Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

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

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.1 The S Factor

When thinking about what an outdoor space should look like for young children, educational consultant Terry Gould (2012) has developed a set of criteria that settings should bear in mind. As they all begin with the letter ‘S’, he has named them ‘The S Factor’. Gould wasn’t thinking specifically about under twos when he came up with this list, but they certainly are all areas that need consideration. They are outlined in the following image.

Surfaces; Stimulus; Staffing and supervision; Storage; Seating; Shade and shelter; Sustainability; Safety and security; Space.

Table 1 illustrates what these criteria could look like in practice.

Table 1
Criteria Key considerations
Surfaces A range of surfaces offering a range of different movement opportunities for crawling, toddling and walking. May include tarmac, rubber, concrete, bark, grass or surface markings.
Stimulus Some stimuli will be a constant feature by design, some seasonal (such as snow or puddles). Some will change as different resources are provided to cater to baby and toddlers’ individual needs and interests.
Staffing and supervision Adequate staffing. All adults involved in planning for outside area and all adults aware of their roles and responsibilities.
Storage Storage solutions like sheds and purpose-built resource trolleys ensure that resources can be stored safely and securely.
Seating Seating to provide a space for sharing books and engaging in quality interactions. It may be fixed or portable. Chairs or benches can be used, as can repurposed resources like tyres, logs or milk crates. For very young children, rugs and mats to lie on may be more appropriate.
Shade and shelter Shade and shelters may be natural, for instance provided by trees or willow tunnels, or man-made, such as gazebos, verandas or canopies. These can provide provocative stimuli for very young babies to gaze up at.
Sustainability The resources used need to be fit for purpose, so low maintenance designs are desirable, as are keeping existing features like trees and slopes.
Safety and security Risk assessments can help practitioners ensure the outdoor area is safe from dangerous materials, broken equipment and hazardous plants and that boundaries are secured. Children should be taught how to keep themselves safe, too.
Space Some outdoor activities will need more space than others and the placement of particular resources (like taps) should be considered carefully. The outdoor space should be easily accessible from the indoor environment, so that provision can be free-flow.

Some of these criteria you may not be able to change – for instance there will be physical constraints on the outdoor space available. There will be financial constraints, too, on how able you are to invest in resources like new storage or make groundwork changes like new surfaces. But as Gould (2012) says, there are low-cost ways that outdoor provision can be developed, such as seating using tyres, logs or milk crates. This repurposing approach can be extended to the other criteria too.

Thinking specifically about babies and toddlers, a tenth ‘S’ could be added to support an understanding of the specific experiences of this age group. ‘S for Subjectivity’ suggests all the sights, sounds, smells and sensations from their perspective which will be very different from the experiences of spaces that older children have. For example, it is helpful for an adult to think about what a baby’s eye view might be, what their experience of lying in, on or under certain objects might be. It supports an adult’s understanding of what a surface may feel like under hand or under knee when a child is crawling.