We’ve worked for months on our new toolkit about young children in nature. We’ve written tens of thousands of words on multiple related topics, presented them beautifully and created additional resources to accompany. A lot of hard work and a lot of heart work, and then we had a burst of inspiration, the ‘penny dropped’ and we realised the absolute simplicity of the message. The very essence of our why, and of the what needs to happen in our sector. Here in ECE, Early Childhood Education, the crucial word isn’t highlighted enough. It’s right there in the middle, not the end word that tends to get all the focus. It’s CHILDHOOD.
Grab that word for a moment and sit with it. What does childhood mean for you? Or what should it mean? What was your own childhood like? We hazard a guess that there was a lot of free play, time, freedom, fun, and adventure, and so very much of it was spent outdoors. Outside in real nature: green spaces, full of nature’s treasures and open in possibilities. This was the stuff of our childhood because it makes sense. It’s what children have always needed - to be hands-on and hearts-in with nature. This is how they build a relationship with the Earth, and with themselves. It’s natural, and it is the way it should be.
Fast forward to this present generation, and we have to ask what childhood looks like now. How are today’s children spending their one childhood? We’d love to say it was still in the Earth, with those large daily doses of vitamin N. But then we look around at our sector and it’s mixed news. There are places who have grasped the need for children to be authentically in nature, and then there are others where nature is missing. Children are accessing fresh air, but their space is static and lacking in living things.
Built steel and plastic structures can be fun for a little while, think of all the families who pop down to the park. But it isn’t just a little while our children are in their ECE settings. It is a long while. Years worth, and a really big chunk of their one childhood.
To honour that childhood, to really offer what they need and what they deserve, we have to offer nature. Genuine living, growing nature. And not just some of our settings, but ALL.
Society has changed, yes. For some of us childhood was quite some time ago. And we do have to acknowledge that times have changed for our children. But we think we’re focusing on the wrong word here again.
The where of early childhood has changed for this generation (away from home is our new reality), but the what of it doesn’t need to change as much as it has.
Because who children are hasn’t changed - they still have the same inner drives, play urges and need to connect with the natural world that we had. They still need nature as much as we did, and we can still, even in these times, give it to them. In fact, we must. It’s the childhood that makes sense, the one they are yearning for. Hands-on in nature allows our children all the magic, awe, wonder, beauty and joy that a childhood should hold, even for wee ones away from home. Especially for wee ones away from home.