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

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1.3 Three hundred and sixty-five days with nature

Ann Pelo is an American educator who took a year out of her teaching career to look after Dylan, the one-year-old daughter of a friend. She decided that she would spend time outside every single day with the young child and recorded their experiences in her diary. This writing was then subsequently written up into a book called The Goodness of Rain (2013). This book gives a wonderful insight into how young children might experience being outdoors including all the learning that it supports them in engaging with.

Activity 1 Touching the apple tree

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Read the extract below in which Pelo describes how she lifts Dylan up so she can experience an apple tree and then see if you can answer the questions below:

The light, sweet breath of apples scents the air, and the warm autumn sun makes for easy lingering. Dylan reaches into the tree, flips a leaf, and laughs. Another leaf, another flip, more laughter. Her hand moves from leaf to branch, and she runs her fingers along the ridges and roughs of the bark. The branch leads her to an apple. She touches her fingertips to its red curve, then cups the apple in her hand, tightens her fingers around it, and leaning close, bites into the apple as it hangs from the branch. Mouth full of juice and autumn flesh, she grins at me. ‘Appa,’ she says, a full confirmation.

(Pelo, 2013, p. 58)

Now try to answer the following questions. Note your response in your Learning journal (which you may have downloaded in Session 1) or in the text box below.

  • What do you think Dylan is learning about herself and her world?
  • Why do you think that she is so receptive to learning?
  • If you were the adult looking after Dylan, what do you think you would do to help her learn?
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You may have made a note of all the sensory ways that Dylan was learning. That she could smell the apples and their leaves; that she could feel all the different textures – rough, smooth, prickly, silky; she could feel the warm sun on her back and the apple juice trickling down her chin. You may have thought about the different colours she could see – the red and green and browns of the apple tree, the yellow sun, the white flesh of the apple. Pelo paints a picture of wellbeing and peace and a child who feels comfortable and safe so that she is open to the new experiences and sensations that this particular trip in the outdoors is offering her. You may have been inclined as an adult to adopt the role of teacher here and do some counting or name some colours, but in her book Pelo stresses the importance of ‘practising silence’ and knowing when to let the child absorb and investigate without the adult feeling the need to adopt ‘teaching behaviours’ but rather that the adult and child are taking part in the experience together.