Benefits of outdoor play for supporting children with speech, language and communication needs
Jessica Drake, Associate SLT for Small Talk SALT
Jessica qualified as a Forest School Leader in 2018 and regularly run sessions outdoors to support the children she is working with. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions;
- How can the outdoors support my child’s speech, language and communication needs?
This is a difficult question to answer briefly! The list is endless. Children are encouraged to engage with nature and connect with the natural world. This sparks curiosity and adults are encouraged to follow the child’s lead, giving gentle guidance when appropriate. When giving time to explore the environment, children can develop their imaginative play. In the great outdoors, there is a wealth of vocabulary that a child is exposed to; language is everywhere! Children develop their social skills, not only by playing games but also learning important teamwork skills. A child’s self-esteem naturally develops by adults facilitating a “try again” approach; there is no such thing as failure. Natural materials are used to spark the imagination. For example, making faces to support understanding of emotions, creating characters and telling stories to each other. Sessions follow a familiar pattern with a clear beginning and end. Tools may be used to create resources that can be used to support language skills. Sitting around a fire creates a sense of community. Children can be involved in cooking food which again involves vocabulary building, sequential language and social communication. Last but not least, children learn to respect and trust the natural world and create lasting memories that they want to talk about, whatever form of communication they are using.
- What if it’s too cold?
Children will be okay as long as they have warm enough clothes and suitable footwear! Games that involve movement help to keep them warm. Ideally sessions should be run throughout the year. Ongoing sessions outdoors not only develops the child’s relationship with the natural world, but also build up a resilience to ever-changing weather, as well as become independent in preparing for what they need to wear. Planning and preparation also develops their organisation and self- help skills.
- Will my child be safe in a session outdoors, especially if I am not there?
Risk assessments should be in place and adult’s leading a session should always ensure these are looked at before each session. This includes looking at the risks in the area that will be explored and weather conditions as well as the needs of each individual child. Sessions outdoors should also not be run alone. There should always be enough adults to support the session and ensure that a child is enabled to take risks carefully.
- What activities can I do at home?
Build a stick tower. Find sticks and take turns to build a tower, or see who can build the biggest tower
Build a den, everyone’s favourite. Build a den and have a hot chocolate!
Build a mini den. Make a den for small creatures to live in
Mud/Clay activities. Make faces in mud using natural materials. Make clay faces on trees and/or make characters out of clay and natural materials. Tell stories about them, create different emotions.
Blindfold games. The child wears a blindfold and the parent/carer lead him/her around the woods. The child then must try think where he went. Take turns to play this.
Kiss a tree!
Make faces and create different emotions out of natural materials
Make a log dog. Look for a log and tie a piece of rope on it. Take it for a walk and find some food!
Nature stick – collect interesting materials on your journey and tie them on a stick. Tell each other about your journey
Make patterns out of leaves
Go on nature hunt – give clues for your child to find interesting things around the garden
Make your own mini allotment – children love to see seeds grow, then eat the produce of course!
Lay on the ground and look up to the sky. Take time to listen to the sounds you can hear.
There are many books that can help with ideas. Two of our favourites include “The Stick Book: Many things you can make or do with a stick” (Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield) and “I love my world” (Chris Holland)
Get wrapped up and play!