The interface between understandings of environments and design processes on the one hand, and understanding of young children and their play and learning on the other, is a very promising arena for exploring and revealing knowledge that might enable us to create really effective outdoor environments for young children to be in.
However, this is an area that so far has been very little explored, especially in the UK, and in both disciplines the issue of early childhood outdoor environments has been substantially neglected. It is unusual for ECE training and research to look deeply into outdoor environments, and very rare for landscape students at any level to study environments for young children. And yet, outdoor environments have recently received large amounts of Government funding for improvement within the English EYFS framework, and in Wales and Scotland there is continuing focus on this area of education.
Landscapes for Early Childhood is a UK-wide network that aims to bring together professionals working in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Landscape Architecture, and from both academic and practitioner perspectives, experience and knowledge in each field – in order to dig into, explore and discuss the elements that create really good outdoor environments for young children from birth to seven, and for those who work with them.
Founded by Jan White (Early Childhood Consultant specialising in provision for play and learning outdoors) and Helen Woolley (Chartered Landscape Architect and Reader in Landscape Architecture and Society in the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield) in Spring 2011, and supported by PlayGarden, the network has so far met twice:
In February 2011 at The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England – with input from Helen Woolley, Jan White and Cathy Nutbrown (Professor of Education at The University of Sheffield).
In June 2011 at Canolfan Tu Fewn Tu Allan (Inside Outside Centre) Colwyn Bay, North Wales – with input from Lisa Williams (Centre Leader), Marie-Christine Schmidt (Landscape Architect for PlayGarden), Cathy Kiss (President of Play Australia, Melbourne) and Sue Elliott (Senior Lecturer in ECE and Author on natural playspaces, Melbourne), and a field visit of the Centre.
And is holding its next meeting in Carmarthen, Wales on 19th April 2012, where the focus will be on Nature as the Teacher (see Landscapes for Early Childhood page for the programme of the day).
This meeting is hosted by Eileen Merriman, Senior Lecturer in the School of Early Childhood, University of Wales: Trinity St David and will be held at the Trysordy Resource Centre, with a field visit to where teaching students are introduced to learning outdoors in the Welsh Foundation Phase.
If you are a Landscape professional and/or academic working anywhere in the UK/Ireland who is seeking to increase understandings of strong and enabling outdoor spaces for young children’s learning and development, or an Early Childhood professional and/or academic with an interest in understanding and developing the quality of effective outdoor environments for young children, and would like to join our network or attend a meeting, please do get in touch with Jan White at firstname.lastname@example.org or via this website.
Helen Woolley can be contacted at: email@example.com or on 00 44 (0) 114 222 0608
All images (C) Jan White. Thanks to settings visited in Denmark, facilitated by Inside Out Nature, for enabling us to experience the truly child-led provision and practice as exemplified in these images.