Jan White Natural Play

Natural Play, Natural Growth, in the Early Years


Playing & Learning Outdoors wins national award!


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


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


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.