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

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3.2 Rethinking outdoor spaces and the role of the adult

In the previous session you considered the concept of affordances which emphasises the functional aspects of outdoor environment (effectively human use value). You learned how natural features can tend to be absent from the outdoor spaces regularly accessed by young children due to health and safety concerns. However, children need to see the value of natural environments for their own sake (in relation to biodiversity) and adults need to consider how this can be maximised. Previously in this session, Jan White has argued a need to move away from seeing outdoor spaces as playscapes and instead view them as gardens to be tended with care. Moore and Cosco (2014) go further and suggest they can be understood as sites for land restoration. The implication is clearly that natural elements need to be built back into the design of the outdoor spaces for the youngest children if they are to grow up green.

The understanding of nature as risky, as discussed in previous sessions may encourage adults to take a surveillance role when outdoors. One manager Kemp and Josephidou spoke to referred to it as ‘meerkating’ when adults stand around waiting to intervene and sort out problems. In contrast, Froebel promotes a pedagogy based on close observation of the child and their interests arguing ‘nothing, therefore, is left for us to do but to bring him [sic] into relations and surroundings’ (pp. 10–11). This observational approach is evident in the work of Hall et al. (2014) and provides a potential contemporary model for practitioners to be ‘attentive and responsive’ adults (Bento and Dias, 2017, p. 159) who closely observe children interacting with their environment. Hall et al. (2014, p. 202) add that ‘children’s developmental growth in outdoor spaces is supported when adults themselves delight in the learning that occurs in the natural world’.