Naturally Nurtured

Registrations for our online research webinar ‘Where Are The Babies?’ booked up so quickly that before we knew it, it was fully booked.  We are of course delighted that there is so much interest in this very important but under-researched area of provision: children from birth to two in the outdoors.  In response, The Froebel Trust, who are hosting the event, are making lots more places available through their registration page, and we wanted to let you know as soon as we could.

As a result of this change, we will need to restructure the programme and may set up a follow-on event to enable the more in-depth discussion about issues and possible actions – we’ll keep you informed through this blog as things happen!

Book your place for the Where Are The Babies? research webinar here.

Carol Duffy will be sharing some of her findings from the first 18 months of her MA study as part of this webinar, and has generously provided this story as an introduction to what she’ll be presenting in Naturally Nurtured: charting the developing relationship between a baby and the outdoors in her first 18 months of life.

For the three years of a part-time, distance learning M.A. (Education: Early Years) undertaken at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC)/Birmingham City University, Carol carefully attended to her first granddaughter’s unfolding life in and with the outdoors, from birth all the way through the first three years!  I love that undertaking her research in parallel with becoming a new Nana made (and continues to make) her so much more tuned into Isobel’s developing relationship with the outdoor world they shared, and hope that she’ll share with us more episodes from this ‘Nature Story’ in the future.

Carol recently retired from many years with Early Childhood Ireland and now revels in her treasured role as grandparent of three young children, whilst also working as an Early Childhood Consultant.  She has previously shared two great posts on this blog: ‘Slowliness – smelling the roses of childhood‘ and ‘An outdoor nursery for babies… really?’

Carol has also put her exceptional photographic talents to good use in her lovely book, Outdoors: A Natural Place To Play, which is written as a poem for adults (including grandparents) to share with young children, with beautifully illustrated sections on weather, grass, sticks, stones, water, flowers, bugs and birds – available from Etsy shop Nurture The Nature and highly recommended!

Naturally Nurtured by Carol Duffy, Early Childhood Consultant (and grandparent).

The back seat of the car was engulfed in darkness as I drove my grandaughter home on a frosty winters evening.  The chatter in the back had stopped and I hoped she hadn’t fallen asleep this close to her bedtime.  My mind wandered through the many tasks that were awaiting my attention when suddenly the quietness was broken by a little voice calling out, “Nana, Nana, I can see the moon, ooh it’s so butiful”.  True enough, I glanced out the side window to see a beautiful bright moon in a dark purple sky and hear her excitedly shout,  “Look, it’s following us Nana.”  “I wonder if it will follow us home I say”.

Quiet again we drive on, only now I’m smiling warmed by her wonder and the genuine delight in her voice.  But her short silence was only masking the thought processes going on in her head, for a few moments later as small puffs of dark clouds rolled over the face of the moon she exclaims.  “Nana look look the clouds are blowing the moon along”.  At 34 months old, she had, in her mind solved the mystery of the moving moon.  This was a moment to treasure not to instruct, a moment to share not to shatter. A different time would present itself to reassess the science of the planets.

Arriving at our destination I got busy with the disembarking routine, the seat belts, the bags, and oh yes the child.  With her little hand in mine I gathered our bags and  struggled over to the back gate.  While I wrestled with the finicky latch she let go of my hand and leaned against the gatepost , “Ah they are singing, Listen Nana” she says softly.  “What? Who?” I answer distractedly turning to see her little face peering into the darkness, a vision of serenity lit by an amber streetlight.  Oblivious to this bustling adult rushing the evening along, she had heard the evening birdsong of a hiding robin, “It’s the birdies in the bushes Nana they’re singing”.

Sending alarm calls more likely I thought but kept it to myself as the magic of the moment was not lost on me.  Not for the first time this evening I marveled at her attunement to her environment, and the joy that nature affords her.  I realised the child was reminding the adult to stop and smell the roses, so we stopped to listen for a while until the robin went quiet.  With a little push we swing the gate open and she starts down the garden path.  She takes two or three steps and suddenly stops.  Then as if these moments weren’t perfect enough she turns and in loving tones I hear, “Careful Nana it’s dark in the garden, but don’t worry the light of the moon will show us the way to the door.”

Later that evening I reflected on the very simple yet momentous experience of the evening.  On an emotional level I knew it was a memory I would forever hold dear.  But this story had begun long before this evening, its roots not in instruction but in immersion and affordance.  Her funds of knowledge were created by what had gone before and would further develop with what was to come.  I myself was on a learning continuum I started as a joyous grandparent sharing in this new life being lived.  As the richness and importance of the nature story unfolded I was encouraged and supported to compile a research case study exploring the impact of outdoor affordances on a child’s development from birth to three.

My mind turned to my research, all the observations of my granddaughter I had the privilege of collating, it was all coming together now.  This evening’s events had been a gestalt moment.  More and more I was recognising the embodied learning of this young child, and the richness contained in simple everyday experiences.  Unencumbered by the weights of adult life she lives in the moments, utilising her senses and opening her mind with awe and wonder.  Over her first 34 months my granddaughter had plenty of time, opportunity and support to be in nature.  She revelled in exploring the everyday environments of her garden and locality.  What to us were small unremarkable spaces were to her, her world.  What a wonderful world it was, offering her infinite opportunities to be and become.  I watched as she lived and learnt in nature; I observed her embodied experiences (Kranowitz 2005).

I had been gifted the privilege of sharing some of these moments with her, of researching the affordances of nature in her first three years.  Through this study I learnt to slow down to see the world through her eyes.  I celebrated her increasing sensory motor capabilities, aided by the varied topographies of landscape and the variety of natural materials within.  I observed the value and enjoyment she garnered from the natural elements that nature strews across any given landscape, the stones, sticks, trees, weeds, the water.  I watched as her family followed her interests and provided her with security and support, enabling her to build her competencies and capabilities.

Outdoors was a place she loved to be. I observed her play, learn, grow, wonder and wander.  I seen her challenges, struggles, her upsets, her limits.  I learned that nature could excite her, calm her, amaze her, educate her.

As an authentic insider I attested to the shared joy and value of ritual and repetition (Pelo 2013).  Rituals and repetitions that laid the foundation of identity and belonging, love of people and place; that helped build physical, cognitive and emotional resilience.

I marvelled at the range and depth of her funds of knowledge (Hedge et al 2011, Moll 2000) that were clearly exhibited, and how relationships and play were central to so many of them.

Being a grandmother is, I’m sure you can see, one of my greatest pleasures, but it is also an undeniable fact that this research and the experiential learning I gained from it had a profound impact on my personal and professional life.  It afforded me a new way of seeing babies and young children outdoors.  It fostered within me a deep desire to advocate across the early years sector on their behalf for the provision of rich natural spaces in which they can Be and Become.



Kranowitz, C. S. (2005) The Out of Sync Child: recognising and coping with sensory processing disorder, Perigee

Pelo, A. (2013) The Goodness of Rain: developing ecological identity in young children, Exchange Press


You can read more about Carol’s M.A. (Research Module) study of an 18 month old child in ‘A Case Study of Movement and Physical Development Affordances of Outdoor Play’ available as an open access paper through this link.

All images are (C) Carol Duffy and must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.


2 thoughts on “Naturally Nurtured”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this introduction and seeing the beautiful accompanying images. I am so looking forward to watching and listening to your upcoming presentation

  2. Thanks Carol, and for the CREC research paper too… so interesting! I’d love to read more of your research…will you write a book? ( illustrated with your fantastic photography of course…)
    ‘See you’ on Saturday at the conference.

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