Come out to play

Calverley House

Nik Pears, Head of Prep School, Kent College Pembury

One of the best things about being a Prep Head is watching children develop and grow. I have countless stories of shy pupils starting school at 2 or 3 who develop into confident and articulate children, ready to take on the challenges of Senior School.

As Head of a prep school for girls my aim is to create an environment that values resilience, self-assuredness and empathy for others. It’s a careful balancing act. Our girls need to be equipped to embrace new challenges and, crucially, not be afraid of failure. One of the ways I believe that girls can develop these skills is to encourage them to explore the outdoors.

As parents, many of our own childhood memories are of playing outdoors. I’ll never forget as a 6 year old child climbing to the top of a large oak tree in our garden, realising only when I’d reached the top that I had no idea how to get back down. I had to get rescued by my Dad. I learnt a lot of lessons that day! There is much research to support the benefits of outdoor play in developing all sorts of skills; problem-solving, cooperation, flexibility and self-awareness. I have often noted that when children have had the opportunity to play outdoors they are much more able to concentrate on academic tasks.

Unlike our own childhoods, children today have the additional pressure of social media and the dreaded ‘screen time’. I’ve long been concerned about the time children spend in front of computers and tablets. There is more and more evidence suggesting that far from finding this enjoyable, many of our children are actually finding this stressful. Jen Tobin, Kent College’s e-safety officer, recently directed me to a piece of research by Digital Awareness UK that found that a starting 74% of pupils are worried about not getting enough sleep because of addiction to technology. Compare this to a recent poll of 3000 parents by which found that parents don’t let their children play outside on their own until they are, on average, 10 ½. This is 3 years older than they themselves were allowed to play outside. Children are at risk of becoming less and less connected with the outside world.

Obviously, a prevalent factor in this is parental worry around safety and this is a very real concern for parents. But schools can help with this. Whilst no natural environment is completely risk free, School can often offer a safe setting for children to explore and learn. We can encourage unstructured play, whilst maintaining a watchful eye.

At Kent College Prep, we are introducing more and more outdoor play. We are fortunate to be situated in 75 acres of stunning ancient woodland. Carol Davidson, our Head of Outdoor Learning, a huge advocate of the benefits of outdoor play, is designing a Forest School within a minute’s walk from the prep school. Over the coming months, girls have the opportunity to explore the woods, overcome the challenges of our outdoor obstacle course (fancy swinging on some tyres over a lake, anyone? Anyone…?) and build dens from items found on the woodland floor.

If you’d like to see some of our ancient woodlands yourself, why don’t you consider coming along to our Forest Explorers Day on 20th May? It starts at 12.30 with a BBQ and then an afternoon of outdoor activities. We’ll be carrying on come rain or shine, so bring wellies and appropriate clothing. It’s for the whole family – including grandparents! Hope to see you there.

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