Foster carers, I wonder, are you aware of just how much you do to promote development?
Books have been written about child development.. More books have been written about play and development. But let’s take a walk in the woods as I point out the potential for development from an activity as simple as this.
That’s because our walk in the woods can actually support holistic development for the young child. ‘Could’ because you, the adults, have a very important role to play because without your input and support, the development would be minimal (although still possible). Jerome Bruner talked about ‘scaffolding’ children’s play and activities:
Scaffolding involves helpful, structured interaction between an adult and a child with the aim of helping the child achieve a specific goal. (McLeod, S. A. (2008). Bruner. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/bruner.html
You are the one providing that support, emotional or physical as the case may be. Your use of language also gives children support, as you encourage, praise, question or supply answers, helping give the child confidence to take small risks, within a safe environment.
Let me try to list some of the areas for potential development under the following headings:
Physical development will begin from the stage of picking up a coat, boots, or hat and gloves, putting these garments on or being given help to do so. Gross motor skill in stretching or bending to reach the garments and then balancing to put things on; and fine motor skills in managing, or attempting the zip, buttons, laces etc.
Personal, social and emotional development is about the interaction between the adult and the child; perhaps the child and another child. A sense of familiarity, achievement, excitement, expectation,security, developing independence; and perhaps some less positive feelings such as fearfulness and anxiety of perhaps going somewhere new. All of these feelings are part of emotional development and for the children that you care for some of these feelings may be more heightened than others.
Cognitive development comes in understanding the request/instruction to collect the garments and from where. This may include distinguishing one coat from another, recognition of size, colour, recognising their own coat against that of a sibling where the coat may be identical but for the size.
Communication and language development involves taking in, and deciphering the spoken word, following guidance, asking a question for reassurance and confirmation, constructing a sentence through a statement or perhaps a question. Understanding the concept of over or under, larger or smaller, linking clearly with cognitive development.
And so bearing in mind that all of these developmental opportunities can happen before you even leave the house; assuming of course that you have provided the opportunity, support praise and encouragement; just imagine the opportunities from the walk itself!
There’s the walk itself, starting with physical development. Gross motor skills can be developed through walking, running, balancing, striding, jumping, skipping, swinging, climbing, stretching, bending; fine motor skills through pincer movements, picking up leaves, sticks, stones, hand eye co ordination, examining objects, perhaps having a little box in which to collect a small number of items and/or having a magnifying glass to have a closer look at insects, bugs, leaves etc. Taking it a bit further, leaf and tree rubbing is good fun and will help to develop coordination (with the support of an interested adult in the form of you!)
Cognitive development will be enhanced through observation, colours, estimation (‘Is that longer or taller than that?’) How close, how far, how many, what shape, size, what quantity. They all add up to the pre mathematical language and skills of comparison, sorting, matching, collecting, and weighing.
Communication and language development, use of descriptive words, crunchy, crackly, slushy, trickle, muddy. Describing sounds that you can hear, the trees creaking, leaves rustling, birds singing, twigs snapping, water trickling, rushing or dripping.
Personal, social and emotional development will benefit from the sheer enjoyment, closeness, feeling safe and supported , sharing experiences, sense of freedom to express and explore within a safe environment. Learning about their own world and environment and their community. There may be some anxiety in a new environment/situation and there may also be a sense of wonder and magic. There may be a fear of open space and wanting to keep close to an adult and may be a sense of excitement all at the same time. For a child who is familiar with the place there may be a sense of relief and familiarity, remembering where the old tree had fallen down, knowing where it is safe to climb, remembering what happening at that muddy puddle last time!
Through a very simple scenario, I have mentioned just some of the experiences and opportunities for learning that a child may have whilst taking a walk in the woods. These are some of the learning experiences that you as carers, have the opportunity to offer through all of the activities and outings you provide for young children, and for those individuals who may not have had these experiences previously, there is no age limit! As carers, you are able to provide the scaffold, and structure that supports and encourages children to learn and to develop new skills. It does not matter, if it is a walk in the woods, playing in the park, in the garden, on the beach or in the home, playgroup, nursery or school. It is about supporting encouraging, engaging and developing skills and learning through good quality opportunities.
(If you are interested in the theorists view, I would invite you to look at the links between Lev Vygotsky and the Zone of Proximal Development and Bruner’s Scaffolding)
And finally for children of all ages and for ourselves as adults, there is nothing quite like fresh air, exercise, fun, excitement, a sense of freedom and togetherness, everyone benefits, everyone will eat better, sleep better and learn better for the experience. Enjoy the great outdoors, it offers such a fantastic resource for us all, and most of it is free!