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

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2.1 The importance of observation

A great place for settings to start in reviewing their practice is to actually take the children outside and then observe what they do. Those who work with young children are used to observing as part of their daily routine but what is being suggested here is a very close observation, very different to the practice of collecting evidence to see if developmental milestones have been met.

This sort of observation is illustrated in a practitioner paper by Hall et al. (2014) who carried out practitioner research in a setting in Colorado, USA. Because of the close observation of the very young children in their care they noticed that the outdoor environment was ‘a place for hands-on learning about the world of nature’ (p. 206). They explain in their research report how through close observation of the babies, they noticed how these little ones ‘used their eyes, hands, feet, mouths and entire bodies to experience the minutia’ (p. 198). They suggest that the interactions with the natural environment provided the children with multi-sensory stimulation which they noticed had a very different impact to that provided by the indoor environment.

This close watching of the children’s behaviour outdoors is nothing new – if we look back for example to Froebel’s work and his exhortation to watch the young child’s interactions with nature and then subsequently Margaret McMillan’s work where she encouraged her team of teachers to engage in very close observation of the children much in the same way as Hall and her colleagues have done.

Although observation in the discipline of psychology has often taken this measurement stance, it is only in recent years, that such observation to quantify has become a key feature of practice with young children. Many would suggest that this is a sad turn of events as this way of measuring children does not give the full picture of what they can do, what they know and where they would like to go in their learning (see Josephidou et al., 2021). Stella Louis relates how it is helpful to keep Froebel’s principles in mind when observing young children and in particular the idea of unity and connectedness; she states, with this in mind:

Children are whole beings whose thoughts, feelings and actions are interrelated. Young children learn in a holistic way and learning should never be compartmentalised for everything links.

(Louis, 2022, p. 1)