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Babies Outdoors – Intro

The outdoors is as valuable for babies as it is for older children and this clip is an introduction to a set of short child studies looking at babies spending time outdoors which look at the immense learning potential of the outdoors environment for even the youngest children.

Good for looking at

  • An introductory overview of the potential of spending time in the outdoor environment for babies

Introduction to the Babies Outdoors series of child studies

“In every culture, childhood is a special time. It is perhaps the most powerful period of our lives. Our experiences form the foundation of what we become, the core of our being – our ability to learn, our sense of ourselves in relation to the world of nature, of people, of things. It is a time for powerful experiences that forever fuel the scientist, the poet, the artist, and the imagination within us.”

[Jim Greenman 1988: 30]

Daily opportunity to spend time in rich outdoor environments is of crucial importance for all children, and this is just as true for children through their first year. The phenomenally rapid development of important and complex neurological systems requires vast amounts of the right kind of movement and sensory stimulation on a daily basis. Babies are intensely driven to enquire and explore, and are greatly disadvantaged if this is restricted to a range of indoor environments, however varied. As adults entrusted with the care of very young children, we are duty-bound to provide the best possible circumstances for their well-being and healthy development. Being outdoors with an understanding and enthusiastic adult has a huge range of benefits for babies throughout this first year of life.

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.”

[Rachel Carson, 1998: 54]

The outdoors is a very special place for children in their first year, providing just the right stimulation for their rapidly developing bodies and brains. As you watch this film, here are some of the things you might identify that the outdoors offers babies:

  • freedom for movement, action and working out what bodies can do;
  • natural light, sunshine and fresh air, providing oxygen-rich air and helping the body to operate and grow optimally;
  • visual and physical space, with the full range of close-up to views of the distance, and upwards as well as side-ways. Movement in this space enables development of all the complexities of visual perception;
  • a richly varying multi-sensory environment where touch, smell, sound, taste, sight, movement and body-sense systems can develop and integrate together;
  • a phenomenal range of interesting stimuli, the surprise of spontaneous events, and daily variations in the quality of the air, temperature and light as weather and seasons change;
  • physical and emotional contact with the natural world: both the living world of plants, mini-beasts and other animals, and physical world of water, earth and stone;
  • a myriad of different spaces (with different microclimates, sensations and viewpoints) and hundreds of things from the minuscule to the mighty to poke at and ponder;
  • a place to watch people of different sizes and behaviours, to interact, to build relationships and learn about being human.

[Jan White, 2009a]

“The child is wonderfully prepared for active learning from birth. Children approach the world with all senses open, all motors running – the world is an invitation to experience. Their job is to develop and test all their equipment, make sense of the confusing world of people and things and unseen mysterious forces and relationships, like gravity, number and love.”


[Jim Greenman 1988, p30]

This film has been made to support parents, providers, practitioners and inspectors in early years settings, and students, trainers and advisers in early childhood education to develop their understanding of, and commitment to, the role of the outdoors for children from birth to 12 months. Watching the sequences repeatedly will enable adults to tune more deeply into just what it is that babies want to do and know about when they are outdoors. It will also give a great deal of food for thought and discussion towards the development of appropriate provision and practice that is fulfilling for children and adults alike.

The film aims to:

  • show how much babies get from being outside and why it is so important for them;
  • make the special nature of being outside apparent and clear, so as to build the rational for outdoor provision in all early years settings;
  • show what the outdoors offers children under one, how it meets their interests and supports well-being and development;
  • illustrate how being together outdoors offers powerful contexts for attachment and companionable learning;
  • help adults tune in and see more of what is really happening in babies’ experiences outdoors;
  • emphasise movement and exploration for this age group, showing how experience builds both brain and body;
  • indicate what environments are appropriate by illustrating what babies need, what they are interested in and what they want to do;
  • expand adults’ thinking about what is appropriate provision – and that this is so much more than tarmac and toys;
  • make adults WANT to take babies outside and be with them, to share in their pleasure, delight and discovery;
  • show that babies must have outdoor experiences every day (several times in a day) and all through the year;
  • make parents expect and demand outdoor opportunities every day for their child.

“Babies don’t just enjoy the outdoors; they need it as they are gradually integrating their senses and building up their physical systems.”

The notes have been written primarily to help viewers to observe more closely some of the significant things that are taking place for the child in the sequence. The section entitled ‘things to notice and understand’ aims to focus attention on issues that are important to know about. The sequences show a great deal about child development in general, and can be used very effectively in this way. The focus of the notes, however, is to bring attention to those elements that are particularly relevant to being outdoors. Understanding more about these issues will support adults to develop both provision and their practice outdoors. There are common themes across the five children, such as ‘the role of movement’ and ‘sensory development’, because these themes are of great importance during this year. Within these themes, development can be seen as we move from Miles at 6 weeks, to Dexter at 12 months, and through watching Bobby and Dexter outdoors on different occasions over several months.

The notes for each child also have a section called ‘prompts for developing practice’. The aim here is to identify what makes outdoor provision effective and satisfying for both child and adult, and to give prompts for closer observation of the film sequences followed by focused discussion. Improvements in provision and practice are more likely when understanding of these issues is developed and positive thinking about barriers, objections and stumbling blocks is carried out.

Above all, every adult living with and supporting babies wants to give them certain messages, so that they will grow up believing these things about themselves. Close examination and consideration of the film and accompanying notes should support adults to use the huge potential of the outdoors to make young children feel that:

  • they are good to be with – it’s great to be doing things together outdoors;
  • they can feel good in their body – responding to children’s drives for doing, moving and using their whole body, and helping them to take pleasure in how that makes them feel;
  • they are capable and competent – offering the right level of intellectual, emotional and physical provocation and challenge, and using experiences to help children gradually learn how to look after themselves and others;
  • they are trusted and responsible – setting things up so that children can play independently and support each other, and providing plenty of first- hand experiences and meaningful real tasks;
  • they are curious and adventurous – offering an environment full of irresistible spaces, materials and experiences;
  • they are creative and inventive – having an open, flexible approach that encourages young children’s great imaginations and values the unexpected.

[Jan White, 2010a]

We hope that being able to closely observe and come to understand these five intensely enthusiastic, curious and sociable children will help you to tune into the real natures and passions of babies in their first year; and that you will want to share in their discoveries and delights in the world outdoors, every single day, throughout the year.

“Many of the things we need can wait, the child cannot wait. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘tomorrow’. His name is Today.”

[Gabriela Mistral, Nobel prize-winning poet from Chile]