Things to notice and understand
The role of movement
Watching Liam at work in the familiar space of his garden, with the nearby emotional base of an attentive and important person who he knows is taking care of his safety, we can see much about how he uses his whole body and movement to find out about his world, see how things work in this world, and feel how he relates to it.
He is also getting a great deal of work done on developing his balance, loco-motor skills, coordination, strength and control. And in doing this he is also developing an awareness of his own body and a sense of himself in space; gaining pleasure and mental stimulation from movement; feeling good in his body and building a sense of being ‘me’.
Use of the body develops the brain in many other ways, and research shows that perceptive and cognitive growth is highly dependent on use of the body and movement in space [Hannaford 1995]. For young children movement is thinking, and they do not think well without action and movement. All the children in this film show us aspects of the vital role that movement has for toddlers and that it is a very important part of life throughout this year.
Liam knows what this space offers him for using his body, and each day he can revisit and repeat these experiences. Through this daily access his abilities develop a little every day, so that he can use the same interesting and opportunity-filled environment slightly differently each time – and keep referring to his safe base both to check that he will be safe and to share his delight in what he can do.
The special nature of the outdoors
Watching the incredibly rich experiences Liam has with his Mum in the garden, the park and the small lane behind their house, it is clear that the outdoors offers many things that add greatly to what the indoors can offer – it is a very different place for children to be in. It’s a very worthwhile exercise to analyse the special nature of the outdoors. It is complex and multi layered and it takes time to fully appreciate; but young children are very tuned into these differences.
Liam’s Mum has experienced the value of taking him outside every single day as part of their routine – he thrives on these experiences and his well-being is served also by his certainty that he will be able to go outside whatever the weather or time of year.
She also gains by having time with Liam where he 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 good for toddler exploration, discovery, experience and development.
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.
What matters to toddlers: schemas
Young children have some very important questions that they constantly seek to explore, and like the scientists that they so clearly are, they ask their questions at every possible opportunity, construct ‘theories’ based on the evidence they have gathered, and seek to test these theories many times and in lots of ways. Through this process, they are constantly constructing their abilities to perceive and their abilities to think, as well as their ideas and theories about how things are in the world.
Toddlers, and Liam is a very good example, seem to be driven by such big questions as ‘what is in the world?’, ‘how does it work?’, ‘what does it do to me?’ and ‘how do I fit in?’, and they do this through a great deal of ‘object play’ and embodied exploration. It is very important that adults supporting toddlers are tuned into the questions they need to explore. Not only does this help cognitive development in the best way; it also strongly supports their emotional well-being and reduces frustration and conflict.
A fascination with holes and gaps is very common in 1 year-olds, and they are intensely aware of miniscule things. This is a particularly enjoyable aspect of sharing explorations with children of this age: they notice things adults have long forgotten and ceased to look at. We must find the time to allow ourselves to be drawn in, to share in the detail and wonder of the tiny side of the world.
Liam’s interest in holes may also be connected to his on-going passion for exploring the idea of ‘in and out’. In and out is a pervasive element of the physical world and provides a foundation for mathematical and scientific ideas – as well as having relevance to the social and emotional world of human relationships.
The right stuff
The outdoor environments that Liam has daily access to contain just the right materials to best support his thinking and development. They are part of the real world, so they are of great interest to him. They are highly sensory, providing stimulation for several senses at once. They are open-ended, non-prescribed and abundant, so he can do what he wants with them.
We provide materials like these indoors, such as sand and water, as they are very effective as learning tools, but toddlers are then severely constrained in the ways they can use them. In the outdoors they can be accessed in much richer ways, they can be:
- picked, gathered, collected and piled up;
- moved around from one place to another;
- dipped and dropped, rolled and dumped;
- mixed and stirred; they can be sat in and stood on;
- felt and experienced with the whole body;
- present in great quantities;
- they change with the weather and the season and they are there every day to come back to over and over again.
Natural materials are the richest source of interest and possibility for young children outdoors, they are where they belong and where they have the most to offer by interacting with all the other things in this environment.
Adult support and interaction
At this time of his life, he relies on adults to keep him safe, but although popular opinion has it that children of this age have no sense of danger, it is apparent that Liam checks frequently with his safe base that what he is doing will not cause him harm – this is an inbuilt survival strategy that adults can make good use of!
As well as providing a strong safe base for Liam’s well-being and exploration, the adult in this sequence is providing just the right style and amount of support and interaction. She knows Liam very well and is very aware of what interests him, what he wants to do and how he needs to do it. She supports him from a distance that keeps him secure but that gives him lots of room to follow his own ideas.
Most importantly for this age group, she very consciously goes at his pace, allowing him enough time to work through whatever it is that occupies him, and to return to these on a daily basis until he is ready to move on. This approach is nicely captured in the term ‘slowliness’, and allowing toddlers to take their time is an important element of appropriate practice. The outdoor world is so full of interest and opportunity for toddlers, and they have so much that they need to be working on for themselves that they must not be hurried, time-limited or moved on in their learning too quickly.
“The more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”