Routes of Resilience in the Early Years – Pathways to Flourishing

Over many years of community focused early years work, Annie Davy has co-constructed an accessible yet profound framework for thinking and acting towards enabling young children’s emotional health through their relationship with the natural world. She describes this framework in her recent book, Nursery World award-winning A Sense of Place: Mindful practice outdoors (2019, Featherstone). We are hugely excited that Annie will share this learning as our national speaker at this years’ Early Childhood Outdoors annual professional gathering in Sheffield on Saturday 28th March!

Connecting to place
Routes of Resilience in the Early Years – Pathways to flourishing
by Annie Davy

As young plants need good soil and the right conditions to grow, so children draw on a concoction of physical and emotional nutrients, which they imbibe through their senses from the environment, key relationships and experiences around them. Finding these nutrients means navigating the routes to growth and resilience that will determine how well they can weather life’s turbulence.

My colleagues Milly and Amaragita at The Nature Effect have scanned the multi-layered and interdisciplinary evidence around what makes for greater and lesser resilience in individual, group and organisational development. We believe resilience is a journey rather than a destination. ‘Routes’ are identified practices and strategies to support and strengthen the capacity to flourish throughout our lives – or in the working life of an organisation. Supporting children’s resilience comes naturally as we play and work with children outdoors.

Health and wellbeing
The practices that form the route of good health include eating, sleeping, moving, keeping warm, learning to relax. Working with children and nature can support healthy care of the body through growing food, through being active and through using the healing powers of nature to relax the mind.

Vitality and flow
Vitality and flow are more subtle energies that come to life when we are fully immersed in things that give us energy and spark joy. This route is all about opportunities for deep level learning, developing confidence, competence and self-esteem. It is about enjoying what you are doing to the point where you can ‘wallow’ or ‘lose yourself’ in the flow. Giving children extended and uninterrupted time in sensory play – with water, mud, sand, grass – they will become observers, scientists, builders: deeply engaged and full of joy.

‘Response’ -ability
It requires emotional maturity to take responsibility for your feelings as well as to recognise and acknowledge the feelings of others. Creating space between stimulus and response is key to emotional maturity and self-regulation and wisdom. Getting outside and ‘letting off steam’, taking a deep breath and allowing nature to sooth our emotions can be very helpful in times of stress. Looking after tender creatures such as ducklings can teach us much.

Connection and Support
We need people around we can trust if we are to flourish. Children need to form attachments – but not just to people; also to their environment and their place in the world. Outdoors we can develop awareness of our interdependence with all other life and feel the support of the ground, the trees and the sky. Children develop close attachment to their own ‘plot of land’ or ‘special place’.

Purpose and meaning
Being recognised for who we are and valued for what we do is an important part of resilience. Acceptance without judgement and feeling our contribution is appreciated is central. When working with nature, the living environment and care for other living things becomes a core purpose. Children can see the impact of their actions if they are involved in apprenticeship tasks of caring for the environment – planting, watering, sweeping – with positive feedback on the importance of what they do.

Wisdom and discernment
Wisdom is all about reflection, thinking deeply and making good choices. Being outdoors we have to constantly notice what is going on in the environment in order to keep ourselves safe and happy. Children learn to respond to different seasons or the changing weather. No two birds or trees are the same. They learn to assess risks, adapt their behaviour, think deeply and make good choices.

At the Early Childhood Outdoors professional gathering on 28th March this year, I will be elaborating how these routes relate to early childhood theory and the joy of putting the Routes to Resilience into practice with young children outdoors.
I look forward to meeting you there!

With thanks to Flo’s Nature Nursery for the photos.

Annie Davy has experience that spans Early Years teaching, inspection and training. A freelance writer and facilitator, she has a track record of incubating successful community projects, connecting people and transforming environments. As Head of Early Years in Oxfordshire, she led an award-winning service for 12 years and is founder and director of several community-based projects. Currently involved in establishing Flo’s – The Place in the Park, she is passionate about ‘re-wilding’ and connecting to nature – within workspace, learning space and in out day-to-day lives. You can find her through

2 thoughts on “Routes of Resilience in the Early Years – Pathways to Flourishing”

  1. Really enjoyed reading all the above in relation to outdoor play. I just changed from being an indoor preschool to outdoor preschool and I am currently studying for my MA in Earlychildhood Care and Education. I would be very interested in accessing journals/books etc in relation to outdoor play and : 1. concepts and theory on psychology, 2. how young children learn outdoors, 3, emotional and behavioural development in early childhood outdoors, early childhood in context re outdoors.

    1. Hi Caitlin, it’s great to hear about your interest in giving children lots of time for being outdoors. The online bookstore from Books Education has a huge selection of 60 books on outdoor provision – pretty much all the books on playing and learning outdoors that are available in the UK. I’m afraid that I’m not aware of any publications specifically on how young children learn outdoors though – this is however the focus of the Award in Outdoor Practice that I’m currently developing with some colleagues. This qualification should become available in Ireland later next year, so do keep an eye on this blog site for more information in due course!

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