Regional Conference in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin University and Essex Early Years and Childcare

Date: 26th April 2008
Venue: Anglia Ruskin University Chelmsford
Topic: Happy and Healthy Children Play Outdoors

This was a lively, interesting, informative and practical Conference attended by around 80 delegates of whom a number were TACTYC members and the rest were drawn from around the Essex region. The venue was delightful and the weather even better which was just as well as the conference focus was on the great outdoors!

The Conference consisted of two keynotes and a morning and afternoon choice from eight workshops. There were displays of books by Richard Meyers (Books Education) and exhibitions by Play England, Forest Schools and, of course, TACTYC.

The Conference was also an opportunity for us to showcase TACTYC and to boost membership and we are delighted to welcome those who joined on the day.

The Conference was opened by THEODORA PAPTHEODOROU (ARU) and PAT BROADHEAD (TACTYC Chair) and we were later joined by HARRIET HILL (Essex EYC).

During the first keynote, DR. TIM WALLER (University of Wolverhampton) presented an information-packed session in which he outlined research on outdoor play in the UK, the main features and significance of outdoor play and the interim findings of his research project on children’s outdoor experiences. We were fascinated to hear about the ‘octopus tree’ and the ‘trampoline tree’ and how children were able to take control of their own learning, actions and risk-taking in outdoor environments. He also outlined the links with some aspects of Every Child Matters and showed children’s deep levels of involvement through the Laevers Involvement Scales. The examples from his research were delightful with children’s engagement and learning really shining through.

The morning ended and the afternoon began with self-selected workshops covering different aspects of the outdoor play theme. The eight workshops made a choice of just two difficult for delegates! They were:

  1. Bringing Forest Schools Home – Sara Knight, ARU
  2. Outdoor Fun and Exploration – Anna Rule, Essex Wildlife Trust
  3. Risk and Challenge in Outdoor Play – Helen Tovey, Roehampton University
  4. Building the Foundations of Positive Learning Outdoors – Sarah Walkden, Working With Others Research and Education Unit, University of Brighton
  5. Outdoor Play – Everyday! – Sue Palmer, Farley Nursery School, Salisbury
  6. Turning Spaces into Places – Theodora Papatheodorou, ARU
  7. Story-Telling and Story-Sharing – Richard Sylvester, J.I.G.S.A.W, Journey into Green Space and Waterways
  8. Run for the Hills! – Sharon Packman and Siân Ansell, Essex CC.

Last, but by no means least, we had an excellent keynote from JENNY DOYLE, the Forest School Co-ordinator for Worcestershire, She identified the benefits of Forest Schools to all children (and adults): well-being, creativity, working with a broad spectrum of adults, transfer and application of skills, dispositions and attitudes to learning. Her photographs and sensitive examples of practice, showed clearly the levels of children’s engagement and commitment to their play and learning in the Forest Schools and their persistence and problem-solving capabilities. She concluded by saying that research shows that Forest Schools are having a significant effect on children’s physical development and their knowledge and understanding of the world.

JANET MOYLES (TACTYC and ARU) concluded the afternoon by saying:

  • We spend endless hours trying to plan for and promote children’s learning (in the dry!) yet it seems clear from today that ‘nature’ can do much of it for us, engaging children in real life learning experiences.
  • Children appear to have innate knowledge of what they need and want and have a clear sense of responsibility and ability to initiate their own learning in the outdoor context.
  • The adults’ role has to be to sensitively train (educate) and trust children to take risks safely. Too much prescription can get in the way at the moment.
  • Outdoors is more than just recreation – it’s a true re-creation, in the full sense of creativity.

Janet felt sure that delegates, too, had had a re-creative experience during the day (especially in the lovely weather!)

She thanked all those involved in the planning, organisation and implementation of this worthwhile Conference for their enormous efforts and goodwill.

Delegates were clearly pleased with the Conference overall, offering such evaluations as:

  • I had an interesting and inspiring day – thank you!
  • More conferences like this would be great!
  • Lovely day! What great ideas! Thank you.
  • I have had a wonderful and interesting day and come away with strategies and views that will promote an outdoor ethos in early years settings.
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