Babies, Young Children and Practitioners Learning Outside

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By Karen Wickett and Valerie Hugginslecturers in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Plymouth

A rich and exciting learning environment awaits children of all ages outdoors – including the youngest in your setting


Girl on a climbing frame


In this article:


Introduction

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) gives equal status to the learning environment inside the setting and outdoors. It requires settings to provide safe but challenging learning possibilities for all children including babies up to the age of five. But fulfilling these expectations for the youngest children can be very demanding for early years practitioners.

Although many practitioners are confident in organising these experiences for children over three, they may feel uncertain how to provide suitable outdoor environments for younger children. This can mean that even when children under two are given access to the outdoors, they may be offered a scaled-down version of what is provided for the older children, or they may be restricted in their use of what is available. For instance, Karen observed a practitioner holding an 18-month-old boy around the waist as he climbed the ‘A’ frame. When asked, ‘Did he ask for your help?’ the practitioner said, ‘No, but this equipment is for older children so the younger children need help when they climb to the top.’ This scenario highlights that it is easy to assume a lack of competence, but, like the older children, younger children need challenging experiences and opportunities outside in order to develop and learn. These opportunities can be as simple as offering babies and toddlers the freedom to crawl, walk or run on a grassy slope that may also have shallow soft edges carved into it.


Movement as a foundation for thinking

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