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.
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 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 (there is no charge), 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
Programme for 19th April 2012, Carmarthen
Dr Jane Waters, Head of Initial Teacher Education and Training, Swansea Metropolitan University
Developing outdoor learning environments: what is the ‘outdoors’ for? Is my ‘outdoors’ fit for purpose?
Overview: This session will consider the concept of affordance in relation to children’s outdoor learning environments. I will draw upon data from a doctoral research project that considered how Foundation Phase children interacted with their class teacher when outdoors in a natural landscape. This project indicated that children were a) drawn to particular features of the landscape and b) were willing and eager to share their interests with their class teachers. This landscape then, afforded children’s engagement with both the environment and their teachers. It is argued that this is a result of the physical and interactional affordance of this space. When we consider what we want to use our outdoor spaces for alongside questions concerning what the spaces afford for our children, we have a rich mechanism for the development of outdoor learning environments that are fit for purpose.
Jo Gordon, Senior Consultant, Mindstretchers
Voices and choices
Overview: Take time to listen to children – they know best!! This session will look at some consultation strategies that can be used with children involving them in making decisions about what they would like to see in their outdoor environment. These take account of different learning styles and the development of the brain. Case studies will be shared from London and Scotland where children were actively involved in becoming designers of their spaces. One of the biggest factors for children was the need for risk and challenge.
We will explore the need to develop a risk-rich environment where risks are managed constructively during the play process and a “child’s desire to explore further” (O’Brien and Murray, 2006) can be fuelled. It will look at how children can identify and make informed choices about taking risks if given the opportunity and in doing so develop their independence, self esteem and self belief. Video clips and photographs will be shown to illustrate theory into practice.
Eileen Merriman & Angela Rees, School of Early Childhood, University of Wales: Trinity St David
Training early childhood practitioners in Wales – learning in and from natural environments
Overview: Inspiration for this mainly practical session has been drawn from an increasing interest in children’s learning from natural environments; from years of outdoor training of students on the BA Early Years Education; from numerous INSET sessions with practitioners and from close involvement with staff at the campus day nursery, University of Wales: Trinity Saint David.
According to Chawla (1998) and Bird (2007), personal experience of natural areas leads to an understanding of nature and a desire to protect these settings. In light of this and in order to develop adult confidence in working with children in natural areas, it is felt that the adults themselves need to spend time in nature. They need, for example, to experience the sensory play that they in turn will encourage with young children.
This practical session will take place outdoors (regardless of the weather) in the University’s fields so please bring waterproof clothing and footwear (and please be prepared to participate and have fun – it may get messy out there!).
The following meeting is planned for October, 2012 and will focus on Training Landscape Professionals
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.