and to not hold them to a higher standard than we, as adults, could even live up to. We all have off days where we can feel agitated and snappy and days where we are not quite ourselves. Children do too, yet we can, at times, expect them to be on form at all times, forgetting that they too are people with changing emotions and moods.

If we were to treat children in the same way that we treat adults, would we do the things that we do?

If an adult was busy doing something that they were really focused on, would we walk up to them and close it down because we had decided that it was time to do something else? Or, would we let them know that we needed to move on to the next task and give them time to finish off what they are doing?
If someone was not being their usual self would we try to find out the reason why, or would we just judge their behaviour?
If a person asked you to pass them something with a polite and friendly tone, but without the word ‘please’ attached to it, would we refuse to give them what they were asking for, or deem them as being rude? Do we honestly say the word ‘please’ after every single request that we make?
If an adult made a mistake like knocking over their drink, would we get angry with them and punish them, or would we help them to clean it up and tell them not to worry as it was only an accident?
We have to ask how we would feel and react if we put ourselves in the shoes of children – if the answer is that we would get frustrated or feel annoyed, is there any wonder that children sometimes react the way that they do and go into meltdown?

Children learn from what they consistently see. If we want them to have nice manners, we need to have nice manners. If we want them to be kind, we need to be kind. If we want them to take responsibility, we need to take responsibility when we get things wrong.

Human beings are imperfect by nature because we don’t come to this earth with all of the answers. It is our job to lead by example and to teach children through our own actions. However, it is also important to remember that our example will never teach them ‘perfection’. We will make mistakes and have off days and this is normal. We just need to remember that children will have these kinds of days too and that like us, they won’t and shouldn’t be expected to be perfect all of time.

A child’s view of the world and themselves is formed by what they consistently hear, see and feel around them. It is our job to demonstrate the kind of behaviour we want to see and to instil positive values that will give them a strong foundation for the future. Children need strong boundaries and I believe that it is important to have them. However, as we are setting these boundaries and leading the way, we also need to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are holding children to a higher standard than we would be able to live up to as adults.

Respect is one of the most important qualities that we can instil in children, but it works both ways. If we want children to be respectful, we need to act in a respectful way around them too and ask ourselves if our actions would be acceptable if the shoe was on the other foot.


About the author:

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the early years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

Sign up to Stacey’s premium membership here and use the code PARENTA20 to get 20% off or contact Stacey for an online demo.



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