Jan White Natural Play

Natural Play, Natural Growth, in the Early Years


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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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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


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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


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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


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Fantastic conference on Environments for Young Children, Berkeley, California, 27-29th June 2012 – Call for proposals open till 25th March!

Shelter 4, Rachel McMillan Nursery School, London, UK

The Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children (OnDesign) is a recently formed working forum of the World Forum Foundation on Early Care and Education, a grass-roots, global network of people working with and for young children.  We are an enthusistic and experienced group of early educators, architects, landscape designers and others who focus on issues related to designing spaces where children can learn and grow – indoors, outdoors and the spaces in between.

The OnDesign collaborative seeks to bring together practitioners and researchers from around the world to engage in a variety of interactions, debates and collaborations. We are seeking to engage professionals involved in working with young children, as well as policy makers, architects, landscape architects and designers in a collaborative effort to understand the needs of children and how best to deliver stimulating environments to support learning, discovery and joy.

The OnDesign Working Forum came together in May 2011 at the World Forum on Early Care and Education conference in Hawaii.  The initiative has been spearheaded in particular through the enthusiasm and dedication of Ken Jaffe, Director of International Child Resource Centre (ICRI) based in Berkeley, California, and is already a good mix of early childhood educators, architects and landscape professionals from across the globe, with a driving group spanning the UK (Jan White), Brazil (Vera Melis), Mexico (Ivan Galindo Herrara) and eastern (mike Lindstrom) and western USA (Paul Roberts and Ken Jaffe).

We are eager to make it possible for practitioners and researchers in all relevant fields to come together so as to learn from each other and to initiate collaborations that can take thinking and action into new places.  It is important for us that this is a global initiative and that we are learning about and developing the quality of environments for young children in all parts of the planet and all walks of life, and the Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children is thrilled to announce its first International Working Forum

Boroondara Preschool, Melbourne, Australia

This working forum will challenge views on model building design for children, present state of the art building reviews from around the world, provide opportunities for deep discussion of approaches to incorporate the latest design features into children’s buildings and spaces, and establish an international network under the Global Collaborative OnDesign for Children that will offer a dynamic interface between architects, landscape designers, early childhood educators, planners, local and national governments, and the greater public on issues related to design of optimal buildings for children.

  • Dates: June 27-29, 2012 evening reception on Tuesday, June 26, and lively sessions Wednesday, June 27 through Friday, June 29. We also hope to offer optional extensions before or after to visit model sites, celebrate International Mud Day, and enjoy a tour of hidden treasures in the gorgeous San Francisco Bay Area!  More information on these extension activities will be provided when they are confirmed.
  • Location: the Clark Kerr campus of the University of California at Berkeley – Clark Kerr is a beautiful, self-contained mini university with lovely grounds, great food, and world-class facilities including lodging. Across the bay fromSan Francisco,Berkeley is known for its ethnically diverse community, culinary attractions, and amazing building design and scenery.

URGENT – The call for presentationsis open until 11pm, 25th March!  We are planning for a wide variety of presentations, discussion groups, posters, interactive workshops, centre visits and active, hands-on sessions.  If you would like to participate, contribute or just have a suggestion for an interesting topic, please submit an outline proposal online.  We will make selections that create a stimulating, global and well-balanced programme over the three days.

To learn more about, contact or join OnDesign, and for up-to-date information on the Working Forum conference with registration, submission and accommodation details, please visit the OnDesign section of the World Forum website.  To find out more about the World Forum in the UK, contact the UK representative, Laura Henry at Child Care Consultancy.

St Kilda & Balaclava Kindergarten, Melbourne, Australia

 All images (C) Jan White.  Thanks to Kindergartens in Melbourne, Australia (visited with the help of Sue Elliott and Play Australia) for these images showing attention to transition zones that make it easy for children to move between indoor and outdoor environments as part of the ‘indoor-outdoor’ programming that has remained common in Victoria.

Rachel McMillan Nursery School was set up in a very poor part of London in 1914 by nursery pioneers Margaret and Rachel McMillan, with a design that intentionally enabled children to be outdoors as much as possible – the big ‘shelter’ windows folded right back to allow plenty of fresh air indoors as well.


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Announcing the Landscapes for Early Childhood Network

Digging into what makes a good outdoor environment for young children

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: 

 Ÿ         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).

 Ÿ         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.

 Ÿ         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).

Taking time to think things through...

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 jan.white@lineone.net or via this website.

Helen Woolley can be contacted at: h.woolley@sheffield.ac.uk or on 00 44 (0) 114 222 0608

Creating environments that are really good for children

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.


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Words Matter – opening up a needed debate?

Poking and pondering...

I remember a conversation with Marjorie Ouvry around 10 years ago, about whether we should be saying Outdoor Play or Outdoor Learning.  We agreed on outdoor play, because of our beliefs that learning happens through children’s own play, when it has meaning to them.  However, I also felt at the time that it was fine to use whichever term helped to create change in the quantity of time and quality of experience children got outside in their early years settings.  If the practitioners, or indeed the local authority staff, needed to think of it as ‘learning’ (being an activity that carried more meaning and motivation for them), then it would be most effective to use that more valued idea.

In the last couple of years though, I’ve noticed increasing use of the term Outdoor Learning and have become uncomfortable about its ascendancy.  Words matter: as words are tools for thinking, the particular words we use in ourheads (self talk) and to communicate with others (think together) influence the way we think – and have an impact on what we then do.  I feel it’s time to open up a debate about the language we are using to think about and develop our practice outdoors.

My proposition is that what we really mean (or should mean in the UK with our traditions for nursery education from the British Nursery School) is Learning Outdoors, not Outdoor Learning.  My reasoning is this:

Firstly, I trained in the 1980’s as a teacher in Science and Outdoor Education.  When you just read the term ‘Outdoor Education’ here, such things as abseiling, creek-walking, canoeing, hiking, sailing etc. probably came to mind – actually that is Outdoor Pursuits.  Outdoor Education should mean ‘education in and through the outdoors’ in its widest sense (education about the outdoors is embedded into all experiences, as well as being focused upon at times).  Outdoor Education tends to mean a particular set of experiences that are indeed deeply meaningful and transformational for the participant, but it does not tend to mean learning in the bigger and wider sense of  ‘in and through’ being outdoors.  I think Outdoor Learning tends to set up a mind-frame, like Outdoor Education, of a set of experiences in the outdoors – just as ‘Forest School’ does (indeed another debate to be had is the almost synonymous use in many people’s heads of Outdoor Learning and Forest Schools, and perhaps this partly explains that muddling!)

Manipulating an idea to think it through

Secondly, in the UK we have a foundational tradition of children being, playing and learning through play in the outdoors (as well as indoors) from our wonderful (and admired at the time by many other countries) Nursery Schools heritage – which seems to be strangely forgotten in the new discourse around Forest Schools.  I know that what I believe in, advocate and work to realise is learning, across the whole child and the whole curriculum (whether emanating from inside the child or from external guidance documents) through capturing and harnessing what being outdoors does for and to the child – not a subset of experiences.  My own life’s experiences in teaching have shown me again and again that children learn well outdoors, whatever the learning experience is.  The learning is usually more relevant, more motivational and deeper when it happens IN the outdoors.  I think this is better described by Learning Outdoors.

Finally, as an example of how words shape thinking and understanding (and possibly jeopardise good progress), take ‘Outdoor Classroom’.  I’m really quite alarmed by the recent explosion in this concept – as being (especially in schools) a shelter big enough to seat the whole class together, so that the teacher can lead a lesson.  This ‘classroom’ is dangerously close to being the box of the indoor classroom placed outside. It may not have physical walls, but I’d suggest that the dynamics, power balance, freedom and learning processes (things people unanimously identify as key features of the special nature of outdoors) change little from teaching and learning indoors!  My feeling is that this is a serious red herring for real progress in children’s learning experiences.  The outdoors IS the classroom.  Its ceiling is the sky, the views, the rain, the sun, the wind and so on and on.  It’s as big as the space the children have access to and can see beyond the boundaries.  And it is a rich and open as nature and the adults have made it.

The wonderful and expansive learning place of outdoors

See how the words we use influence how we think, and how we share our thinking?  So, the Masters programme I’m designing is called ‘Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood’.  Perhaps it should be ‘Being, Playing and Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood’.  If we are going to develop the use of the outdoors as a deep and effective place for children’s being, playing and learning, we need the word-tools to think about and discuss what it needs to be like so as to work best at helping children to thrive and grow. 

What do you think?

Thanks to Robin Hood bilingual outdoor kindergarten in Berlin for the beautiful experience of being outdoors with toddlers, as captured in these images.