Co-Designing Inquiry into Improving our Outdoor Learning Opportunities and Resources for our Early Learning Centre.

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Project summary:

Action research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelian perspective in an early earning and childcare community,



In our collaborative project to improve the outdoor learning experiences and broaden the opportunities and resources available for the children in our ELC, we embarked on a project inspired by the timeless wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi – “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Our project was driven by a collective commitment to co-design an inquiry process aimed at improving both the quality and quantity of outdoor experiences and resources. We were aware of the importance of making our outdoor space more enticing and accessible, especially for during colder months when many children are encouraged by apprehensive parents to stay indoors. There are always barriers to outdoor play; some children don’t want to wear wetsuits and wellies others worry about getting ‘dirty’ outdoors. Although we didn’t enforce the wearing of wetsuits and wellies we encourage it, as most parents want their children to be warm and dry. Acknowledging that we, as staff, are the children’s greatest asset, we promote various outdoor activities such as games, assault courses, den building, and outdoor music, alongside activities like mark-making, messy play, and literacy/numeracy opportunities to encourage the children to play outdoors. Understanding the many benefits of outdoor play for motor skill development, resilience, and independent exploration, we set out to improve on the potential of our newly designed centre, despite the lack of existing fixtures. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, several planned outdoor facilities such as taps, sinks, and pergolas with power supply were left incomplete, resulting in fenced-off areas that disrupted the flow of movement and activity in the garden. This assignment affirms our wish to co-design and create improvements collaboratively for the children outdoors. 

 Leadership as Catalyst for Change 

According to Smith & Langston (2008), leaders play a crucial role in inspiring and initiating change. Effective leadership involves building an effective team, ensuring clarity of roles and responsibilities, and fostering a people-oriented approach. Leadership is inherently linked to the collective efforts of a team, where leaders strike a balance between developing their vision and involving the team in the process. They increase responsibility within the group by providing growth opportunities and eliminating obstacles to progress. 

 Reflections on Froebelian Principles and Leadership 

Completing the Froebel in Childhood Practice course in 2019 served as a profound catalyst for reflection on how Froebelian principles underpin our practice, and let me understand that I was on the right path with my understanding of what good practice is. This leadership course allowed me to reflect on and explore how these principles can be integrated into modern leadership paradigms. Central to this were questions regarding the alignment of Froebelian principles with my own leadership style, the efficacy of leadership development at all levels, and identification of personal leadership strengths and aspirations. 

 Creating Conditions for Collaborative Change 

Central to our approach was the creation of conditions where all practitioners felt empowered to initiate well-informed change. Drawing from frameworks such as HGIOELC, Realising the Ambition Being Me, and My World Outdoors, child observations and questioning we emphasized and thrived on creating a culture of collaboration, where shared responsibility for the change process was embraced. Through formal and informal dialogue and an inclusive decision-making process, we succeeded in creating an environment where every voice was valued and heard. 

As we set out on our improvement project, we found resonance with Rodd’s (2006) Six C’s of Change framework. This framework, comprising Challenge, Communication, Commitment, Control, Confidence, and Connect, provided a roadmap for navigating the complexities of our envisaged change. 

 Empowering Through Collegiate Time 

Collegiate time was fundamental to of our co-designing process, providing an authentic space for collaborative consultation, discussion and planning. Within this framework, each other was empowered to share ideas, priorities, and co-create solutions to improve the outdoor learning opportunities and resources. Through this collaborative project, we enjoyed a sense of collective ownership and shared commitment. 

 Enhancing Resources Through Community Engagement 

In our project to improve the outdoor learning resources, we approached local businesses and were met with generous donations. Through networking and personal connections, one of our colleagues facilitated contact with the recycling service, resulting in the delivery and collection of useful ‘loose part’ resources. However, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges we faced in collecting loose parts for our outdoor learning environment. One significant barrier was the difficulty in finding time during work hours to source and collect these materials. Additionally, we pooled in our own resources, creating a collaborative and enjoyable experience throughout the process. 

 Utilizing Resources for Transformation 

Central to our inquiry process was the use of resources to effect meaningful change. Drawing upon tools such as the Early Years Literacy and Numeracy Tool Kits, our combined professional knowledge and a map of our outdoor space, we set out the process of planning and implementation with care. These resources served as guiding frameworks, informing decisions regarding the integration of features such as the mud kitchen, digging areas, planting area, child accessible storage areas and climbing and jumping opportunities. By deploying resources effectively we managed to create a dynamic environment that promotes holistic child development. 

 Supporting Diverse Creative Skills 

Our team comprised individuals with diverse skills and attributes, ranging from practical carpentry, jewelry-making, detailed painting skills, furniture upcycling, not being shy of hard messy work to having a car with a big boot. The creative skills served as a valuable asset in supporting the ones who felt less creative, providing a bank of expertise during the co-designing process. By pooling our collective talents, we were able to inspire and support each other implementing our plans. 

 Encouraging Self-Discovery and Reflective Practice 

Our co-designing process encouraged each other on a journey of mutual encouragement and reflective practice. By embracing Froebelian principles of autonomy and self-activity, we fostered a culture of inclusion and acceptance, embracing a spirit of continuous improvement. 

 Feedback on Leadership Role 

Feedback played an important role in shaping my leadership role throughout the co-designing process. My colleague’s insights highlighted areas of strength, such as empowering people, consultation, collaboration and promoting reflective practice. Constructive feedback also identified opportunities for growth, particularly in refining communication strategies and facilitating inclusive decision-making processes. 

 Innovative Projects and Skill Development 

In our pursuit of enriching the outdoor learning environment, we made innovative projects that showed the teams creativity and skill. From creating an interesting busy board for outdoor use to constructing a tunnel from pallets to create a secret garden area, we acknowledged pedagogical leadership and encouraged skill development amongst each other. Some colleagues worked with tools and hand tools for the first time, with support facilitating their learning and growth. These initiatives not only enriched the outdoor learning environment but also empowered practitioners to explore new ways for pedagogical innovation. 

 Continuous Provision and Broad, Deep Learning 

Continuous provision was a guiding principle in our outdoor learning improvements. By providing a rich variety of resources and opportunities for exploration, we aimed to facilitate broad and deep learning experiences for children. From sensory-rich environments to opportunities for imaginative play and construction, our outdoor space aims to nurture curiosity and promote high-quality learning experiences. 

 Co-Creation and autonomous learning 

Co-creation led our inquiry process, as we worked collaboratively to design and implement changes to our outdoor learning environment. Through autonomy and self-led exploration curiosity and ownership of the children’s learning journey is encouraged. By providing opportunities for autonomous learning, we aimed to cultivate agency and a love for discovery and exploration in the children. 

 Schema Exploration and Schematic Learning 

Our outdoor learning improvements were designed to support schema exploration and schematic learning. Through observation and documentation, we identified common schemas and discussed these in the context of our outdoor provision supporting children’s individual learning journeys. 

 Navigating Challenges in Team Dynamics 

The challenge posed by the differing leadership styles and approaches of our senior managers necessitated care throughout our co-designing process. It required us to find a balance between respecting the perspectives, preferences and sensibilities of the senior team while also advocating for evidence-based practices and collaborative decision-making. Despite these challenges, we remained committed to our shared goal of enhancing the outdoor learning opportunities for the children in our ELC. 


In conclusion, our collaborative inquiry into improving outdoor learning opportunities for our ELC exemplifies the transformative power of collective leadership grounded in Froebelian principles. By fostering a culture of trust, collaboration, and continuous improvement, we created an outdoor learning environment that nurtures the holistic development of children. This assignment serves as a testament to our shared commitment to excellence and innovation, guided by the timeless wisdom of Froebel, Realising the Ambition Being Me, My World Outdoors, HGIOELC, child observations and feedback, the many models of leadership and our sound pedagogical knowledge of children’s care, learning and development. 


Rodd, J. (2013) Leadership in early childhood: The pathway to professionalism, 4th Ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Smith, A, and Langston. (2008) Managing staff in early years settings, Axon: Routledge Spillane and Harris (2004) 


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