Children in Wild Nature is a practical guide to taking children beyond the walls of the traditional outdoor space and into local greenspace. The author is Niki Buchan, who blogs at Precious Childhood. She is a well-known and highly respected trainer who has been based in Australia since 2011 and currently works for Inspired EC – the early years consultancy who organised my tour earlier this year.
The book is a useful blend of background, research, case studies, guidance and practical suggestions. The definition in the book for wild nature is “nature which has not been tidied up, cleaned, prepared or processed (such as in manicured gardens, and many children’s playgrounds with manmade static equipment).” The photos in the book are mouth-watering and serve to illustrate the text in an appealing way.
The first chapter discusses the background to nature-based practice. The second chapter has been written by two researchers: Clare Nugent and Sarah MacQuarrie and focuses on considerations for nature-based practice and the key components of sustainability, risk and challenge, flexibility afforded by nature environments and culturally situated.
Much of the book uses examples from Australian and New Zealand settings who offer a variety of wild nature experiences for their children. The case studies are deliberately broad in terms of the location and type of experience which has been developed.
What is evident, is that Australian educators are redefining and creating their own models that take account of the children, the legacy of the landscape and culture of indigenous groups. For example, the use of beaches as well as bush is a commonplace. Guidance about the use of each place is often sought from local aboriginal elders to ensure proper respect is given and the places are cherished and valued.
The links between nature-based practice and the early years curriculum are given full consideration. The challenges of exploring beyond the fence and tricky issues such as tree climbing, encounters with potentially harmful wildlife are weighed up in terms of the benefits that come with these valuable learning experiences. Again, practical examples from early years settings demonstrate how educators have developed their own bank of evidence such as one setting which compared injuries over the same period from their wild nature adventures to those in their outdoor space. There is also guidance about developing benefit risk assessments for off-site excursions.
Free play is explored and discussed which is helpful in a book aimed at educators and the need for children to have child-initiated free play in nature. This is put in the context of how adults can reflect on the provision and ensuring it meets the needs of all children and their right to play. There is a helpful set of questions to encourage the reader to reflect and consider their practice. The need for observing children and meaningfully documenting the children’s learning journeys in nature-based practice is exemplified.
The chapter about natural creativity is inspiring. There are suggestions about the use of traditional skills, fire lighting, use of tools, literacy, art, music making and bush tucker – foraging for food. The use of solar power is also highlighted along with several recipes which go well beyond toasting marshmallows and making bread dampers.
The final chapter focuses on practical considerations about kickstarting off-site excursions and the use of a wild nature space. It is a useful summary.
Although this book is written for Australian educators, it is very relevant and helpful to early years educators in any country, climate or cultural context. I will be recommending it on my courses, especially the Wee Green Spaces training. In my opinion it is one of the most exciting early years books to have been published this year as it celebrates and highlights the contribution of Australian Early Years settings to the growing international recognition of the need of children to have frequent, regular time in nature.
At present the book is available from Teaching Solutions in Australia but will doubtless be available elsewhere shortly. Keep your eyes out for it!
Many thanks to Niki Buchan for supplying the images for all the photos in this blog post – the copyright remains with her – please respect this and don’t download or use without her permission.