Rockabye baby: infants sleeping outdoors


You may remember in a previous post we told you about some research we are involved in which focuses on young children’s engagement (ie 0-2s) with the outdoors. The project is funded by the Froebel Trust and you can read about it here. One of the interesting things we have discovered through our reading is that, although there is a wealth of literature on children’s engagement once they reach 2 and above, there is the very limited research literature on the younger age group. Another noteworthy discovery is how practice in Scandinavia has gone in a different direction to practice in many other parts of the English-speaking world. In part this is because practice in the early years setting often reflects cultural practices of the home.

One specific cultural practice where we have found a key difference is in the practice of putting babies to sleep outdoors. We imagine if we asked people of a particular generation within the UK context then they would recall how they were put at the bottom of the garden in a pram for their afternoon nap. They might have had a net to protect them from a friendly cat looking for a comfy place to sleep however they were considered to be perfectly safe. However, this practice seems to have died out in both the UK context and many others. In Scandinavian countries though, not only is it common practice, it is seem as part of being a good parent. Some have compared it to the discussions around breastfeeding that we have here in the UK, and that sometimes can make new mums feel guilty if they don’t join in the accepted cultural behaviour. A colleague told me recently about becoming a new mum whilst living in one of the Nordic countries and how her neighbours would come and knock on her door to ask why her baby wasn’t sleeping outside and stressing how important it was for the baby, almost making her feel guilty for not being a good mother.

It is interesting to question why this practice of putting babies to sleep outdoors has survived in some contexts (eg Norway) but not others (eg the UK) especially when we consider the link between practices in the home becoming part of practices in the setting. Indeed, Rameka et al.’s work (2017) in the New Zealand context, emphasises the importance of replicating family and community cultural practices in the early years setting as such pedagogies support young children in ‘developing a strong sense of themselves’ (p. 21). But could the early years be a good site to reintroduce forgotten or discarded practices with babies?

There are some settings in the UK which put babies outdoors for sleep but these are very few and far between. It seems quite obvious to state that there are many barriers to preventing this practice such as health and safety concerns, parental preferences or ratio implications. One barrier which does not stand up to scrutiny of course is the weather; in Scandinavia temperatures reach much lower than here in the UK however babies are still put outside to sleep as long as temperatures are above  -15C (Tourula, Isola & Hassi, 2008).

As usual it would be great to hear your thoughts on this whether you are a parent, practitioner or student. We are very keen to hear about what happens in practice.

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