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

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3 Natural environments

You should now understand that different types of outdoor environment, offer different opportunities for engagement. In this section you are going to explore some of the research that explains why specifically natural environments might be particularly important for babies and toddlers to spend time in. But before you can do this, it is important that you know what is intended by ‘natural environment’ because it is a phrase that could be defined in different ways. Even the term ‘nature’ will be defined in different ways depending on the cultural and geographical context you find yourself in. Kara Lamb was making this point in 1996 when she wrote:

What is nature? Perhaps it is something of our own invention, perhaps not; but before we can begin researching the proper way to conserve it, we must come up with an accurate notion of what it is. Unless we examine the values we place on the environment and the resulting conflicts in which we trap ourselves, we will never be able to employ our definitions of nature, nor argue for our reactions toward it. Without a unified concept, perceptions of nature will create conflicting methodologies in terms of the environment – most of all, in terms of how we see it. Without a perception of the natural world, we aren’t quite sure what it is we are trying to save.

(Lamb, 1996, p. 475)

You will see that Lamb’s argument was focused on environmental awareness, an important factor which will be discussed in great depth in the next session. For now, in this section, you will consider how to define nature, the importance of spending time in nature and also ideas of why young children need to feel a connection with nature.