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

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2.2 The design of the outdoor space

Those with little experience of working with the younger age group of babies and toddlers may imagine them as a homogenous group with similar care, learning and developmental needs. However, in practice this is certainly not the case especially if we take into consideration the rapid learning and development that takes place between birth to two years old. This presents challenges in designing and providing appropriate spaces because of their diverse needs as learners. For example, Thigpen (2007) notes that such spaces ‘need to accommodate the needs of young babies, crawling infants, new walkers and active climbers’ (p. 20). You will now think about these different stages.

Young babies

A baby lying on a lawn.


  • the physical environment to emulate the comfort and security of the indoors
  • opportunities to gaze at moving objects such as leaves and branches from under a tree
  • to experience the world using their senses
  • closeness
  • opportunities to observe from different heights and angles
  • opportunities for movement even if they are not rolling or crawling.

Crawling infants

A baby crawling on a lawn.


  • spaces for crawling
  • protection from any rough, prickly or abrasive surfaces
  • opportunities to explore grassy or muddy areas, rather than concrete or tarmacked spaces
  • appropriate durable outdoor clothing to cushion their knees and prevent children from getting too soggy or uncomfortable
  • opportunities to experience a range of surface textures.

New walkers

A toddler walking on a lawn.


  • the freedom to walk barefoot
  • practitioners who understand that walkers are growing in confidence and may encounter more stumbles and trips when outdoors
  • opportunities to walk in unfamiliar outdoor footwear.

Active climbers

A toddler leaning against a tree.


  • natural features such as low branches, tree stumps, exposed roots and a variety of gradients
  • supportive practitioners who model safe climbing practices.