Looking after the earth

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We are starting off with an apology this week; our regular readers will have noticed that we have missed a few posts recently. Mostly this is because life has caught up with us and we are furiously focused on meeting the deadline for our next book Understanding Gender and Early Childhood: An introduction to the key debates (working title) which we need to have finished by August 31st. Thank you for not deserting us! We did take time out at the weekend though to watch a bit of Glastonbury (although one of us was more interested in the Spice Girls Reunion Tour!) and enjoy the sunshine. The Glastonbury Festival has of course taken the major step of banning single use plastic bottles and David Attenborough took to the stage to remind the crowds of what an important step this was and our collective duty to care for the earth.

Of course, environmental issues are everywhere in the media at the moment. As I was reading around these ideas, and how they related young children, I came across a lovely quotation in a paper by Hall et al (2014) entitled ‘What can we learn through careful observation of infants and toddlers in nature?’ They cite David Sobel (1998) who reminds us we must teach children ‘to love the earth before we ask them to save it’ (p. 195). But we know that, despite all the initiatives in formal settings such as beautiful outdoor learning environments, forest schools and outdoor nurseries, children are having fewer and fewer opportunities to engage with the outdoors. Last year’s Children’s Commissioner report ‘Playing Out’ (2018) set out the issues plainly:

‘children now spend just four hours a week playing out…The area around the home where children are allowed to go unsupervised has shrunk by 90% since the 70s. And the problem now gets worse during school holidays. Research from ukactive suggests that children return to school in September less fit than when they broke up in July, with children from poorer areas worse affected’ (p. 2).

It stands to reason that if children are inside then they are not engaging with nature first-hand and therefore learning to love it.

It might be sensible to suggest that if we want to encourage a love of nature in young children then we should start as young as possible. There is plenty of research which focuses on the benefits of the outdoors for young children although surprisingly very little of this discusses what happens with the 0-2s. We have recently received funding from the Froebel Trust to investigate this gap in our knowledge. You can read about it here and we will update you as we progress with this work.

We know already that there are particular barriers with this age group to do with weather, keeping warm, safety and staff ratios. But some of these barriers seem to be particularly English ones that in other cultures they manage to circumvent. There has to be a will to get this younger age group outside for the sake of children’s health and well-being on the one hand and, perhaps,  the needs of the planet on the other. In this way we could support children to develop as those with agency who not only enjoy being in nature but who want to protect it.

Some suggest it may be too late now to take small steps in protecting nature, big gestures may be needed instead – but please let us know about your small steps. What are you doing with young children to address issues around caring for the earth?

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