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.

Session 6: Being outdoors or being in nature


Does it matter what kind of outdoor environment very young children are given access to? This is the key question you are going to be thinking about in this session. People may mean different things when they talk about being outdoors. You may have come across some of the different phrases used: outdoor learning, outdoor education, learning in natural environments. Is the ‘outdoors’ anywhere that is not indoors? Does it include artificial or only natural environments? Is it an everyday environment (familiar) or special (unfamiliar)? Does it need to be large, or can it include very small spaces?

As you think about responses to some of these questions, remember there are no right or wrong answers – you might have a very specific place in your mind or be able to identify features or elements that you think are important. The important thing to recognise is that we are all influenced by our own experiences of the outdoors, and it can be helpful to reflect on what these are. If you picture a baby or toddler in a natural environment perhaps you imagine them crawling on the grass, picking daises or lifting up stones to find worms.

In this session you are going to be introduced to ideas about the value of different kinds of outdoor environments. You will explore a concept called ‘affordances’ which will help you think about the ways in which humans (and specifically babies and toddlers) interact with their environment. This will help you think about the particular benefits of time spent in natural environments for very young children and their learning and development. You may remember from Session 3, that Friedrich Froebel thought the environment in which the youngest children spent time was of vital importance.

The senses, through which the child experiences the world, led him to think that ‘the surroundings, however inadequate they might otherwise be, should be pure and clear – pure air, clear light, clear space’. Remember his emphasis on the importance of time spent from birth ‘in and with the clear, still objects of nature’; this quotation is key to the learning in this session. Notice Froebel didn’t just say ‘in nature’ he also said ‘with nature’. Time spent ‘in nature’, although desirable does not suffice. It is how the child engages with nature that is important. Sitting in a pram watching adults feed ducks is not the same as lying on your tummy by a pond, held gently and throwing food into the water for the ducks or seeing the fish swimming below.

By the end of this session, you should be able to:

  • describe the concept of affordances and how it is helpful to thinking about engaging young children outdoors
  • outline some learning and development needs of babies and toddlers in relation to outdoor environments including engaging with nature
  • explain why natural environments are particularly appropriate for young children.

To begin with take a few minutes to listen to the following audio in which Nicola Kemp introduces the session.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: yon_1_s6_audio.mp3
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript | Hide transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).