Babies and toddlers outdoors: A narrative review of the literature on provision for under twos in ECEC settings
Dominant contemporary narratives in the literature tend to exclude infants and toddlers from the outdoors
This narrative review aimed to provide a synthesis of relevant academic literature focusing on outdoor provision for infants and toddlers in early childhood education and care (ECEC) centers. The review also aimed to identify underlying ideas, assumptions and narratives about babies and toddlers outdoors.
Findings confirmed the researchers’ suspicion that the research focusing on infants and toddlers outdoors is very limited. While the search was international in scope and no time limit was placed on date of publication, only 21 papers were identified. Four themes emerged from an analysis of the included papers: the outdoors as a space to be physically active; the outdoors as a risky space; providing an appropriate outdoor environment; and the role of the practitioner. Research relating to physical activity focused implicitly on children who are walking; thus, excluding infants. In fact, none of the included studies considered the physical activity experiences of the youngest children. For babies, the research relating to the outdoors as a risky place focused on safeguarding and risk management rather than appropriate risk taking. For toddlers, the focus is on preventing obesity. Research relating to the provision of an appropriate outdoor environment for babies and toddlers at early childhood centers indicates that the quality of such environments was “generally quite poor and there was significant potential for improvement.” Research relating to the role of early childhood practitioners outdoors portrayed not only a “passive surveillance role,” but active prevention of children’s engagement with the outdoor environment.
A significant point articulated through this review relates to dominant contemporary narratives which effectively exclude infants and toddlers from the outdoors. Findings emphasize the “need for more inclusive narratives which value the outdoors as a place for babies, and which recognise additional ‘ways of being’ outdoors for the youngest children.” While related international research literature is limited, it does offer some insights for developing nature pedagogies based on how babies and toddlers learn and develop. Three key modes are identified: sensory engagement, sleeping and through movement.
This narrative review highlights the need for early childhood educators to support infants’ and toddlers’ active engagement with the natural environment versus focusing on supervision and risk management. Also highlighted is “the need for further empirical research in relation to outdoor provision for the youngest children in ECEC.”