EYLF and natural environments

On 2 July 2009, after years of comprehensive consultation, COAG endorsed the Early Years Learning Framework.

Copies of the document can be obtained here:

Support, training, on-line forums and a host of documentation in a number of languages can be accessed here.

The National Framework, entitled 'Belonging, Being and Becoming' is a key document for educators to help develop quality early childhood settings. It describes principles, practice and learning outcomes that are essential to support and enhance children's learning from birth to 5 years of age, and also help support transition to school.

The 5 learning outcomes for children, birth to 5 years, are:  
Outcome 1: Children have a strong sense of identity
Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world
Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of well being
Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners
Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators.

The sections of the document that address naturalistic play and playspaces are:

(p14) "An integrated, holistic approach to teaching and learning also focuses on connections to the natural world. Educators foster children’s capacity to understand and respect the natural environment and the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land."

(pp-15-16) "Outdoor learning spaces are a feature of Australian learning environments. They offer a vast array of possibilities not available indoors. Playspaces in natural environments include plants, trees, edible gardens, sand, rocks, mud, water and other elements from nature. These spaces invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery and connection with nature. They foster an appreciation of the natural environment, develop environmental awareness and provide a platform for ongoing environmental education....Materials enhance learning when they reflect what is natural and familiar and also introduce novelty to provoke interest and more complex and increasingly abstract thinking. For example, digital technologies can enable children to access global connections and resources, and encourage new ways of thinking. Environments and resources can also highlight our responsibilities for a sustainable future and promote children’s understanding about their responsibility to care for the environment. They can foster hope, wonder and knowledge about the natural world." 

The framework will be underpinned from the 1 Janurary 2012 by the Education and Care Services National Regulations. Specifically Part 8, Division 1—Centre-based services and family day care services:  

128 Outdoor space and natural environment 
The approved provider of a centre-based service must ensure that the outdoor spaces provided at the education and care service premises allow children to explore and experience the natural environment.  Example - The use of natural features such as trees, sand, natural vegetation, edible plants. 

129 Shaded outdoor space 
The approved provider of a centre-based service must ensure that outdoor spaces provided at the education and care service premises include shaded space that is of adequate size, and provides quality of shade that is suitable for the geographic location of the service.

Although it may be beneficial for me to point out specifically how naturalistic play and playspaces can be used to meet each of the five learning outcomes, the research has already been done, conclusions derived and concrete examples of  learning opportunities and teachable moments offered therein. I have provided the research and links (where available) below. 

Naturalistic play, Playspaces and Child Development

Armstrong, N., McManus, A., Welsman, J., & Kirby, B. (1996). Physical activity patterns and aerobic fitness among prepubescents. European Physical Education Review, 2(1), 19-29. 
Barbour, AC 1999, ‘The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14 (1), 75–98.
Buell, M.J., & Cassidy, D.J.  (2001) The complex and dynamic nature of quality in early care and educational programs:  A case of chaos. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15, 209-219
Butcher, J. E., & Eaton, W. O. (1989). Gross and fine motor proficiency in preschoolers: Relationships with free play behaviour and activity level. Journal of Human Movement Studies, 16, 27-36. 
Caesar, B. (2001) Give children a place to explore. Child Care Information Exchange,138, 76-79.
Causgrove-Dunn, J. L., & Watkinson, E. J. (1994). A study of the relationship between physical awkwardness and children's perceptions of physical competence. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 11(3), 275-283. 
Chillman, B 2003, Do school grounds have a value as an educational resource in the secondary sector? Sussex University / Learning through Landscapes  http://www.ltl.org.uk/research/research-downloads.asp
Cullen, J. (1993). Preschool children's use and perceptions of outdoor play areas. Early Childhood Development and Care, 89, 45-56. 
Davies, M.M.  (1996)  Outdoors:  An important context for young children’s development. Early Child Development and Care, 115, 37-49.
Davies, M. (1997) The teacher’s role in outdoor play:  Preschool teachers’ beliefs and practices.In M. Fleer Ed. Australian Research in Early Childhood Education. Volume 1.  (pp. 10-20) Australian Capital Territory, Australia: Australian Early Childhood Association, Inc.
DeBord, K., Hestenes, L.L, Moore, R.C., Cosco, N., & McGinnis, J.R.  (2002)  Paying attention to the outdoor environment is as important as preparing the indoor environment. Young Children, 57(3), 32-34.
Eaton, J. & Shepherd, W.  (1998)  Early childhood environments.  (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 441593).
Esbensen, S.B. (1999) Let’s play outdoors-getting back to nature.  In E.E. Ferguson Ed.  Connections. (pp. 7-10).  (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 443567).
Fjørtoft, I.  (2001) The natural environment as a playground for children:  The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children.  Early Childhood Education Journal, 29, 111-117.
Frost, J.L.  (1992) Reflections on research and practice in outdoor play environments. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 20(4), 6-10.  38
Frost, J.L., Bowers, L., & Wortham, S.  (1990) The state of American preschool playgrounds.  Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 61(8), 18-23.
Frost, J.L., Brown, PS., Sutterby, J.A., & Thornton, C.D. (2004) The developmental benefits of playgrounds.  Childhood Education, 8, 42-44.
Frost, J.L., & Dempsey, J.D.  (1990) Playgrounds for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 332806).
Frost, J.L., & Jacobs, P.  (1995) Play deprivation:  A factor in juvenile violence. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 23(3), 14-20.
Greenman J, (1988) Caring Spaces, Learning Places Children's Environments That Work  
Greenman, J. (2003) Making outdoor learning possible.  Child Care Information Exchange, 151, 75-80.
Guddemi, M., & Eriksen, A.  (1992).  Designing outdoor learning environments for and with children.  Dimensions of Early Childhood, 20(4), 15-24.
Hartle, L., & Johnson, J. E., (l993). Historical and contemporary influences of outdoor play environments. In C. Hart, (Ed.), Children on Playgrounds: Research Perspectives and Applications, pp. 14 - 42. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Hartle, L. (1996). Effects of additional materials on preschool children’s outdoor play behaviors. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 11(1), 68-81.
Haubenstricker, J., & Seefeldt, V. (1986). Acquisition of motor skills during childhood. 
Hendy, T.  (2000) Jungle gym or brain gym?  Parks & Recreation, 35(6), 84.
Henniger, M.L.  (1993/94).  Enriching the outdoor play experiences.  Childhood Education, 70, 87-90.
Henniger, M.L.  (1994).  Planning for outdoor play.  Young Children, 49(4), 10-15.
Keeler, R.  (2003)  Designing and creating natural play environments for young children. Child Care Information Exchange, 150, 39-58.
Kritchevsky, S., Prescott, E., & Walling, L. (1969)  Planning environments for young children physical space.  Washington DC:  NAEYC.
Malone, K & Tranter, PJ 2003, ‘Schoolgrounds as sites for learning: making the most of environmental opportunities’, Environmental Education Research, 9 (3), 283–303.
Martin, M. & Hands, B. (2003) Implementing a Fundamental Movement Skill program in an early childhood setting: the teachers' perspectives. Australian Journal of Early Childhood  
Monighan-Nourot, P., Scales, B., & Hoorn, J. V. (1987). Looking at children's play: A bridge between theory and practice. New York: Teachers College Press. 
Moore, RC, Goltsman SM & Iacofano, DS 1992, Play for All Guidelines: Planning, Design and Management of Outdoor Play Settings for All Children, MIG Communications, Berkeley,CA.
Moore, R & Wong, H 1997, Natural learning: The life history of an environmental schoolyard, Berkeley, CA: MIG Communications. (ED 432 122).
McGinnis, J. (2003) Adventure playgrounds and outdoor safety issues. Child Care Information Exchange, 150, 46-50.39
Naylor, H.  (1985) Outdoor play and play equipment.  Early Child Development and Care, 19, 109-130.
Noren-Bjorn, E.  (1982) The impossible playground.  West Point, NY: Leisure Press.
Pate RR, Pfeiffer KA, Trost SG, Ziegler P, Dowda M. Physical activity among children attending preschools. Pediatrics 2004;114:1258-63
Pfouts, D.K., & Schultz, R.A.  (2003, Winter).  The benefits of outdoor learning centers for young gifted learners. Gifted Child Today Magazine, 26, 56-64.
Poest, C. A., Williams, J. R., Witt, D. D., & Atwood, M. E. (1989). Physical activity patterns of preschool children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 4, 367-376. 
Poest, C. A., Williams, J. R., Witt, D. D., & Atwood, M. E. (1990). Challenge me to move: Large muscle development in young children. Young Children, 45(5), 4-10. 
Rivkin, M.S.  (2000)  Outdoor experiences for young children. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 448013).
Sallis, J. F., Patterson, T. L., McKenzie, T. L., & Nader, P. R. (1988). Family variables and physical activity in preschool children. Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, 9(2), 57-61. 
Sanoff, H.  (1995)  Creating Environments for Young Children.  Mansfield, OH: BookMasters, Inc.
Shim, S Y., Herwig, J.E., & Shelley, M.  (2001).  Preschoolers’ play behaviors with peers in classroom and playground settings.  Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15, 149-163.
Steinhagen, R & Iltus, I 2004, Where Do Our Children Play: The Importance and Design of Schoolyards, Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, Newark, NJ.
Strickland, E.  (2001)  Let’s play outside.  Scholastic Parent & Child, 8(5), 60-65.
Studer, M.  (1998)  Developing an outdoor classroom: Blending classroom curriculum and outdoor play space.  Texas Child Care, 2(1), 12-19.40
Susa, AM & Benedict, JO 1994, ‘The effects of playground design on pretend play and divergent thinking’, Environment and Behavior, 26 (4), 560–579.
Sutterby, J.A., & Frost, J.L.  (2002).  Making playgrounds fit for children and children fit for playgrounds.  Young Children, 57(3), 36-41.
Sutterby, J.A., & Thornton, C.D.  (2005).  It doesn’t just happen!  Essential contributions from playgrounds.  Young Children, 60(3), 26-33.
Taylor, S.I., & Morris, V.G.  (1996)  Outdoor play in early childhood education settings: Is it safe and healthy for children?  Early Childhood Education Journal, 23, 153-157.
Titman, W 1999, Grounds for Concern, Learning through Landscapes (Winchester, LTL) Sussex University / Learning through Landscapes.
Treme, C. G., (1992).  Improving motor skill development for toddlers and preschoolers through planning and teacher involvement.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation,  
Wardle, F.  (2000).  Supporting constructive play in the wild—Guidelines for learning outdoors. Child Care Information Exchange, 133, 26-30.
Widler, T.  (2001).  Take the classroom outdoors.  Texas Child Care, 24(4), 2-7.
Wilson, R.  (1996).  Developing an environmental outdoor play space.  Young Children, 51(6), 56-61.