The most powerful trend in early childhood environment design across the world

It’s been some time since we shared another of Kathy Brodie’s 16 interviews from the Spring 2018 Outdoor Play and Learning summit, and this one is so very relevant as we welcome many more families back to early years settings in the UK with a focus on wellbeing and a ‘green recovery’.  Alongside the global Natural Playground movement, the move towards increasingly nature-rich outdoor education and care environments for young children has been steadily growing for many years now – led by some very energetic pioneers.

Combined with awakening recognition of the importance of our relationship with the natural world, appreciation is becoming mainstreamed (especially in Scotland and Wales) for just how perfectly natural elements provide young children with so much of what they need.  As Kathryn Solly has said, this coming academic term provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to embrace learning outdoors through a rich and responsive curriculum, and the campaign for a Government funded Nature Premium matching the Sports Premium for Primary Schools kickstarted this during the lockdown.

Amongst those long-term innovators, Toni and Robin Christie stand out for their energy and creativity, enthusiasm and dedication, and especially for the boundary-pushing results as seen in their own five Childspace centres in Wellington and their influence across Aotearoa/New Zealand and beyond.

Childspace has developed over more than 20 years into the Childspace Institute providing professional development in many forms, The Space magazine, which shares thinking and practice from all over their country (including a preprint of Carol Duffy’s post for this blog) and design guide and source books.  Of course, you can also find them on Facebook.

The photos in this post, from my visit to Wellington in 2013, give a tiny taste of the exciting nature-rich environments that the Childspace centres provide for babies, toddlers and young children.

In this clip from their interview with Kathy, Robin and Toni describe some of the “limitless reasons for engaging young children with natural spaces and with natural materials” as:

  • constantly changing and stimulating children
  • connecting them with this beautiful world
  • allowing children’s imagination much more room to flourish
  • providing common ground for children of different ages and abilities
  • offering calming and restful spaces and a sense of privacy
  • challenging young children to negotiate varied terrain.

This is only a part of the Christie’s thinking- and practice-filled interview, but you can watch the full conversation as part of the Outdoor Play and Learning summit.  There are now 8 summits you can watch, each with a wide range of interviews on leading themes.  With 9.5 hours of video, the summit dedicated to Outdoor Play and Learning also features Professor Jan White, Menna Godfrey, Erin Kenny, Michael Follet, Dr Sue Elliott, Natalie Canning, Julie Mountain, Julie Ann White, Angela Hanscom, Juliet Robertson, Dr Red Ruby Scarlet, Kathryn Solly, Terri Harrison, Claire Warden and Liz Edwards.

If you purchase any of the Summits through this Affiliate Link here, a donation will be made to Early Childhood Outdoors.


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