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

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1.2 Forgetting babies’ learning needs

For babies to be able to grow and develop as the incredible learners that they are, they need to be in rich learning environments. If it is difficult to spot these marvels outside, what are they doing while they are attending formal daycare? The answer would be it depends where they are. Goouch and Powell in their baby room project, described how ‘shocked’ they were ‘to realise the extent to which the earliest years in children’s lives had been neglected by education and early years researchers’ (Goouch and Powell, 2013, p. ix).

Sadly, they found that practitioners who work in the Baby Room often saw themselves portrayed by others as ‘glorified babysitters’ (p. 76). These practitioners worked in environments where little consideration had been given to the impact of the physical environment on the young children, or indeed on the adults who work with them. Goouch and Powell recognise the highly complex, involved and skilled work that these practitioners engage in with young children.

This work was published in 2013 but a more recent paper (Cooper et al., 2022) cites Powell (and Maria Cooper from Session 1) as authors; here they set out the continued complexity of the practitioner role. In this later paper, the authors look at practice across four different cultural contexts (England, United States, New Zealand and Hong Kong) and demonstrate the importance of attuned relationships and highly skilled adults. Yet even today, babies are often forgotten about; an issue that was more than apparent when countries emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Countries such as England looked at where funding was needed to minimise the negative impact of this time on children – but once again, the very youngest were not included in this consideration. Even though: ‘in a national survey of professionals who work with babies and toddlers, 98% of respondents reported that those they support had been affected by parental anxiety or stress and by depression affecting bonding and responsive care during and after the first national lockdown’ (The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, 2021, p. 35). It could be argued that the holistic needs of babies as a group in society need to be taken seriously before people will begin to think more seriously of specific learning environments in which babies can participate – such as in outdoor engagement. Once more it is a question of babies’ rights with the United Nations stating as a point of principle that ‘States parties are urged to take all possible measures to…create conditions that promote the well-being of all young children during this critical phase of their lives’ (2005, p. 4).