How effective is your free flow play provision in the early years?
When you see a stick, do you see a wand, a sword, or maybe the key to a secret world? If you were in the early years, you would! Free flow play is a term commonly used across nurseries and EYFS settings. But what does it mean? Are there any benefits to implementation? And how do you correctly encourage it across your setting? Read on to explore free flow play in the early years.
What is free flow play?
Free flow play is an open-ended, unstructured opportunity to play in the early years. Where children can let their imagination run wild and explore the ‘imagine if’ situations. For example, imagine if the stick is a magic broom, allowing the child to glide effortlessly around their outdoor playground space.
In short, free flow play allows children to be children, allowing them to make the mundane, magic.
The Dr Tina Bruce theory is closely linked with free flow play. Dr Tina Bruce, an early year’s expert with a recognised CBE, highlights play as the foundation for learning. Dr Bruce notices the difference in play quality between adult-led and child-led play.
Child-led play ebbs and flows with the different combinations of personalities, resources available and nature of the play. Free flow play can be facilitated by nursery practitioners, teachers, or parents effectively. But care must be taken to not direct or interfere with the play.
What are the features of free flow play?
The Dr Tina Bruce theory is attached to Froebel’s approach to learning, where 12 features of play are understood. Linked closely to the benefits of physical play, we share the 12 common features of free flow play in the early years.
- Play must harness the child’s inner play drive to manipulate and explore objects and repeat actions and movements.
- The play opportunity should have no pressure to fit within specific goals, expectations, or rules. In fact, free flow play should test the making, breaking and keeping of rules in a game.
- There should be no explicit end product for the interactions. Play can ebb and flow naturally.
- Intrinsic motivation should be the driver of the play. Extrinsic motivation such as rewards, recognition and praise alter the intention behind the play.
- Free flow play should be all about exploring all possibilities within their knowledge, resources, and equipment available.
- Quality play in the early years should expand further than our human capabilities. If you are limited only to transport via your feet, it dulls a game of witches and wizards!
- There should not be a straight, predictable route with free flow games. Those involved should be in tune with others, altering the games at the drop of a hat.
- Play can be solitary, in small groups or in pairs. Play should be encouraged to be truly inclusive.
- There should be an understanding of freedom within guidance.; this guidance may be for health and safety reasons.
- Play should encourage toddlers and children to develop an awareness of self and others (spacial awareness, emotional understanding, and personal boundaries).
- Children should use play to challenge the boundaries they are confident within.
- Play should tie in learnt information and concepts of self, others and the environment around them.
What are the free flow play benefits for EYFS?
Fine and gross motor skills are developed in the early years, which will help the pincer grip when learning to write. There can often be a rush to get children onto tabletop activities like writing their name or tracing letters of the alphabet.
But developing fine motor skills to help with pencil control doesn’t always involve pencils… stick with us here. Core stability and secure pincer grips can be developed using play activities. Balancing across outdoor play equipment, bum-shuffling down a hilltop fort, and using musical panels all develop the skills needed for hand dexterity.
There are endless free flow play benefits for children; let’s explore a few.
Emotional regulation skills.
Improved mental health and wellbeing.
Risk management skills.
Safety considerations for free flow play in nurseries.
Freedom with guidance is one of the suggestions when facilitating free flow play. How do you facilitate the flexible and free flow play that benefits our children while remaining health and safety conscious?
Risk assessments in the early years.
Risk assessments for your indoor and outdoor play spaces in EYFS help to reduce first aid incidents.
Safe outdoor play equipment.
Outdoor play equipment is one of the best pieces of kit to facilitate free flow play. Fitted sandpits, role-play stages and trim trails offer endless imaginative play opportunities. Regularly monitor your outdoor equipment for signs of wear and tear. Choosing equipment that is designed, built, and installed complying with the industry safety standards (BSEN1176/ BSEN1177) is essential.
First aid provision in nurseries and schools.
Your setting will have team members trained in first aid (including paediatric first aid). Ensure all your team members are familiar with the first aid process if an incident or injury occurs.
Be aware of children’s SEND needs.
Awareness of asthmatic children or those requiring automatic insulin injector pens (AII) reduces the risk of free flow play. Active children are more likely to pick up grazes and bumps during play. Knowledge of children who find coordination and special awareness challenging will help reduce the risk of injury.
How to facilitate free flow play all year round.
The Great British weather isn’t always on the teacher’s side. Halting outdoor play when the weather is too hot, cold, icy, or windy. Taking steps to facilitate free flow play all year round in your school or nursery can increase the amount of outdoor playing time for the children.
Free flow play shelters for nurseries.
Available to cover the outdoor play area or a small playground space, free flow play shelters help the imaginative play to continue, whatever the weather.
Staff training for active play in EYFS.
Having the knowledge and adaptability to altered planned activities due to adverse weather can help to keep the children’s learning on track. Consider covering seasonal free flow play ideas during staff meetings to build knowledge across the school team.
Effective parent communication.
Sharing your nursery or school’s outdoor provision during prospective parent walkarounds can help to explain how prominent outdoor play is in your EYFS setting. It can be useful to highlight to parents at the beginning of each half-term the clothing necessary for outdoor play (waterproof, warm clothing). You can contact local charity shops for a spare stash to ensure no child is left without.
Inspiring outdoor play equipment.
We want the children to create play opportunities independently; a helping hand on the inspiration front can open up more free flow play avenues. Castles and forts, a dinosaur free-standing tunnel and Duralawn tunnel mounds can add the extra inspiration needed for your EYFS outdoor space.
Free flow play is a prominent part of your EYFS continuous play curriculum. Request a brochure to see what fits your playground shape or small spaces and speak to one of our customer support team to discuss on 01252 515199.