Pen Portrait: Andrew Clifford

Andrew Clifford,  Founder of Naturally Outdoors EY Consultancy, is an ambassador for outdoor play and learning in the early years. His multiple and varied roles in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector fuel his passion for the dissemination of the benefits and the necessities of outdoor play and learning, risky play and the forest school ethos which he shared with delegates at the recent Detoxing Childhood  Early Years conference.

This workshop focused on how society invariably views play and risk and how practitioners need to address these myths and focus on the undoubted benefits that outdoor play provides.

Play is often seen as the natural and spontaneous activity of childhood. When we say that something is child’s play, we usually mean that it’s easy to accomplish and maybe does not need much thought or effort.  But play is massively complex, open to many interpretations, and definitely not limited to childhood. Despite a plethora of research highlighting the benefits of physical and outdoor play that, in England, it has somewhat lessened over time, concurrent with growing Health and Safety concerns regarding child safety and an emphasis on injury prevention in a blame cultured society. Doubting someones ability to assess a situation wholly undermines them and squashes them, this is what we do to our youngest children when continually reminding them to ‘be careful’.

The attendees were prompted to refer to their cherished childhood memories, provoking discussions around ‘fun’ and ‘carefree’ play. Risk did not feature in these memories. The use of the word risk has altered, from an unemotionally motivated word signifying the likelihood of an assumed outcome to now being tantamount to danger and inferring an adverse value judgment.  Practitioners  need to refocus our terminology and see risk in terms of risky play as representing a situation whereby a child can distinguish and assess a challenging situation and choose a course of action- A life skill.

Risk is inherent in human endeavour, and for children not to engage with it is for them to be cut off from an importsnt part of like

 Moss and Petrie (2002:130)

There is a current idea that indoor learning and classroom environments proffer superior academic opportunities to outdoors holistic education. Outdoors is  importance for extending and celebrating what children can do, rather than concentrating on what resources they do not have, or what the children cannot yet do.

Learning from the Forest school movenet is important.

Learning from the Forest School Movement

Forest schooling and the opportunities that it offers to effectively educate a child holistically, address all the criteria within the EYFS, including the characteristics of effective learning, while notably facilitating tenacity and resilience, providing children with the essential skills required for school readiness and beyond.