Jan White Natural Play

Natural Play, Natural Growth, in the Early Years


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Playing & Learning Outdoors wins national award!

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Well, it won!  The recently-new second edition of Playing and Learning Outdoors, as described in my earlier post when it was short-listed, has been selected as the winner of the Staff Resources category of this year’s Nursery World awards.  I wasn’t able to attend the Gala Dinner event at the end of September, but the shiny trophy and framed certificate are proudly waiting on my mantelpiece for my children to see when they are home next.  I think this is the first actual trophy I’ve ever won (my son has more than 20 from his childhood football career!).  I’m very chuffed to have this recognition for the book, and grateful for all the ongoing positive feedback I get about how it has helped both students on courses and practitioners who are thinking about their provision outdoors.

Thanks in particular to Julie Mountain (of Play, Learning, Life) and Juliet Robertson (of Creative Star Learning) for their written recommendations for the award, and to Routledge for both submitting the entry and publishing both editions in the first place.  While you’re thinking about good books for outdoor play, check out Julie’s book The Little Book of Free and Found, and Juliet’s Dirty Teaching: A beginner’s guild to learning outdoors – both are wonderful additions to the resources to support effective and satisfying learning through play outdoors.

This is what Julie has to say about the book (she originally wrote this review for her own blog site):

Playing and Learning Outdoors – review

“This is one of the most valuable books in my very substantial ‘outdoor learning and play’ library and I was delighted by the arrival of a second edition, as my first edition is pretty dog eared by now. What makes this book so special is the combination of Jan’s phenomenal knowledge and understanding of this subject, her undimmed delight in it and her generosity in sharing what she knows.

Generosity and abundance are key themes of Jan’s and I love the way that this attitude permeates the book. For example, the potential of elements such as sand are explored thoroughly, examining the value of sand play in early years, offering ideas about good resources for sand play, suggesting ways to enrich the experience, identifying outcomes to look out for and then still more: lists of books, websites and blogs to read. Each chapter begins with an overview of what it covers and ends with suggestions for further research. In between, Jan’s informative and lively writing style engages the reader and clarifies complex pedagogical concepts.

I work with many schools and settings each year and this book is on my ‘must have’ resources list for each of them. Any setting aiming or claiming to provide high quality outdoor play experiences should have this book – not on a shelf, but open, well thumbed and with slightly mud spattered covers and full of hastily inserted post it notes indicating points of interest. It’s a book to be used, not filed. It’s also a book that works within any educational jurisdiction, focusing as it does on children’s key developmental imperatives rather than the narrow educational outcomes Governments (of any and all flavours) seek. Jan’s always been a huge advocate for connecting with the natural world and this is fully explored within the pages of this second edition.

The resource lists and ‘further information’ sections are invaluable references and I’ve found myself delving more deeply into the pedagogical approaches Jan describes in this book because of a intriguing or unexpected signpost to another resource. Impeccably researched, this second edition will provide experienced outdoor practitioners and new students alike with fresh insights and new sources of inspiration.

If you hear Jan speak you cannot help but become captivated by the scenarios she uses to illustrate excellent outdoor play in the early years. This book does full justice to her work and I’d highly recommend it to settings aiming to improve the quality of outdoor play and for practitioners wishing to develop their own understanding of the elements that combine to support high quality outdoor play.”

Thank you Jules and Juliet – and thank you Nursery World!

NWA_blue2014 winner


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Mudlark Find *16: ‘Exploring Play’ free online course from Sheffield University

Playful adults know the importance of play in children's lives

Playful adults know the importance of play in children’s lives

Mudlark Find Number 16 is a quick heads-up to let you know about a new MOOC (don’t ask me what that stands for) from the Education Department of the University of Sheffield.  ‘Exploring Play: the importance of play in everyday life’ will be launched on 29th September 2014.  Take a look at the trailer at the futurelearn.com website.

With the subtitle ‘understanding the nature and value of play through the course of our lives, across cultures and communities’, and covering such things as the history of play, outdoor play spaces in towns, cities and parks, play as the subject of serious study, and current debates about how the nature of play changes, it looks like a wide-ranging and valuable addition to our current need to argue the case for play in learning in childhood.

Applications are currently open (until end September) for the two Masters modules I tutor at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) in Birmingham. Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood and Children’s Physical Development from Birth to Seven (the latter run in collaboration with paediatric physiotherapist Sue Heron of Tatty Bumpkins) are both Post Graduate Certificates (double modules carrying 60 credits at level 7) and contribute towards an MA in Education (Early Years).  Both courses start mid-October – contact CREC for further information and dates for the 2014-15 courses.

Thanks to Marc Verkamp, of Veldwerk, Netherlands for the image, taken (by me) on an international study visit at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, Scotland in April 2013

With this section of my website, I share some of the many wonderful treasures I dig up while researching and supporting outdoor play for children from birth to seven. I hope they inspire you too, and help you to create motivational, meaningful and satisfying outdoor play experiences for all the children you work with.


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Mudlark Finds *15: Love Trees Love Woods Campaign

Everybody loves being in a wood

Everybody loves being in a wood

Mudlark Finds Number 15 is a collaboration between the Forest School Association and Sylva for a new crowd-sourcing campaign to bring more children and more woodlands together through play across the UK.  The aim is to raise £30,000 to make available more woodlands, up-skill more enthusiastic adults, and provide many more play-filled opportunities for children, in an environment that meets their deep human need to interact with and bond with nature.

I’ve just made a small contribution – all it takes is lots and lots of small actions to build into something quite significant. Watch the film describing the work and if you’d like to contribute, you can do so on this site; and if you know of anyone else who might want to, please point them in this direction. There is plenty of material here to help make the case to those as yet unfamiliar with Forest School.

The Forest School Association (FSA) is also launching a map-search and database of FSA verified qualified practitioners to help support the principle that FS is run by qualified L3 practitioners, whilst giving a clear message that FS qualification is absolutely not necessary to take children outside! (my emphasis) “Forest School is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education.” http://www.forestschoolassociation.org/what-is-forest-school/

I’ll be keen to pick this up with the FSA to unravel some of the concerns we in the on-site outdoor play support sector have about the often-perceived ‘requirement’ for further qualification that goes beyond providing the confidence needed for working in off-site (or even on-site) natural environments.

Hanging out barefoot in beautiful woods - what could be better for children's wellbeing?

Hanging out barefoot in beautiful woods – what could be better for children’s wellbeing?

Thanks to my great friend Erin Kenny for the images of children’s everyday play in Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten, on Vashon Island, Washington State, USA, which I visited in July 2012.  Erin has written about Cedarsong in Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way, in which shares her own journey of learning about what it actually means to provide an immersive preschool experience in an outdoor woodland habitat, and the realities of being authentically in the outdoors (I wrote the forward for her book).  You can find the book on Amazon.com (but not yet on amazon.co.uk).

With this section of my website, I share some of the many wonderful treasures I dig up while researching and supporting outdoor play for children from birth to seven. I hope they inspire you too, and help you to create motivational, meaningful and satisfying outdoor play experiences for all the children you work with.


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Playing and Learning Outdoors shortlisted for Nursery World awards

Playing and Learning Outdoors is now in 2nd edition…

Cover of 2nd edition: image by Menna Godfrey

Cover of 2nd edition: image by Menna Godfrey

I’ve been meaning to post about the fact that my little book Playing and Learning Outdoors (Routledge 2008) has now been published in second edition (released Nov 2013).  Without taking anything out, I’ve reviewed the whole text and ensured that it still applies and fully fits my developing philosophy and approach, adding in some of the extra things I’ve learned since then.

I’ve also reviewed the text to take it from focusing on provision for children from 3 to 5 years, to being applicable to provision and practice for children from 3 up to 7 years (also adding in such things as fairy gardens and tinkering).  This is because I’m deeply convinced that this is the right way to offer opportunities for being, playing and learning outside for children in what we used to call ‘Infants’ (doesn’t ‘Key Stage 1′ rather lose sight of the fact that these children are still in the prime of the extraordinary human capacity to PLAY and learn through that playing?)

I’m also more and more convinced that we need to fight for the right of children from 5 to 7 years to do their learning through play, and being able to do that playing in the powerful play/learning environment of the outdoors, supported by educators who know how to work in the outdoors.  I’ve never locked my book into any particular external curriculum because the only ‘curriculum’ that matters, I believe, is that which starts inside each child and which ‘education’ should help to come forward, being satisfying and meaningful for the learner in the process (the Latin roots of the verb ‘to educate” seem to be a nice composite of ‘to nurture’ and ‘to bring forth’).

The main addition to the book is a new chapter, on an area which I have come to realise makes another rich and important ‘ingredient’ of fully nourishing and authentic outdoor provision.  Going Beyond the Gate aims to encourage practitioners to harness the layer of provision that exists around the boundaries of the nursery or centre, as a much-used, familiar and comfortable additional aspect of what they offer to children.  The streets, shops, houses, roads, verges, transport, pavements, people, transport, plants, events, processes, chances and surprises in this layer bring children into meaningful relationship with their locality and community, in a way that is just not possible in even the very best on-site outdoor spaces.

All chapters now have much longer lists of relevant children’s books to support initiation and responses to exploration and play, and many more sources of support for educators for making the most of each ingredient of outdoor provision.  It’s no longer a little book, but I hope that the menu of potential experiences is enticingly expanded and enriched.

So, now that the book has been shortlisted for the staff resources category of this year’s Nursery World Awards, and having seen the fabulous reviews that Julie Mountain and Juliet Robertson penned for the submission, I’m galvanised into letting you know about the new version.  In it’s first edition, well over 5,000 people purchased the book worldwide – I hope this edition continues to inspire and motivate educators to provide the best play and learning experiences young children can have OUTSIDE.

I’ll post the reviews that Julie and Juliet so kindly took the time to write in a following blogpost.

Here's the 1st edition cover: image by Jane Wratten

Here’s the 1st edition cover: image by Jane Wratten


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Mudlark Finds * 14: The Promise

The Promise Nicola Davies

Mudlark Find Number 14 sits within a set of books I’m collecting that might help children to consider what it is they like about their world and generate a more conscious desire to care for and protect it.  We’ve had many years, as we oh so slowly wakened up to the state of our planet’s natural ‘assets’ and the treacherous ground we are treading by not slowing down our levels of consumption and degradation, of a ‘doom and gloom’ approach to conservation.  Happily, we are now moving out of that approach towards one that recognises that optimism and hope are much more productive ways of nurturing future guardians and stewards – who feel that they want to and CAN take care of and live gently in the world.

This book seems to follow the parable of The Man Who Planted Trees, where the small but continuous efforts of one person can, with drive and persistence, in the long run have a big impact – bringing others along too.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (attributed to Margaret Mead, source unknown).

For further inspiration, watch this incredible TED talk by Guerilla Gardener Ron Finley in South Central LA.

With this section of my website, I share some of the many wonderful treasures I dig up while researching and supporting outdoor play for children from birth to seven. I hope they inspire you too, and help you to create motivational, meaningful and satisfying outdoor play experiences for all the children you work with.

Mudlarking is the ancient practice of digging in the mud of the Thames to find treasures.  It still goes on today, uncovering and recovering some amazing artefacts from the life of London city through the centuries.  Click on this link for more information about mudlarking.


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Mudlark Finds *13: Rabbityness

Rabbityness

Mudlark Find Number 13 is the partner to Find Number 12, from the Child’s Play soft-back picture book line.  It’s author/illustrator Jo Empson’s debut picture book – I hope Child’s Play carry on discovering and publishing such excellent works.

Like all good children’s picture books, this one works on many levels, and much could be made of it by parents and educators.  The reason it’s got a place as one of my Mudlark treasures is its potential contribution to creative play outdoors, especially for unfettered music making and a liberated approach to paint and colour.  The page where you turn to “he liked painting’ just lifts your spirits and says “Yes! This is what’s special about taking learning outdoors!”  You’d want to have a huge plastic sheet and plenty of paint ready…

I’m just off to California to contribute to the Childplay Institute’s Children Learning with Nature 2014 Training Institute at the University of California Santa Cruz campus, with my friends Paul Roberts, Clare Warden, Erin Kenny and Sharon Danks. Have a fabulous Mud Day on Sunday – we will!

P.S. there’s still time to make use of Muddyfaces’ Mud Pack to help you make full use of this international event.

With this section of my website, I share some of the many wonderful treasures I dig up while researching and supporting outdoor play for children from birth to seven. I hope they inspire you too, and help you to create motivational, meaningful and satisfying outdoor play experiences for all the children you work with.


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Mudlark Finds *12: Harold Finds A Voice

Harold Finds a Voice

Mudlark Find Number 12 has a partner, which I’ll post in the next Mudlark Find. Both are part of publishers Child’s Play’s recent venture into soft-back picture books and I discovered them at the NAEYC conference I presented at in Washington DC last November.  The publishers very kindly mailed (free) copies of both books to me in the UK and my thank-you to them is to let you know about them.  I think Child’s Play should carry on with this line of delightful books.  This is apparently author/illustrator Courtney Dicmas’s first picture book – I do hope she makes some more…

This book is gorgeous, both visually and in the characters of the protagonist Harold (who lives in apartment 4B in Paris) and his new-found friends.  It’s great for supporting outdoor play through the storyline of Harold discovering and mimicking all the sounds in his world – I would want to use it to stimulate or focus interest in the outdoor soundscape and in the making of outdoor sounds, or in response to an interest shown by children.

Harold does of course discover his own voice – which makes him happiest of all.

With this section of my website, I share some of the many wonderful treasures I dig up while researching and supporting outdoor play for children from birth to seven. I hope they inspire you too, and help you to create motivational, meaningful and satisfying outdoor play experiences for all the children you work with.

Mudlarking is the ancient practice of digging in the mud of the Thames to find treasures.  It still goes on today, uncovering and recovering some amazing artefacts from the life of London city through the centuries.  Click on this link for more information about mudlarking.

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