Throughout our long history, humans have been immersed in the outdoors, living and working as social groups to find what we needed to survive and thrive. As a result, our bodies and minds have been shaped and honed by all the complexities of the natural world. As adults, we benefit greatly from being outside in fresh air and full-spectrum light and in contact with nature. However, it is imperative that from birth, young children spend considerable amounts of time outdoors, bathed in the richness of this fascinating and complex environment. The outdoors holds an enormous amount of potential to support healthy and complete emotional, physical, social and cognitive development. Indoor environments just cannot reach the variety and relevance of experience that full development requires. Young children love being outdoors: they are designed to be outside and their bodies, minds and spirits need them to be there. They need us to have a deep and comprehensive understanding of this. They rely on us to be committed to providing as much time outside as possible, every single day, throughout the year. They thrive when we are enthusiastic too, taking pleasure in being outdoors together with them.

It is important that adults working with young children spend time thinking carefully about the nature of outdoor experiences. Successful outdoor provision requires as much thought, preparation and planning as provision receives indoors – possibly more so as provision outdoors is frequently less well developed, and staff are often less clear and confident about their roles in offering and supporting satisfying experiences there. Developing effective outdoor provision is a slow process that must be done with care and reflection. It is vital to make a start, but best not to rush ahead!

In our efforts to develop outdoor learning, there is a danger of taking away or losing what is unique and attractive for children about the outdoors. Learning outdoors is certainly not about taking the indoors out, nor should we take the teacher role outside. This is the child’s domain, a more democratic place for learning about the world and about being human, where relationships and meanings with people, places and things are explored and developed by the child. It is important that we retain the qualities that make the outdoors different and special for children. It is commonly agreed that the beach and the woodland are the ultimate learning environments for young children. What are the elements and characteristics that make these such marvelous places? How can we capture their key elements and characteristics, and make them appropriately available and provocative in our own outdoor provision? If we strive to create their variety and flexibility, we can gradually offer environments that each child can manipulate, change and control, making them the authors of their own investigations and play, and the architects of their own body and brain.

It is becoming clear that we need to return to thinking of our outdoor environments as gardens – rather than playgrounds or play spaces – in which young children can find nurture and possibilities for growth. Places in which children can discover, explore and play, learning through action, interaction and feeling, and where they are able to develop their incredible capacities for imagination, creation, logical thinking, caring and friendship. Above all, a sense of attachment and belonging to our world is vital for children’s deep wellbeing, and for the future wellbeing of our beautiful, wonderful, fascinating and nurturing Earth.

As we work to deepen our understanding of the many processes and influences of a childhood experienced fully in and with the outdoors, it is wonderful to be able to access research, knowledge, approach and practice in a country where cultural beliefs, values and commitments foreground the centrality of play, movement and relationship to the land for joy, happiness and a good childhood.

Written by a Norwegian researcher and teacher-educator for Norwegian students, a practitioner and parent audience, this accessible book provides multiple perspectives on being outdoors in childhood and early childhood care/education for the English-speaking audience.

Merete shares her fascination with children’s clear need for movement-filled play, the necessity of embodied experience for really feeling alive in the world, and maintaining deep connections with place and the world. Anyone who seeks to deepen young children’s relationships with the outdoors will find value in this book.

Professor Jan White, August 2019

Professor of Practice, University of Wales Trinity St David, co-director of Early Childhood Outdoors, the UK National Centre for Outdoor Play, Learning and Wellbeing, and author of  Playing and Learning Outdoors (3 rd ed. Routledge, 2019)