Outdoor experiences beyond the nursery garden

I recently enjoyed exploring some local residential streets with the team at Growing Wild Outdoor Nursery in Barnsley, and was reminded about the incredible treasury of fascinating and important things to be found in the ordinary, everyday places where people live their lives.  These are places we tend to overlook in providing high quality Early Childhood Education and Care, but places that really matter to and for young children, especially in the now common context of fast-paced family lives.

We really need to be thinking about the areas just outside our outdoor space as another layer of our regular provision for our children:

The streets, houses, flats, gardens, verges, shops, businesses, people and animals that make up the locality and community immediately outside your garden or outdoor area have incredible potential for children’s learning in all areas that is just waiting to be harvested!  By taking children into this additional layer of outdoor provision, the possibilities for engagement, involvement, thinking and learning really are endless, and the material that then becomes available for exploring, investigating, playing and creating back in the setting, indoors and outdoors, is both abundant and rich.

This practice was once not only common, but expected in early years settings.  Whilst it is understandable that going outside the setting has appeared to have become more difficult (or impossible) to operate, the consequences of losing this practice are wide-ranging and profound, and we really do need to rethink these limitations with a more proactive attitude.

Considering the immediate locality outside the boundaries of your grounds to be an additional layer of your outdoor provision, complementing the on-site indoor and outdoor provision, will add a whole new layer of opportunities for rich experience, development and learning which these areas are simply not capable of providing.

This is the time to really get to know your children, find out what they are capable of, and discover all sorts of things about their lives.  A teacher at Bognor Regis Nursery School & Children’s Centre commented that while they are walking down the street to play on the beach, the children talk about “anything and everything – you even get to know that their Mum likes Mama Mia.”  You may have gone out with a few children to post a letter – but if you do not make it to the post box, it does not matter at all.

So, to offer some inspiration and motivation, here are 12 good books that respond well to the very many things awaiting discovery and discussion by children in their early years (all of these can be sourced second hand – better for the pocket and the planet).  For much more on the subject, take a look at chapter 7 in my book Playing and Learning Outdoors (3rd edition, 2020 Routledge), from which the above extract is taken, and these previous posts on the ECO blog:

The Wondrous Walk by Carol Duffy

Stoke Goes Out! by Caroline Eaton

What a Wonderful World Outside by Kathryn Solly

P.S. Have you ever noticed that man-holes covers are fascinating to small children, and a wonderful stimulus for play…

1. The Green Line: a walk in the park by Polly Farquharson (2009 Frances Lincoln)

2. The Listening Walk by Paul Showers and Aliki (1993 HarperCollins)

3. On My Walk by Kari-Lynn Winters and Christina Leist (2009 Tradewind Books)

4. Alfie’s Feet by Shirley Hughes (2009 Red Fox)

5. A Walk in the City by Jo Waters (2006 Little Nippers: Nature Detectives, Heinemann Library)

6. A Walk by the River by Sally Hewitt and Chris Fairclough (2005 Franklin Watts)

7. Look Up, Look Down by Tana Hoban (1992 Greenwillow Books)

8. Shadows and Reflections by Tana Hoban (1990 Greenwillow Books)

9. Windows by Julia Denos and E.B Goodale (2021 Walker Books)

10. Windows of the World by Jean-Phillipe Lenclos and Dominique Lenclos (2005 W.W. Norton & Company)

11. Doors edited by Celeste Sollod and Jeff Battle (2001 Metro Books)

12. Street Covers by Jacopo Pavesi and Roberta Pietrobelli (2001 Westzone Publishing)

Photographs are copyright Jan White and must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.  

Book cover images sourced from amazon.co.uk


3 thoughts on “Outdoor experiences beyond the nursery garden”

  1. Exactly right, thank you. It is about belonging in the real world. Would you agree that the quality of the adult:child interaction is very important and the ability of an adult to listen to and support child:child interaction. Without which it is still great to be walking (at child’s pace) in our community, but a richer learning experience with an adult able to share the experience. Perhaps a lower adult:child ratio should be fought for.

  2. Love this blog post! I was lucky enough to meet Tana Hoban through my photography connections. We went for an Indian in Edinburgh and she sat on a telephone book as she was so tiny.
    Walking with small children is a joy and not to be missed.

  3. I agree with Kate above, the quality of the adult interaction is key but this does not mean always talking and pointing things out, it is about listening and watching and noticing what the children already know and making connections with this community world, family and the things we do in the setting. It is all about connections! So right to say we are in the world not just observers of the world.

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