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

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2.3 Opportunities to sleep, rest and be quiet

A continual thread throughout this course has been the practice in specific cultural contexts of using the outdoors as a place for babies to sleep. Given the developmental significance of sleep for babies and toddlers, it is perhaps surprising that so little consideration is given to the environments in which this occurs in all cultural contexts. Newborn babies spend up to 18 of 24 hours asleep and by the end of the first year this has changed relatively little (although sleep periods will have extended and shifted towards night-time (Anders and Taylor, 1994).

Writing from the perspective of Norway, Ulla (2017) suggests that sleeping should be understood as a key part of both young children’s care and learning; as such, it needs to be given greater attention. Session 1 illustrated how in some cultures this attention is given and that therefore the outdoors is seen as an appropriate place for babies and toddlers to sleep during the daytime. There is research evidence that documents some of the physiological connections between sleeping outside and the healthy development of babies and toddlers such as longer sleep duration and brain maturation. Because of this, the practice of sleeping outside is gaining popularity again. Here one English practitioner describes their approach:

We have sleep pods outside; our children can crawl in and curl up when they need to, or they can be encouraged to rest by their keyperson who recognises the signs of the need to rest in their individual children. We do not put our children to bed by the clock but by their needs. They may also go to sleep indoors.

Other settings use traditional prams that are located in a sheltered outdoor space as illustrated in Figure 5.

Prams under a marquee.
Figure 5 Sleeping outside.