Babies Outdoors – Bobby plays in the gardenSeven months old Bobby spends time playing in the garden with her mum. She challenges her physical skills while exploring the rich outdoor environment.
Good for looking at
- Learning outdoors
- Babies development
- Sensory development
- Physical skills
- Cognitive development
- Rich outdoor environment
- Effective adult support
- Tuning in
Prompts for developing practice
- Going for very small walks in the locality just beyond the home or setting are clearly of great value and importance for babies.
What enables or limits these in your provision?
How could organisation be changed to increase the amount that the locality and community are part of your outdoor provision? Include in your discussions the value of pusher-facing pushchairs.
- There is lots of value for Bobby from being outdoors in all the seasons. The most effective and satisfying outdoor play occurs when children are able to go outside whenever they need to; but many shorter sessions can be more appropriate, especially for the youngest or in difficult weather.
What can be done to make getting babies outdoors easy and therefore a reality on a frequent basis (such as by having clothing that is easily changed and considering nappy-changing outdoors when possible)?
- View the sequences several times to consider the endless richness of simple things like grass, pebbles and water in Bobby’s outdoor spaces.
Analyse what she attends to in each of her outdoor environments and what these features and materials offer her for well-being, thinking and development. Extend this discussion to consider what your outdoor areas could provide to offer a developmentally appropriate outdoor environment for babies through their first year.
- Back and tummy play are so important for babies both indoors and out.
How could your outdoor environment be organised or enhanced to make suitable opportunities for the huge amount of this kind of play that babies should be getting each day?
- For babies to get the most from being outdoors, they need the close accompaniment of adults with a high commitment to the value of outdoors, who take great pleasure in being outdoors with them, and who see all weather as ‘good’ weather!
Discuss the various ways that the adults in this film show these commitments and dispositions.
- Babies need to investigate with their mouths as it provides the most sensitive and meaningful information, so there is a need for high vigilance but not over- protection. Dirt and germs as a health concern is a difficult issue which has to be carefully discussed within the team and with parents.
How do we enable babies to explore in a safe-as-necessary way? Is ‘dirt’ okay for babies and where is the boundary for safe-enough (as opposed to safe-as-possible practice)?
- Effective outdoor provision requires an ethos and vision, underpinned by a strong rationale that is fully shared by parents, that babies must have access to outdoor environments for plenty of time each day, every day of the year.
How can you engage parents in the value of daily outdoor provision for their child?
What opportunities can you find at all stages of your communication with parents to help them understand your approach?
- Men are often more comfortable with physical and silly play and more inclined to play in this way to meet the rough & tumble and ‘dizzy’ play needs of babies, especially boys.
Do your parents (including fathers) understand this need and what are their views about touch and ‘rough’ play?
Things to notice and understand
The special nature of the outdoors
“Very young children have a very special way of relating to the outdoor world. It is of enormous interest to them – the easiest way to support an unsettled baby or toddler indoors is to take them to a window to look outside. They have an inborn affinity, curiosity and fascination with the natural world: sky, wind, rain and shadows; plants, trees and leaves; sticks, pebbles and rocks; water, puddles and mud; dogs, birds and beetles and people. Children use their whole body and whole self to engage with, explore, dismantle and think about the world – and this is very apparent when young children are in the real, outdoor world.”
[Jan White, 2009a]
Watching the incredibly rich experiences Bobby has with her Mum in the garden, the park, the street and the local shops, it is clear that the outdoors is a very different place to the indoors for a child in their first year. Rather than attempting to ‘take the indoors out’, it is vital that young children’s outdoor experiences capture the special nature of the outdoors, providing what the indoors cannot. Several viewings of Bobby’s outdoor experiences, combined with plenty of discussion, will enable practitioners to analyse and come to appreciate the phenomenal range of differences that exists between inside and outside environments, and just how much developmental value these contain for children under one [see also White, 2011]. Babies are very tuned in to these differences and this is why they want and need to be outdoors so much, and why outdoors provision is so important for them. Paying close attention to the differences and complementary experiences available – what makes the outdoors special – will help teams to reach a shared belief in the importance of going outside for such young children: these highly valuable experiences just cannot be provided indoors. This awareness will also guide thinking about the experiences that should be made available through outdoor provision for all children in the setting.
The clip captures the interesting moment when Bobby, at 3 months old, moves across the threshold from indoors to outside. She quickly registers the new and contrasting sensations on her face of cool, moving air and bright wintry light. This contrast alerts Bobby’s brain and focuses her attention. From the base of security she feels by being safely held by an attentive adult, this stimulation activates inborn learning systems that put her in a ready-to-learn exploratory mode, using her eyes to gather visual information and her highly sensitive tongue to investigate the qualities of the air – she is probably very aware of smells too. Young babies are very tuned to contrast as it helps their brain learn how to separate and distinguish things in the environment; and there are many visual, tactile, temperature, sound and movement contrasts to be found outdoors (see below for visual contrast), giving myriad opportunities for gradually making sense of the world around them.
Even more than the garden, the park, streets and shops offer wonderfully interesting worlds for Bobby as she progresses through this year. Babies are driven with a strong biological need to find out about and make sense of the real physical world and the real world of humans: and the outdoors in all its richness and complexity has a huge role in this. Frequent and repeated short walks into the locality and community, with very small groups of children, are so valuable that practitioners must work out how to tap this potential – especially where children of working parents are spending long days in the childcare setting [Lindon et al., 2008]. Revisiting the same places many times is far more valuable than a few large excursions to different venues each time. The immediate locality provides the most relevant and interesting spaces for children under three, and these are the very places they most want to take their time in, to experience as fully as they can. Each time Bobby revisits something in these places, she adds to her understanding, builds new thoughts and has novel ideas. As babies’ perception, comprehension and physical abilities develop and change so rapidly, new things become available in the same environment, so that the security of familiarity actually makes available an ever-changing landscape of sensation and opportunity. Alongside marked seasonal change and differences in the environment provided by our wonderfully variable weather, there will always be something intriguing and fascinating to notice and explore together. Watching both Bobby and Dexter over time makes clear this interplay between the changing environment through the year and the physically and mentally changing child, and builds a strong case for the immense value of babies getting out into rich outdoor environments every single day, no matter what the weather conditions or other perceived barriers. During this year, children are developing at such a rapid rate that they cannot wait through the winter for ‘good’ weather – they need the richness of this environment every day of their lives.
Bobby is fortunate to have an active local high street, a local park and wonderfully natural areas around the garden. These environments provide extremely rich and stimulating places for adults and babies to spend unhurried time in together. However, it is possible to find rich places in most locations – for children of this age such places do not need to be large or exotic, but they do need to be experienced with no adult agenda and plenty of time to go with the child. Notice, for instance, how Bobby needs time to take in the rocking horse before she begins to share the experience with her Mum: much more has been gained by slowing down from an adult timescale to 7 month-old Bobby’s. Small daily forays into the local area can become a routine part of practice, providing another layer of outdoor provision (and a superb way of augmenting limited onsite outdoor spaces), when adults seek suitable and nearby spaces, become familiar with them so as to feel confident and comfortable using them, and make regular, frequent visits and journeys in them with the same very small groups of children.
The role of movement and physicality
“Movement is an integral part of life from the moment of conception until death, and a child’s experience of movement will play a pivotal part in shaping his personality, his feelings, and his achievements. Learning is not just about reading, writing and maths. These are higher abilities that are built upon the integrity of the relationship between brain and body.”
[Sally Goddard Blythe, 2004: 5]
It is really not possible to overstate just how important movement is for babies throughout the first year – both being moved and moving themselves. Babies absolutely love to move and are driven to develop their physical abilities from the moment they are born (and in fact long before this in the womb). Living in a sensory here-and-now, they are bathed in the internal sensations of movement generated both by moving the body (from the body awareness or proprioceptive sensory system) and by moving in gravity-filled space (from the motion-detecting vestibular sensory system that gives us balance and coordination). Babies are biologically programmed to continually seek stimulation for developing these senses as these two systems are both vital in their own right and as the neurological underpinning for full functioning of other senses, such as touch, hearing and vision. This is why a small baby will wake up and protest as soon as you stop soothing it by rocking, jiggling or walking! Babies need huge amounts of time and opportunity to engage in a wide range of playful physical experiences every day in order to develop the right foundations for health and happiness, both now and in their futures [White, 2008].
This drive for movement is perhaps so strong because of its fundamental influence on all other aspects of a child’s life. Movement is the child’s first ‘language’, providing the primary means of experiencing and thinking, and, although we become largely unaware of it, it remains our dominant sense throughout life [Hannaford, 1995; Goddard Blythe, 2004]. Young children learn about themselves and their environment through movement [Donaldson, 1978]. Babies take in information about the external world by physically and bodily interacting with it; they build understandings by moving through it and manipulating it; they think by moving and express their thoughts through movement; and they gain an understanding of their bodies, themselves and how their body relates to the world by experiencing the sense of movement [White, 2008].
However, opportunity for this much movement is being alarmingly reduced in the lives of babies as they spend more time strapped into car seats and buggies by adults in a hurry (now becoming referred to as ‘bucket baby’ or ‘container baby’ syndrome!), have limited opportunities for active floor play, and ‘boisterous’ play by and with young children is increasingly frowned upon. The recent rise in numbers of diagnoses of special needs involving sensory processing issues, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, problems of attention, language impairment, emotional problems (and later adult problems of anxiety, agoraphobia and panic disorder) may well be connected to the reduction in movement in the daily lives of babies and toddlers [Goddard Blythe, 2004: 17; Stock Kranowitz, 2005].
There is much to notice and understand about movement in the sequences of Bobby outdoors. The movement games that we see Bobby and Ko play with an adult they feel completely safe with, clearly give these babies great pleasure and fun, and are as important to healthy development as is touch. Being moved through space – swooping, flying, hanging up-side-down, jiggling, dropping and bouncing – all give pronounced feelings of motion in space. Children of all ages, from new-born to teenagers, actively seek experiences that involve rocking, swinging, rolling, turning, spinning, twisting, tilting, tipping, falling, bouncing, sliding and moving fast, wherever they can be found. Moving in these ways provides sensations that develop vestibular organs in the inner ear that tell us where we are in space in relation to the force of gravity. Babies love these tipping and falling sensations because it’s very important for life functioning that they develop this sensory system very well. The vestibular sensory system underpins the development of balance, body control and coordination, which themselves 11 underpin a great deal else both physically and emotionally. When our balance is out of sorts, we feel confused, uncomfortable and unable to function. Having a strong sense of motion and balance allows us to cope in the world, and is a vitally important developmental process [Goddard Blythe, 2004], that can only mature through movement of the body in space. Young children need very many such movements, every day, over several years to develop this sense fully so that they are comfortable in their body, and can move, control and position it with ease – and it clearly underpins the developing ability to walk towards the end of the first year.
Babies have to rely on adults to understand just how much they need to create the stimulation this neurological system requires and who find ways for them to access to it in as many appropriate ways as possible. Men often play body and motion games in this way much more vigorously with babies [Jamison, 2004: 108] and it is more often the female carers that need to examine their reactions and concerns in the light of this biological need. Of course, it is the security of playing such games with a closely familiar adult, who knows how to handle the baby and picks up on their subtle clues of pleasure and distress that makes these games so beneficial. Experiencing ‘scary-funny’ feelings [Sandseter, 2007] and surviving ‘safe emergencies’ [Forencich, 2006] together is a tremendous way to build emotional bonding too. Notice the anticipation and relief in Ko’s body language and the way these emotions are shared by his Mum (for more on the value of body games for the sense of proprioception, see the notes for Ko). Bobby also demonstrates great enjoyment of the gentle rocking motion of the hammock alongside her key adult, so much so that she is stimulated by her feelings of well-being into some delightful vocalisations in a conversation with Mum. Hammocks and swing seats do make wonderful features for an outdoor environment and are commonly seen in early years settings in Europe, serving the nurture and movement needs of children from a few months to six years old.
“It is imperative that babies spend lots of time lying free of restraint on their backs, and especially on their tummies. A great deal of neurological and anatomical development takes place through being in these positions, also allowing babies to play with their feet and work on rolling over.”
[Jan White, 2010c]
Carefully watching the beautiful sequence of Bobby at 7 months in the garden in summer reveals some of the enormous value of babies being able to lie on the ground outdoors with full freedom of movement, minimal restraint by clothing and footwear, and all the wonderful gentle and complex stimulation of fresh air, nature, space and a fully attentive and tuned-in adult. Without her shoes, Bobby can grab and handle her feet, finding out what is her, where it is, and how it feels from the outside and the inside at the same time; bringing about some deep neurological connections. As she experiences her full physicality, cycling legs and hands, she is highly stimulated and this encourages her to express her pleasure by vocalising. Alongside this, her visual system is stimulated by the depth of the visual field as she alternates her gaze and attention between close up (her hands) and far away (the sky, birds and other features in the distance). Changing focus easily like this is known as ‘accommodation’ and is an important aspect of well-functioning sight.
As soon as they are ready, babies need to spend increasing amounts of time on their tummies, giving them a new view on the world and bringing about a surprising range of anatomical and neurological growth. Head control is one of the most 12 important motor skills a child ever develops [Goddard Blythe, 2008]. The spine, hips and hands are encouraged to open up; the shoulder girdle, neck, arms, joints and hands are strengthened; distance sight, eye tracking and hand-eye coordination is stimulated; dexterity of the hands and fingers and use of the feet are promoted. These all help considerably in the change over this year from the foetal C-shape to the S-shape spine needed for upright locomotion and from the closed fist of the newborn to the fully functioning toddler hand. Stimulation to the abdominal organs helps with such things as development of bladder control and feelings of hunger or fullness. And, not least, being on the tummy with interesting things such as daisies to reach for is the first step in the all-important development of crawling (see notes for Ko). [For more on this area see Goddard Blythe, 2008 chapter 7].
“The deepest insight that comes out of looking attentively at babies is understanding where our ability to look attentively comes from. The most interesting thing about babies is that they are enormously interested; the most wonderful thing about them is their infinite capacity for wonder.”
[Gopnik et al., 1999]
At 3 months, Bobby’s attention seems to be drawn by edges – the roof line, the top of the hedge and fence – especially those outlined against the sky where there is strong contrast. Research has documented that young babies are most interested in objects that present marked differences in contrasts of light and dark [Lamb, Bornstein & Teti, 2002 in Martin & Berke, 2007]. This schematic interest in edges and boundaries helps to build perceptive ability in the brain that allows the baby to see things as separate objects against a background – it enables them to begin to interpret the vast amount of visual information being received. Whilst Bobby can make sense of close-up things she has seen many times, such as Mum’s face, understanding the visual landscape takes time and much experience. Focusing first on contrast and edges allows this to be organised in a systematic way. We can see Bobby looking close and far as her brain seeks stimulus that will slowly build into the capacities to actually see in depth, understand how the world is 3-dimensional and operate successfully in it. Binocular vision (having two eyes simultaneously sending slightly different images to the brain) also enhances depth perception, but the eyes need plenty of early 3D experience for the brain to tie the two groups of information into a single image. Even though Bobby is outside for only a short time, once we appreciate how much stimulation she is getting in this rich and complex environment (all the other senses are working just as hard at the same time), we can understand that several short periods outdoors may match the attention span of a child at this age more than a few, longer ones. Bobby may well need to sleep for a while now so that her brain can process everything that has just happened [Karmiloff-Smith, 2010 – see also the notes on Miles].
Vision is extremely important to humans, and in order to construct the highly complex sensory system that it is, they need to spend plenty of time receiving a very wide range of visual stimuli, such as bright and dark, colour and tones, edges and contrast, near and far, motion and stillness [Gibson, 1986]. Taking babies outdoors increases all aspects of visual development, especially the ability to see things at a distance and to perceive motion. It takes several years to achieve full adult vision, so continual visual stimulation is very important in the early years [Day, 2009], and babies need to experience real objects in natural light [Martin & Berke, 2007]. Evidence is currently building from medical research that outdoor light and a strongly 3D visual landscape affects the way the eyeball grows, reducing the development of short-sightedness [e.g. Rose et al., 2008]. As well as learning to see individual objects, their texture, shape, colour, size and so on (the task of light sensitive cells in the retina called cones that are wiring up a stream to the brain that determines ‘what is it?’), an entirely different stream in the visual system concentrates on location, directing and speed, asking ‘where is it, where is it going and how fast is it moving?’ [Sax, 2005: 22]. This task begins with cells arranged around the outside of the retina called rods. We tend to pay attention to the objects that are in the centre of our field of view, but actually our ‘peripheral vision’ is equally important to us, especially for keeping us safe from unexpected harm. Our increasingly indoor, sedentary and screen-oriented lifestyles are leading to poor peripheral vision in today’s children [Forencich, 2006]. Bobby’s many opportunities at the park to take in a wide landscape, pay so much attention to movement of so many kinds, and link what she sees with what she simultaneously hears and feels, is exactly what she needs during this year to develop the full suite of vision capacities she needs for learning and life.
Touch is a vital sense and the skin of babies is a very sensitive organ through which the infant absorbs a wide range of tactile information at a very deep level [Carlson, 2006]. Their need to find out about things encourages touching and investigation, and the outdoors offers unlimited, richly tactile surfaces and resources. At 3 months, Bobby sticks out her tongue as the best way to find out about the new environment she has just arrived in. At 7 months she pulls the grass she has succeeded in grasping after so much effort to her mouth to investigate it in the most sensitive and meaningful way she has. Through use of the hands during this year, the sensitivity of her fingertips will increase to the point, some time in her second year, that mouthing is not so necessary. But babies in this year do need to explore with their mouths (however, they are not ‘eating’ the object), and so practitioners need to find a comfortable way of allowing this whilst keeping the child safe enough, otherwise tactile investigation at this age will be sadly limited.
It is delightful to watch Bobby’s reaction to feeling the long, daisy-filled grass on her bare feet. The toes and soles of the feet are very sensitive, so the information the body receives through them must be important. Enclosing babies’ feet in shoes before they are needed for protection in walking takes away a really significant means of finding out about the world. Finding occasions where shoe-free exploration is acceptable or even encouraged really enriches what the outdoors has to offer (see also Liam in Toddlers Outdoors [Siren Films, 2010]).
“People also have a sense for the touch of our hands and feet. If modern man is forced to walk on flat floors as they were planned thoughtlessly in designer’s offices, estranged from man’s age old relationship of contact to earth, a decisive part of man withers and dies. This has catastrophic consequences for the soul, the equilibrium and the wellbeing of man. Man’s ability to experience ceases and he becomes disabled, mentally and organically. The unseen floor becomes a symphony, a melody for the feet and brings back natural vibrations to man. It is good to walk on uneven floors and regain our human balance.”
[Friedrich Hundertwasser, 1991]
What matters to babies: cognitive development; the right stuff: materials and resources
Cognitive scientists use the fact that babies look longer at things they find interesting to study how they perceive and understand the world [Gopnik et al., 1999]. They pay attention to specific things and spend longer looking at things
that are novel. So, tuning in to what Bobby is drawn to and stares at tells us something about what is going on in her mind. As we noted, at 3 months her attention is repeatedly directed towards high contrast at the edges or boundaries of large objects in the landscape, helping to develop her capacity to see things as separate objects. This schematic interest, seen by closely watching for patterns in her behaviour, is leading to structures (what Piaget labelled as ‘schemas’) in her brain that allow her to think about the world [Arnold, 2010]. In the park at 5 months, her gaze is still drawn to high contrast in the bare tree branches, but now it is of a more complex pattern. She also has a persistent interest in watching moving things. The movement of objects against a background gives information about edges that also contributes to the mind’s ability to see things separately.
She also seems to be gathering information about what things move and what don’t, how things move, and things that move in the same way. The park is full of movement and different kinds of motion. There are many things (birds, leaves, humans, dogs and water) that move in a variety of ways (up and down, to and fro, high and low, fast and slow) and through a range of mechanisms (legs, wings, wheels, flowing and blowing). Bobby is full of curiosity and fascination about all these things, and now she has much more stamina for sustained attention and can enjoy longer periods of stimulation. Through very many experiences of watching movement, coupled with the information coming from internal senses when she herself is moving, she slowly constructs and continually modifies her mental theories about how the world works: how things can move and how they are likely to move. Perhaps movement is one of the reasons young children find animals so fascinating and compelling.
The outdoors is also full of things that happen. During the first year, the baby’s world changes from one where things are just happening as isolated events, to one where things are increasingly connected with each other. Two important cognitive processes are growing in the baby’s consciousness: an awareness of ‘object permanence’ (it still exists when I don’t see it) and an awareness of ‘cause and effect’ (one thing happening can give rise to another event). Through lots and lots of experiences of the world at work, the child begins to understand the world as separate from them self. Knowing that something still exists when it is not in sight means that the child is beginning to be able to represent an object (through imagination) as a thought in their mind. This is an ability that has to be present for the use of language to grow during the second year [Fernyhough, 2008: 70]. In this regard, it is interesting that ‘gone’ seems to be a common word in the early repertoire of toddlers. In the park, we can see some good examples of the way in which being outdoors provides the underpinning experiences needed through this year for these mental capacities to emerge. Pigeons are there and then gone, shadows come and go, and pebbles can be handled but disappear as they drop into water.
In the garden at 7 months, Bobby has a strong experience of ‘cause and effect’ when she pulls the grass stem that she has worked so impressively to reach. As she pulls, she can feel the tug of resistance in her hand and arm (through the proprioceptive sense as well as touch) and see the movement in the other grass stems resulting from her action. Building an understanding that events can be connected and of what follows what is very significant learning in this year. Infants also learn which changes in the stream of events around them are their own work. With improving knowledge of their own body movements, they know what they have done, so they can determine what they have caused. This serves to help them distinguish between the self and the external world [Fernyhough, 2008: 67]. Experience of cause and effect also underpins learning, being able to predict, imagination and building a strong self-image (see also Toddlers Outdoors and Two’s Outdoors [Siren Films, 2010]). Bobby has also developed the ability to share attention between the event and her Mum, so that she can benefit from sharing her interest with another mind [Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2002]. The adult skilfully picks up on this interest and repeats the experience, helping Bobby to consolidate and extend her new connections, building memory and learning. This sequence is worth watching closely more than once as it is a wonderful example of what Rosemary Roberts calls ‘companionable learning’, that is also ‘the central process or mechanism whereby wellbeing develops’ [Roberts, 2010: 53].
Personal and social development
Bobby clearly thrives on being outdoors with her key adult and here are many examples in this film sequence that demonstrate how experience outdoors can contribute to the growth of an emotionally strong child. Her growing sense of self is strongly related to her use of her body and her developing body awareness. Her well-being comes from being so well stimulated and able to take in the world at her own pace. Spending long, unhurried periods with someone who cares about and understands her so well adds to her feelings of value and self-worth.
Bobby’s Mum, Molly, has experienced the value of going outdoors together every single day as part of their routine. Bobby thrives on these experiences and Molly also gains by having time with her baby where she is fully engaged, enlivened
and responsive to her, which is fulfilling for both of them and helping to deepen the relationship they have with each other. Every day is different and new, and all weather is really good weather, holding different kinds of experiences even in the same places. Although adults know that they should talk a great deal with babies, even early years practitioners can find it difficult to know what to talk about with a baby under one. The rich contexts of being outdoors together provide unlimited material for almost constant commentary from adults as they pick up on what the baby is focusing on. In all three sequences here, Molly is never short of something to talk about with Bobby because she is so attentive to where the baby is looking, what she is doing and how she seems to be feeling. Watch the film also to pick up on what conditions and circumstances make Bobby feel secure and stimulated enough to vocalise herself.
However, this is not just meaningless chatter! The baby gains emotional security from seeing and hearing her most significant person whilst coping with new environments and experiences. Attention and recognition is vital is building a strong sense of self-worth [Fuller, 2004]. On these outings, Bobby is bathed in the sounds of her language, picking up intonation and expression before she takes meaning in words. And the well-timed, relevant and meaningful nature of the adult’s comments is highly significant. In a research review for the Talk to Your Baby campaign, one of the key aspects found to matter in communicating with babies was ‘contingency’. This is “the extent to which a communication is produced when the intended recipient is fully oriented towards receiving and processing it. This means that the baby and the adult are engaged in reciprocal activity – they are cueing in, and responding, to each other, so they are ‘in tune’. This is also known as sensitivity or responsiveness. Contingency between adults and babies is important not only because it is effective linguistically in developing children’s gestures, vocalisations speech and syntax, but also psychologically and cognitively in order for babies to form secure attachments” [National Literacy Trust, 2010, their italics]. This clearly also has connections with ‘sustained shared thinking’ identified in the REPEY study as significant in children’s intellectual development [Siraj- Blatchford, 2002].
Because we are an intensely social and cooperative species, babies have a huge drive and need to find out about the human world, and once again the outdoors contributes greatly. Watching interactions between people is a serious occupation and because her pushchair faces the pusher, Bobby can really observe and take in the interchanges at the shops. She can see how people communicate and behave towards each other, and she watches her Mum’s behaviour very closely to find out if this is a safe event, smiling with relief and finally kicking her legs in pleasure when Mum signals that this is a positive situation. The warm internal feelings from sharing this smile will also give her confidence in future meetings with unknown people. Babies need to reference their significant adults constantly when introduced to new situations to find out, “Am I safe?” This is a primal concern that kept us alive throughout our evolutionary history, so it is a very deep need that drives our psychology and physiology and therefore our well-being and our ability to learn. In the pusher-facing pushchair, Bobby can constantly gauge Mum’s reactions and stress levels, so in new and high-stimulus environments her cortisol levels (the hormone that floods our bodies to ready us for ‘fight or flight’ emergencies) stay low. If prolonged and unaided, raised cortisol levels are corrosive to a baby’s brain, especially in the development of self- regulation [Gerhardt, 2004: 130]. Regulation that comes from the adult is required for babies to develop the capacities to regulate their own emotional state. The pusher-facing pushchair allows the baby to enjoy the experience of being out on the street or in a busy place, and to benefit maximally from it both through being relaxed and through contingent communication with the adult.
Adult support and interaction
A non-mobile baby is forced to rely completely on the adults who care for them to bring the world to them: she cannot get there herself and is reliant on having adults who deeply understand what she needs and when she is ready for particular experiences. Adults really are the gate keepers of the outdoors for babies, and we have a big responsibility to take them beyond the comfortable and familiar indoor environment that we have spent so much time and effort preparing, into the phenomenal richness of the world that they are biologically designed to develop in. We are responsible for showing her the physical and human world, and making developmentally appropriate things happen for her, all the while being alert to discomfort, over-stimulation and signs of saturation. Whenever they are outdoors, babies need their adults to be tuned into what interests them at that moment, to know what experiences would be valuable and to respond positively to their reactions and needs. Most importantly, they need their adults to slow down to their time scale. There are several examples in the sequences of Bobby that demonstrate the value of allowing plenty of time for her to perceive, register, process, check with the secure base, process some more and finally respond. In turn we see an adult who constantly strives to notice what is important to Bobby, and to recognise what significance this has before she decides how to respond. She is very attentive, picking up on the baby’s body language and facial expression, and using all the experience she has built up through the months together. Molly’s quick responses to Bobby’s emotional states also helps her to build self-regulation [Gerhardt, 2004], so that she is able to make the most of the immensely rich potential for stimulation and learning of being outdoors. The key person approach seeks to recreate, as far as possible, this depth of relationship in partnership with the child’s parents; drawing both upon close communication with the families and upon their own accumulated understanding through spending plenty of focused time together. Communicating frequently will draw parents into the vital role of spending time daily outdoors, all through the year, as well as making it possible to support the child most effectively.
Some research carried out in the 1970’s showed that when the women in the study held a baby that was dressed as a boy they faced them outwards, actively bringing their attention to many things out in the world. However, the same baby dressed as a girl was held facing inwards and the adult concentrated on nurturing face-to-face exchange. When taking babies out into the setting’s garden, it is important for adults to be conscious of how they are interacting with the child and whether they are restricting the opportunities for shared attention in the environment. Where there is a dedicated space for under-ones or under-two’s, it is also crucial that adults frequently take the younger babies, perhaps in their arms, into spaces with older children too.
Molly helps 7 month-old Bobby do what she almost can, but is not quite able to do by herself. When she notices the bobbing grass stem at the side of the garden, Bobby has a great desire to grasp it and it is a big stimulus for movement. Rather than simply moving the child to the grass, or bringing it to her, the adult takes a significant decision to help but only just enough. Bobby does get there under her own steam and is very energetic in her attempts. Sharing her exhilaration by looking between Mum and grass when she finally gets it, we also get a lovely sense of combined achievement and fascination. This physical ‘scaffolding’ enables Bobby to work at the edges of her emerging abilities (Vygotsky called this the ‘zone of proximal development’ [Mooney, 2000]), and is much more valuable than the adult moving her to reach the grass easily.
“It doesn’t help a child tackle a difficult task if they succeed constantly on an easy one. It doesn’t teach them to persist in the face of obstacles if obstacles are always eliminated from the regime.”
[Carol Dweck, cited in Claxton, 1999: 35]