For many reasons, which we will not address here, Portugal has long ago been focused on classroom-based tasks instead of outdoor activities. Consequently, some kindergartens either haven’t invested in their exterior facilities at all or they are now dealing with inadequate outdoors.
In most Kindergartens children spend their time indoors as teachers tend to privilege classroom activities and ignore outdoor strategies. It is their belief that learning takes place inside the classroom. However, gradually, one can perceive a shift in both teachers’ and parents’ perception of a healthy lifestyle, since we now begin to acknowledge the relevance of moving and learning outside the classroom.
The Project MLO – Moving and Learning Outside -, which involves teachers, parents and caretakers from different European countries, such as Portugal, Greece, Croatia, Estonia and Norway, stresses the importance of learning while playing outside. Thus, it tries to create awareness among teachers and parents towards its benefits. With this goal in mind, and with the City Council’s support, we began by introducing some changes in one of our kindergartens – JI/EB Conquinha. These changes were based on a new perception of how we should organize the school exterior. We introduced natural materials like wood, sand, water and stones. Likewise, we bought new material: hand carts, tricycles, shovels and buckets, etc. Our intention was clearly to promote autonomy and risk-taking.
This project has been a success among our children. They love to photograph each other while playing outside, to draw, to express their outdoor preferences and, above all, to spend their time freely doing whatever they like, taking advantage of the new organization and materials introduced.
Based on MLO, our school is now promoting other projects:
- An interchange project with 12th grade students from our Caretaker Vocational Course.
- A green vegetable garden, with the support of our City Council’s environmental sector. They will guide us during the whole process: what to plant, when and how to plant it.
- A Sensory Garden that will stimulate students’ senses – vision, touch and smell – and allow them to enjoy a variety of sensory experiences
With this project we strongly believe that we will be able to move onwards and change our traditional classroom approach. In fact, teachers are highly motivated and have been participating in all of our projects. Parents, in turn, now understand the importance and the impact of outdoor activities on their children’s behavior and outcome. The students themselves have become more aware of the benefits and challenges of playing outside. They take risks, they test their limits, they become more independent and they improve their self-esteem. In conclusion, they develop essential skills.
We cannot deny that at the beginning we had to deal with some resistance to change, as this whole experience meant new habits and routines and, thus, a new attitude and behavior. However, it is also a fact that we can now see parents open to this new approach, although it might mean washing more clothes and accepting that the caretakers will be more actively involved in the children’s outdoor activities.
We are slowly promoting new and different experiences outdoors and, at a calculated risk, allowing our children/students to be happy and to find the tools they will need to develop lifelong skills.