In the early years

18 December 2008 · 0 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, Nature Play & Learning

Last week the Scottish Government published its strategy for the Early Years. Basically all the muggers, murders, drug addicts and other wrongdoers are going to be sorted out in the future. The grand theory being that if it’s all nipped in the bud when these adults are Very Little People society will save itself a small fortune in prison and social services costs a few years down the line.

Sadly I think this is a bit of wistful thinking along the lines of the Labour government who introduced the NHS all those decades ago. The principle was that we’d all be so healthy that the cost of the NHS would decrease as the years go by. Hmm.

If you have ever read Freakonomics, the authors have an economic rationale to falling crime rates in the USA in the Nineties. They compared the data against the year when abortion was legalised in each state and came up with the conclusion that it wasn’t Zero Tolerance or smart politicians which sorted out crime…it was the fact that criminals were not allowed to be born. Ouch! Not surprisingly not everyone likes nor agrees with this theory.

Nevertheless The Early Years Framework talks a good talk. Whether we let it walk its talk is another matter. What particularly interested me was the statement:

“Nurseries and schools supporting outdoor learning and outdoor play. Trying out innovative approaches such as nature kindergartens is a medium term priority.”
Section 5: Priorities for Action – medium term priority, The Early Years Framework, p26

Clearly when Adam Ingram, the Scottish Early Years Minister, visited Norway in August, he liked what he saw. I’m not surprised. When you visit an outdoor pre-school, the differences are blatantly clear. In Sweden I visited 3 different “I Ur och Skur” nurseries and I did not see any overweight children let alone a clinically obese one. The levels of creative play and high degree of positive interactions between children and also between adults and children were easy to observe. The physical abilities of these children were amazing. Their ability to climb trees, skip and hop over uneven surfaces and balance on wobbly logs was noticeable.

There is some research which suggests that children who are exposed to the natural world a lot as youngsters grow up to be more environmentally understanding, especially if there are keen, committed, supportive adults around to share their love of nature . What I have yet to find is a piece of research which compares adults who, as children, attended a nature kindergarten with those who attended a regular nursery. Is there a difference in the number of criminals in each group? What about the physical and emotional health of each group? What about their lifestyle and career choices? For nature kindergartens to avoid being a political fad, their impact needs considerable monitoring in the long term as well as the short term. And that is a job for all outdoor and education professionals to ensure happens.

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