Chapter 5: Developing early years outdoor experiences

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Chapter authors

  • Elizabeth Henderson
  • Emma Gordon
  • Helen McKinnon
  • Jacqueline Bremner
  • Maggie MacDonald

Chapter overview

Taking a Scottish perspective, this chapter shows how, building on the early roots of outdoor learning, recent policy has promoted outdoor learning in the early years. In this chapter, Elizabeth Henderson shares her account of establishing a Community of Practice (CoP) to support practitioners in providing outdoor experiences for young children. Case studies from CoP practitioners, focus on: going to a local green space with children; den building as a provocation; and a child under 2 learning through her senses. The chapter highlights the role of a CoP in nurturing belonging and agency in times of change.

Chapter objectives

    • To share an overview of current outdoor early learning and childcare (ELC) in Scotland
    • To exemplify outdoor practices that enhance children’s unique development
    • To stimulate discussion on helping practitioners find their voice and self- confidence to engage in transformational practices.

    Supplementary material

    Thinking through going outside: join Maggie and Jacqueline on their journey

    When thinking about going outside with young children there is a lot to consider. The practicalities, as well as the onerous administration, can be daunting. Here you can find the documents developed by Maggie and Jacqueline after Maggie attended a Wee Green Spaces training with Juliet Robertson 

    These proformas might just help you to get outside with more confidence. It is important to remember, however, that Kania et al. (see Chapter 5) identified three levels and six conditions for sustainable change and these include relationships with staff, parents and senior management as well as the need to change attitudes and beliefs.

    When people feel afraid or threatened, they are less likely to want to change. If you can, therefore, make sure all documentation is sound you can help to nurture a sense of safety and confidence in staff, parents, and senior management.

    Maggie and Jacqueline hosted parent meetings to discuss their proposals and included parents as helpers on their journey. Parent to parent peer-mentoring helps build confidence all round and can nurture sustainable changes within your early years setting.

    Den Building and a Movement Rich Outdoor Play Space

    In this section Helen shares her den building research Powerpoint – available with audio so you can hear her share her story.

    Further reading on Dens

    Creating a movement rich space

    Helen shares a video, that captures the development of her outdoor play space into a movement rich space with loose parts. This film uses ideas based around Jan White’s book Every child a mover published by Early Education

    Researching outdoors with children under two years

    In this section Emma shares three case studies from her research: The Courage to Learn: what risks do children under two years-old take to learn about the world and themselves in an outdoor context?


    Further reading

    Casey, D., Richardson, A., and d’Ascoli, H. (2029). The Children’s Forest. Hawthorn Press

    Hanscom, A. (2016). Balanced and Barefoot. New Harbinger Publications

    Robertson, J. (2014). Dirty Teaching. Crown House Publishing

    Boulton, P. and Thomas, A. (2022) How does play in the outdoors afford opportunities for schema development in young children? International Journal of Play, 11:2, 184-201, DOI: 10.1080/21594937.2022.2069348

    Prince, H.E. (2019). The sustained value teachers place on outdoor learning, Education 3-13, DOI: 10.1080/03004279.2019.1633376

    Canning, N. (2013). ‘Where’s the bear? Over there!’ – creative thinking and imagination in den making, Early Child Development and Care, 183:8, 1042-1053, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2013.772989

    Canning, N. (2010). The influence of the outdoor environment: den‐making in three different contexts, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 18:4, 555-566, DOI: 10.1080/1350293X.2010.525961

    Murray, E.J. & Hrusa Williams, P. (2019). Risk-tasking and Assessment in Toddlers During Nature Play: The Role of Family and Play Context, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, DOI: 10.1080/14729679.2019.1660193

    WWF-UK and the Mental Health Foundation (2020) Thriving with Nature Guidebook

    Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.

    Curtis, D., Leo, D., Cividanes, W.C.M. & Carter, M. (2013). Reflecting in Communities of Practice: a workbook for early childhood educators. Redleaf Press.

    Video resources

    Here are 12 links to video clips on outdoor nurseries, outdoor practices and policies.

    1. Dunblane Nature Kindergarten
    2. Outdoor ELC for children: what do children think of their outdoor nursery?
    3. Outdoor ELC parents’ views
    4. Freedom of outdoors: Cowgate nursery, Edinburgh
    5. Orchard Nature Nursery 
    6. Willow Den at Spartans: an urban Outdoor Nursery, Edinburgh
    7. Managing risk and challenge
    8. NatureScot
    9. Inclusion, equality and diversity
      1. Muddy Faces provide multiple weblinks concerning access and diversity
      2. Building Inclusion
    10. City girl in nature: Exploring community, culture and nature in London.
    11. Knowing that VME (Visible Minority Ethnic) children are less likely to engage in nature than their white counterparts, Dr Mya-Rose Craig, a young woman of Bangladeshi origin, shares her nature journey with her passion for birds and the creation of her projects for VME led groups 
    12. Dara McAnulty describes himself as a teenage autistic author, naturalist and conservationist from Northern Ireland. His book ‘Diary of a young naturalist’ connects nature and the benefits it brings to those people who struggle with anxiety, sensory challenges and autism. 

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