Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Young children, the outdoors and nature
Young children, the outdoors and nature

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.1 Sleeping outdoors

The outdoors has long been considered as an ideal environment for babies to sleep in. For example, in Northern Finland, the cultural value families place on being outdoors in nature, means that sleeping outdoors, whether in the home or ECEC setting, is understood to be an important part of good childcare, similar to the narrative heard around breastfeeding elsewhere (Tourula et al., 2013). The practice of babies sleeping outside originated in public health concerns of many countries in the early twentieth century. There was an urgent need to prevent disease and therefore mothers were encouraged to let their babies sleep outside. This was because the outdoors was associated with fresh air, sunlight and good health.

One important proponent of this was Frederic Truby King (1858–1938). Truby King was a doctor and baby care guru, based in New Zealand. He wrote an internationally influential childcare manual called Feeding and Care of Baby (1913). Some of his views around routines and discipline have fallen out of favour and may appear very rigid and unkind to modern day parents. However, his views which encouraged parents (here the mother) to take their young child outdoors is echoed in present-day voices. His writing demonstrates how once this practice was seen as common. He argued that ‘the more a baby is out in the open air, the better he will thrive’ (1913, p. 92) and you can see a relevant page from his famous manual in Figure 2.

An extract from a book with the following text: General hygiene. Pure air and sunshine. The question as to whether the injury done by living in closed rooms is mainly a physical or a chemical effect does not concern us here. Throughout this section I assume for the sake of simplicity that the damage is toxic. Keep the baby in the open air as much as possible. A sun-bath does not stop at the surface - radiant energy penetrates the body and stimulates the vital processes. When the baby is in the house, let the room (whether bedroom or sitting room) have an ample current of pure cool outside air flowing through it all the time. Keep baby out of direct line of draught, but don’t be frightened of the air being cold. Pure cold air is invigorating and prevents ‘catching cold’. Warm stuffy air is poisonous and devitalising, and makes babies liable to ‘catch cold’ when taken out in the open. There is no danger, but actual safety, in free-flowing night air. N.B. At the Karitane Harris Hospital the babies live out of doors all day, and a broad stream of pure old outside air flows through the sleeping rooms all night long: tiny, delicate babies, after a week or more of gradual habituation, sleep well, grow and flourish in rooms where the temperature may sometimes fall almost to freezing point. Of course the babies are properly clothed and covered …
Figure 2 A page from Truby King’s childcare manual exhorting the benefits of fresh air and sunshine

In a different context, the idea of thriving in the outdoors was also the thinking behind Margaret McMillan’s ‘baby camp’ set up in Deptford, London in 1914 for the youngest children from the London slums because of a ‘recognition that many working class homes were not capable of providing adequately for their young children’ (Read, 2012, p. 17). In present-day practice, Lin Day, the founder of Baby Sensory, argues that ‘Fresh air …can have a positive impact on brain function, mood and well-being’ (2019, p. 1), drawing evidence from research in biology and medicine to make this claim.