Jan White Natural Play

Natural Play, Natural Growth, in the Early Years


5 Comments

Playing & Learning Outdoors wins national award!

staff4836-460x306

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

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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


2 Comments

New article: Embracing Life With Enthusiasm

Imagine if all this rain was actually snow!

Imagine if all the rain we had this winter was actually snow!

During last summer, I was invited by my friends at Community Playthings in the USA to write about ‘risk and challenge’ for their Collage newsletter.  It now sits under the ‘Resources/ Articles’ section on their website, and can be found here. Later in the year, while I was over there presenting at the NAEYC annual conference with Mary Rivkin (author of The Great Outdoors: restoring children’s right to play outside, which is just due out from NAEYC in 2nd edition), I was fortunate to visit with these lovely people in upper New York State.  We visited several outdoor-oriented early childhood settings together, one of which was Saratoga Springs Waldorf Nature Kindergarten based in Saratoga Springs State Park.  It was apparently 8 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s minus 13 degrees Centigrade!) overnight and all the water in the marshy wood was frozen solid.  The children literally threw themselves at all this had to offer and their play was fabulously physical and social.  What I witnessed certainly fitted with my thoughts about making sure children can embrace their life with the enthusiasm they are born with.  The staff commented that they weren’t used to visitors being so comfortable with their approach to challenge and risk! Thanks Rae for the experience.

Here’s what I wrote.  For the other articles in the same newsletter by Joan Almond, Deb Curtis, and Lenore Skenazy, click on these links.

Embracing life with enthusiasm – supporting young children to become competent, confident, courageous and resilient. 

“Young children need challenge and risk within a framework of security and safety.  The outdoor environment lends itself to offering challenge, helping children learn how to be safe and to be aware of others.  Children are seriously disadvantaged if they do not learn how to approach and manage physical and emotional risk.  They can become either timid or reckless, or be unable to cope with consequences.” [1]

What helps you to embrace life with enthusiasm?  What helps you to take advantage of opportunities that make your life richer, more interesting and more successful?  What is it about you that enables you to go for a new, as yet untried or intriguing experience?

Some of these things have to do with how we think about the challenge involved and its risks: is it too scary, will I be able to do it, will it go wrong, can I manage if it doesn’t work out?  Feeling safe and comfortable in a novel experience comes from having developed a sense that we can cope with the challenges around us, and manage the consequences if things do not go as planned.

If children are to be able to take advantage of the opportunities their lives offer them, and grow into people who feel like they can ‘go for it’, deal with uncertainty and enjoy whatever happens, then they need a childhood filled with opportunities to develop the appropriate dispositions, knowledge and competencies that allow them to both feel secure and to be safe.  Consider too that challenge has physical, emotional, social and intellectual components, so children need to build ‘risk-competency’ in all of these areas.

I am very aware from my work in the UK that the outdoors is seen as more dangerous than indoors for young children, with ‘outdoor play’ and ‘risk’ almost being contingent terms in the minds of many practitioners and parents.  Since accident statistics simply do not bear this out, I suspect that media and marketing share much of the blame for this creeping belief.  Such increasing fear levels in our societies, with the resultant change in childhood experience, are of great concern because of the harm that this is so ironically doing!  The danger is that, by attempting to remove risk, we remove the vital opportunity to become ‘risk competent’.  For children’s wellbeing and all-round development, it seems that the consequences of not taking risks could be more severe than the potential dangers in risk-taking.  If we are raising a generation who have not learned to manage risk for themselves, will they be able to make sensible decisions, and will they have the capacity to keep themselves safe?  Will they then be fearful of new experiences and unwilling to try things out?

Benefiting from challenge and risk through play outdoors

“Young children need to be able to set and meet their own challenges, become aware of their limits and push their abilities (at their own pace), be prepared to make mistakes, and experience the pleasure of feeling capable and competent.  Challenge and its associated risk are vital for this.  Young children also need to learn how to recognise and manage risk as life-skills, so as to become able to act safely, for themselves and others.” [1]

Among its very many benefits, playing and learning outdoors has the positive value of being more able to offer challenge and stretch in all sorts of ways, providing opportunities for children to find out about their own boundaries and to push at them.  Indeed, humans are biologically primed and driven to do this as a continuous task throughout childhood!  While the vulnerability of children is strongly at forefront of our minds – in our worlds, it is really hard to see the child as competent – the Scandinavian views of children, childhood and cultural values are more balanced towards the robustness of children and the desirability of a resilient, risk-competent population [2].

There are three important pillars that support a child able to embrace life with enthusiasm, and it is our task as adults involved in the child’s upbringing to work hard at putting them in place:

  • Being ready: feeling that life is positive and therefore being able to explore and become engaged.  Being ready also requires a robust sense of ‘self’, with an, “I can” rather than, “I don’t believe I can” or, “I daren’t” approach to life.
  • Being willing: experiencing strong motivation for an activity and therefore wanting to persist (if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again).  This also requires the construction of resilience towards ‘mistakes’ and ‘failures’, together with the ability to learn positively from them.
  • Being able: as well as dispositions and attitudes, knowledge must be built up through authentic experience, so that the child actually acquires the skills and competencies needed to be and feel safe.  This includes becoming able to look forward to judge possible consequences and being able to deal with them if they should occur, and also thinking about consequences for others and knowing how to help them.

How are these dispositions, knowledge and skills built?

  • Children can only learn through real, hands-on and challenging experience – supported by more knowledgeable guides, such as adults, who are also ensuring inappropriate risk is removed.
  • They need very many opportunities to learn about themself from the inside, calibrating their body and emotions in relation to the demands of life.
  • They must have a huge amount of opportunity to gain knowledge about the world, learning how it works and behaves, and becoming able to predict what might happen.
  • As well as becoming aware of potential risks in their actions so that they can manage them, children need to become able to react positively when unexpected things do happen, and draw on suitable responses to keep themself safe.  This means experiencing tricky (appropriately risky) things, in a supportive and nurturing environment, so that a personal response repertoire can be gradually acquired!

Role of the ECE setting

“Safety of young children outdoors is paramount and a culture of ‘risk assessment to enable’ that permeates every aspect of outdoor provision is vital for all settings. 

Young children also need to feel secure, nurtured and valued outdoors.  This includes clear behavioural boundaries (using rules to enable freedom), nurturing places and times outside, and respect for how individual children prefer to play and learn.” [1]

It is our duty and task to ensure that our children grow up able to embrace life with enthusiasm: to understand their limits but seek to push them at a comfortable level and pace, to know how to keep themselves and others safe, to be adventurous and have courage, to be able to enjoy the uncertainty of new experiences through knowing (a deep belief gained by personal experience) that they can cope with this, and to bounce back when things have not gone well.  These need to be internalised so that the child really believes this about his or her self.  This can be constructed only through a great deal of personal experience of suitable challenge (with appropriate risk), where they are supported or guided just enough to become independently successful.

Making this happen takes time, will, attention and on-going effort.  It requires conviction and a values-based, whole team approach; a clear and well-articulated rationale for the benefits of outdoor experiences and for offering challenge to children; parents who are well engaged with the desirability of play outdoors; lots of staff and parental discussion and professional development; attentive, confident and courageous educators who feel well supported; constant review and reflection; a framework of proportionate, reasonable and sufficient safety that enables beneficial experiences (making things as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible); forward thinking and contingency planning.  However, the two most important strategies are to know each child well as an individual, working to that individual’s style, pace and interests, and to actively involve children at the heart of your risk management processes.

What we are doing in the UK

In the UK, thanks to a very active play sector, we now have an established and positive Government-endorsed approach to risk in play and education, enshrined in a high level statement from the Government’s own Health & Safety Executive together with comprehensive guidance for a ‘benefit-risk approach’ to risk management in place of risk removal [3].  We have a long journey ahead to turn around the juggernaut of risk aversion, high anxiety levels for our children and deep concerns about litigation, to reinstate the well-established connections between hands-on outdoor experience, challenge, risk-competency and positive life dispositions [2].

However, we really do seem to have begun that journey, and there is certainly a desire and willingness amongst many educators and play professionals to be brave enough themselves to address this.  The ‘risk of no risk’ has been recognised and is rising in our awareness to counter our risk-aversive culture, such that we can be optimistic that our children might indeed become “competent, confident, resilient and self-assured” individuals [4], who can, both now and in their future, embrace life with joyous and brave enthusiasm.

[1] The Shared Vision and Values for Outdoor Play in the Early Years (The Vision & Values Partnership, 2004) can be downloaded from janwhitenaturalplay.wordpress.com

[2] Risk Competence: Towards a pedagogic conceptualisation of risk, Eichsteller, G. & Holthoff, S. (ThemPra Social Pedagogy C.I.C) is available at www.social-pedagogy.co.uk

[3] Managing Risk in Play Provision, Ball, D., Gill, T. & Spiegal, B. (Play England and the Play Safety Forum, 2008) is a downloadable PDF from www.playengland.org.uk

[4] Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (Department for Education, 2010) Principle of the Unique Child

Thanks to Community Playthings for the great image, which accompanies my article on their website.


Leave a comment

Articles on Physical Development (part 3)

In December 2011 and then again in April 2012, I contributed to the Nursery World conference on the ‘National EYFS Review: successfully implementing the revised framework‘.  My contribution was looking at Physical Development – why it had become a ‘prime area’ (hooray) and what really effective outdoor provision for physical development would include.

This led to me being asked to write several articles – for Nursery World’s equipment special on Physical Development, published in Spring 2012 (article in a previous post – part 1) and for Early Years Update, published in Summer 2012 (articles in a previous post- part 2).  I’ve also now been invited to write on this subject for Exchange magazine in the USA, published in the May/June 2013 edition (article in this post).

This has become a key part of my work and I’ve become something of a crusader for children’s need to MOVE and BE PHYSICAL.  I’m now facilitating a new Post Graduate Certificate [MA in Education (Early Years), double module 60 credits] in Children’s Physical Development from birth to Seven in collaboration with paediatric physiotherapist Sue Heron of Tatty Bumpkins, at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) in Birmingham.  This will run alongside my double module Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood, which is running again successfully this year.  Both courses start mid-October – contact CREC for further details about the 2014-15 courses.

Exchange is the magazine produced by the World Forum Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to promote an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings – over 80 countries are involved.  Exchange is distributed mainly in the USA, however a digital international edition is also available (currently free for the first year’s subscription).

Thanks to Petra Arzberger and parents of children at Children’s Oasis Nurseries in Dubai for their very kind permission to use the great images in this article, taken on my visit there in January 2013.

39 Exchange Somersaults and Spinning p1 copy

39 Exchange Somersaults and Spinning p2 1 copy

39 Exchange Somersaults and Spinning p3 copy

39 Exchange Somersaults and Spinning p4 copy


Leave a comment

Articles on Physical Development (part 2)

In December 2011 and then again in April 2012, I contributed to the Nursery World conference on the ‘National EYFS Review: successfully implementing the revised framework‘.  My contribution was looking at Physical Development – why it had become a ‘prime area’ (hooray) and what really effective outdoor provision for physical development would include.

This led to me being asked to write several articles – for Nursery World’s equipment special on Physical Development, published in Spring 2012 (article in previous post) and for Early Years Update, published in Summer 2012 (2 paired articles in this post).  I’ve also now been invited to write on this subject for Exchange magazine in the USA (part 3 to follow).

This has become a key part of my work and I’ve become something of a crusader for children’s need to MOVE and BE PHYSICAL.  I’m going to be facilitating a new Post Graduate Certificate [MA in Education (Early Years), double module 60 credits] in Children’s Physical Development from birth to Seven in collaboration with paediatric physiotherapist Sue Heron of Tatty Bumpkins, at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) in Birmingham.  This will run alongside my module Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood which ran successfully this year.  Both courses start mid-October – contact CREC for further details.

Early Years Update is published monthly and is available by subscription from Optimus Education.

37 EYU Physical Development in the Revised EYFS p1 copy

37 EYU Physical Development in the Revised EYFS p2 copy

38 EYU Creating an Enabling Outdoor Environment for Physical Development p1 copy

38 EYU Creating an enabling Outdoor Environment for Physical Development p2 copy


Leave a comment

Articles on Physical Development (part 1)

In December 2011 and then again in April 2012, I contributed to the Nursery World conference on the ‘National EYFS Review: successfully implementing the revised framework‘.  My contribution was looking at Physical Development – why it had become a ‘prime area’ (hooray) and what really effective outdoor provision for physical development would include.

This led to me being asked to write several articles – for Nursery World’s equipment special on Physical Development, published in Spring 2012 (article in this post) and for Early Years Update, published in Summer 2012 (articles in next post).  I’ve also now been invited to write on this subject for Exchange magazine in the USA (part 3 to follow).

This has become a key part of my work and I’ve become something of a crusader for children’s need to MOVE and BE PHYSICAL.  I’m going to be facilitating a new Post Graduate Certificate (MA in Education [Early Years], double module 60 credits) in Children’s Physical Development from Birth to Seven in collaboration with paediatric physiotherapist Sue Heron of Tatty Bumpkins, at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) in Birmingham.  This will run alongside my module Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood which ran successfully this year.  Both courses start mid-October – contact CREC for further details.

Nursery Equipment 28th May 2012: Introduction –  Action Points by Jan White can be found on the Nursery World archives website – search under the title of the article.

35 NW Action Points p1 copy

35 NW Action Points p2 copy


31 Comments

Make a Mud Kitchen for Mud Day – new guidance published today!

Cooking up something wonderful again

I’ve been so looking forward to posting this post!  It will very soon be International Mud Day (29th June) and what better way to prepare for this wonderful celebration of childhood and nature than to create a mud kitchen with the children in your home or setting?

As a child, I experimented and played with mud, painted with it, dug in it, made mud pies and loved the feel of it on my body.  This fascination led me to study a degree in Soil Science and a lifelong love of the stuff of the earth.  As a four year old, my daughter’s summer was fully occupied with making innumerable ‘concoctions’ with substances from the kitchen, such as flour and sugar, and anything she could find in the garden: soil, gravel, leaves, berries, water.  She spent long periods of time deeply absorbed in grinding, mixing and decanting.  I looked on with delight and marvel at this wonderfully curious and imaginative child; and the scientist in her was clearly evident.  Now as a young adult she has a very enquiring, creative and resourceful approach to life – and is training in Fine Art! (1)

Having contemplated children’s fascination for mud play for many years, I have come to the understanding that everything is there – elemental materials, enquiry, fascination, transformation, alchemy, fantasy, agency and self discovery.  It seems to me that mud play is one of the most valuable and vital experiences we can provide for children – and it certainly should be a core offer outdoors in all early years settings.  Children’s mud play is worthy of attentive observation and focused research by early childhood professionals and parents – and I’d love to see it seriously researched at Masters or PhD level.

Choose the place and make the space

So, as my contribution to International Mud Day in this, its second year, I’m delighted to announce the global availability – as a free online resource – of my new ‘Making a Mud Kitchen’ booklet, published in collaboration with Muddy Faces and several mud kitchen enthusiasts across the UK and Ireland.

Below is an extract from the booklet and the whole document can be found on the Muddy Faces website, including a downloadable PDF.  Please share it widely, in the spirit with which it is published (please acknowledge the author and publisher).  There are hundreds of wonderful, homemade mud kitchens being shared on blogs and pinterest around the world – take a nice long tour and be enthused and inspired!

Making a Mud Kitchen – Just do it!  [© from Making a Mud Kitchen by Jan White]

There is little more important in our physical world than earth and water and they are truly intriguing things, especially when they interact.  Mixing soil, water and a range of other natural materials has a foundational role in early childhood which has deep importance, and endless possibilities for well-being, development and learning.  The breadth and depth of what these experiences offer young children is truly remarkable.

Mud kitchens provide something quite different to a soil digging patch, whilst also being much more easily managed.  A mud kitchen includes elements of the much-loved domestic corner and cooking from indoor play, which are then hugely enriched through the special nature of being outside.  Mud kitchens work well all year round, and need to be seen as a core element of continuous provision outside.

Mud kitchens do not need to be fancy and certainly do not need to cost much.  There is nothing to beat the simplicity and character of creating your own unique kitchen from scrounged, begged and discovered items.  And remember, the best mud kitchens are made in collaboration with the children who will be using them.

Fit it out

Delving into the Meanings of Mud Play [© from Making a Mud Kitchen by Jan White]

Young children are endlessly interested in – and biologically programmed to explore – the stuff of the earth, how materials behave and what they do.

Making connections through discovering and investigating cause and effect is the stuff of brain development and scientific process.  Curiosity, fascination and the pleasure of finding things out are fundamentally important to the human state: being human.

An even more powerful level of experience for the explorer is that they are the one making things happen – giving feelings of control and power, and over time, building a child who has a strong inner sense of agency (which itself is key to well-being and mental health).

The processes of making ‘concoctions’ bring the worlds of science and art completely together through possibility thinking.  The growth of imagination and creativity happens through building on concrete cause-and-effect experience to posing and predicting ‘what if…?’  Good scientists do this all the time, as do artists and all other innovators.

Even better, the experience of making concoctions brings the child into the realms of magic and fantasy – reminding us of the ancient fascinations of alchemy.

Get busy in it!

The best mud kitchens, and those which have the most atmosphere and character, are made from found, gathered and donated items – especially when these come from the children’s own families.  It’s important not to spend much money – what matters to children is that these things come from the real human world, to combine with the stuff of the real physical world.

In order to drive forward my campaign for a Mud Kitchen in every early years setting in the UK, Muddy Faces and I have also been working on a very thoughtful and inspiring range of mud kitchen resources for their online shop, and the first 6 collections have just been released (and discounted for Mud Day):

“The aim of the Mud Kitchen range is to deepen the understanding, importance, value and range of experiences from mud play as continuous provision and to support practitioners to achieve this.  Each set is a collection of beautiful items that wonderfully support young children’s natural desires to explore and discover, imagine and create, relate and interact.  Each collection has been carefully selected starting from what we know young children want to do and with strong regard for how children’s play and learning is best supported during the early years.”

I plan to make an area on this website for gathering useful and sharable materials to support the growth of mud kitchens.  Please do let me know of anything you think should be on there.

HAPPY MUD DAY!

HAPPY MUD DAY!

(1) text from Playing and Learning Outdoors by Jan White (Routledge, 2008)

All images (C) Jan White Natural Play and the photographers.  With great thanks to all these friends who share children’s passion for mud play as demonstrated in these images, and especially to Liz Knowles and Muddy Faces for their belief and commitment to the cause.