Creating a childhood fabric of precious memories
Some children enter child-care as infants, sometimes as early as 6 weeks old, and up to fifty hours per week, and stay until they are ready to go to school. Our child-care centres or nurseries are the settings where many of our children are creating their childhood memories. The outdoor space at the child-care centre becomes their outdoor world. What experiences are children having, in a setting that has rubber matting and artificial grass, plastic toys and steel climbing structures as their outdoor environment? What are these children touching day in day out with their feet and hands, hearing with their ears and seeing with their eyes?
Sadly, today’s over-scheduled children are spending more time inside and less time outside in the natural world. They have less time for unstructured play, and green play spaces are disappearing fast. Many of our children are driven from one activity to another, sometimes as young as two years old. In the child-care centres they attend they are told what to do and what to think. Their play is structured or, in some cases, not even existing. Their environments are artificial, disconnected from nature, highly organised, and opportunities for risk taking are eliminated. This child-care setting is the child’s daily safe haven, a place of security from where they venture into the world unknown, learning to take risks as they leave their comfort zone. What memories are our children creating and what risks are our children taking, playing with the same toys, in an environment that is the same every day?
Children have a natural inclination for connecting with the senses. Many of the experiences in nature or natural outdoor play areas are authentic. They are real experiences, involve the senses and often are a first. Children feel the warmth of the sun, hear the singing of the birds, see the beauty of the butterflies, smell the fragrance of the flowers, and taste the flavour of the blackberries. As teachers we owe it to our children to expose them to these authentic, relevant experiences many children are lacking today.
It takes thinking back to our own childhood experiences, and imagining how we can recreate joyous experiences with the natural world in safe, meaningful, beautiful ways for the children in our care. The natural outdoor world is the ideal environment where children can be active and concrete learners. It is like a theatre, something different on show every day, constantly changing, highly attractive and full of beauty.
We need to keep the enchantment of childhood alive, and help make the memories of the children in our care rich, diverse, safe, green, surprising, and loving. We need to take them outside into the natural world or create natural outdoor environments in our child-care centres where they can run barefoot through grass, hide behind a berry bush, and jump in mud puddles. As our mum used to say, “Go outside and play!”