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

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1.1 Why are babies missing?

Kemp and Josephidou realised that babies do get the opportunity to go outdoors even if practices may vary. However, they still were puzzled about the issue and in particular about questions such as:

  • If this practice exists, why are babies missing in the research on young children, outdoors and nature?
  • Does it matter that they are missing? Why?
  • Does their absence from research mean that only very few settings offer them this opportunity?

Perhaps practitioners think that children will have plenty of time when they are older for splashing in puddles and playing with mud or maybe babies are seen to be not that interesting! This is a sad thought and one perhaps echoed in Goouch and Powell’s work (2013) which found that the least qualified practitioners were often sent to work with the babies, as the learning of the older children was seen as more important. Compare this with Alison Gopnik’s statement that babies are ‘the most powerful learning machine in the universe’ (Gopnik et al., 1999, p. 1).

Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley and she has done extensive work into exploring babies as learners. She shows through her experiments just how smart they are and how we may have underestimated them. Watch from 0:16 to 3:34 of this video of her discussing some of her work that demonstrates what incredible learners very young children can be.

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You may be able to think of other occasions in your day-to-day contact with young children, either through work or family, when they have shown you how smart they really are and surprised you and challenged your assumptions about what very young children can do. Babies are constantly surprising because their learning is so rapid in the first months of their life. And their thinking is not constrained by any of the rules that older children and adults may have been socialised into accepting. If you want to return and watch more of Alison Gopnik’s talk (18 minutes long) you will hear her explain how babies are ‘blue sky thinkers’ and like the ‘research and development department’ of an organisation. This is very powerful vocabulary to describe these very young children who are often seen as just vulnerable or cute. You can see that Gopnik’s ideas align with the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (2005). This sets out that babies are ‘not passive recipients of care, direction and guidance. They are active social agents, who seek protection, nurturance and understanding from parents or other caregivers’ (p. 8).