‘Wild Time’: discovery and adventure tales from free-play episodes with a reception class working in an ancient woodland site

This paper presents the initial findings of an exploratory piece of research into four and five years old childrens’ play and exploration experiences within a Woodland environment as part of the Discovery research project. This project runs on university campus grounds with weekly visits from a local school reception class. The children undertake activities influenced by Forest School philosophies and other outdoor play and learning approaches. The work is situated in a context where outdoor learning is a contested issue in U.S. schools where engagement with outdoor learning is curtailed or limited expressly to avoid risk (Fuer, Floden, Chudowsky & Ahn, 2013) whereas in Wales, outdoor learning is promoted as a key focus within the Foundation Phase curriculum (WAG, 2008) but recognised as a pedagogical feature which needs wider-ranging development and observation (WISERD, 2014).
The multi-disciplinary research team used innovative and experimental technologies (including individual video cameras and GPS tracking) to capture the childrens’ journeys, experiences, interactions, movements, choices and development in their ‘wild time’ (free-play episodes as part of the morning sessions). A grounded approach was adopted in the planning and analysis in first phase of the project and this paper will report on the emerging findings from the initial audio and video qualitative data generated by video camera glasses, Go-pro videos, GPS trackers and researchers’ narrative observations and field notes.
Emerging findings will focus on both the research methods and data collected. Implications for
practice and policy for outdoor play and learning will be explored.