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

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1.1 Young children’s routines

One of the challenges of taking young children outdoors is supporting their routines in a different environment. Routine activities are those that need to be carried out on a daily basis, often at set or predictable times. Generally, they ensure that children’s basic needs are met. Malenfant (2006, pp. 7–8) breaks down young children’s routines into four types:

  • Hygiene: hand washing, tooth brushing, toilet routines and nose wiping
  • Snacks and meals
  • Nap or relaxation time
  • Dressing and undressing

You might be able to think of additional routine activities, which might be seasonal, such as applying sun cream, or for only particular children, like administering medication. Routines, Malenfant (2006) argues, not only meet children’s physiological needs but also support children’s emotional wellbeing. They help children to anticipate what is coming next, which makes them feel safe and secure. In addition, when adults respond to children’s indication of their needs, children feel secure. This supports a more personalised, child-centred approach to the importance of following young children’s routines.

In research conducted by Josephidou et al. (2021), settings identified that routines were a factor which impacted on how often babies and young children have access to an outdoor environment, and for how long. For instance, while the indoor space will be naturally set up to accommodate a space for children to sleep, eat and have their personal care needs met, in the outdoor environment practitioners need to think more carefully about nap time, meal and snack times and the logistics of nappy changing. Although all these activities could take place outdoors, usually as tasks they are associated with the indoor environment. If you think back to Session 2, you’ll remember how a binary discussion has developed where the outdoors and the indoors are seen as having two very different purposes – the idea that routine tasks are associated with the indoor space rather than the outdoor space supports this trail of thought, too.

Pirie et al also found that ECEC practitioners identified difficulties in facilitating opportunities for babies to spend time outdoors in their exploration of settings in Bristol. They said that one of the difficulties that practitioners had was that ‘set outdoor times for babies did not match the routines of individuals’ (2017, p. 25). For instance, this may be that ‘outdoor time’ clashed with a particular baby’s need to sleep or have a bottle. They also found that practitioners suggested that staff ratios were another difficulty in facilitating babies to spend time outdoors. This was echoed in Josephidou et al.’s (2021) study, who found that settings related the obstacles in supporting young children’s routines outdoors with difficulties in staffing and maintaining ratios. Some of these staffing concerns may relate to the additional supervision it is felt is necessary outdoors, for instance because of additional health and safety concerns about supervising children outside so that they don’t, for example, put things in their mouth.