ChildLinks Issue 1: Nature-based Preschools

Barnardos. (2021). ChildLinks Issue 1: Nature-based Preschools.
Spending time in natural outdoor environments offers many positive physiological and psychological benefits for us all, reducing stress and increasing our general feeling of well-being. For children, the opportunities for physical exercise and outdoor play that natural environments offer impact positively on all facets of development including gross and fine motor skills, cognitive development, co-ordination, memory, language development, and communication and social skills. Free outdoor play in nature also increases children’s confidence and independence, and offers opportunities for children to persevere, take risks and solve problems, as well as nurturing their curiosity and enhancing their innate love of nature. In today’s world, many young children have limited opportunities for free outdoor play, instead spending time engaged in structured and supervised activities and, in particular during recent Covid restrictions, indoors using electronic devices of one kind or another. For some children, their local area may have little or no natural outdoor space for play, and playgrounds with manufactured equipment do not offer the rich play and learning environments that allow children to experience the vegetation, animals, insects, water, sand and mud the natural outdoors offers. Indeed, the outdoor area of their early learning and care setting may provide some young children with the only outdoor play opportunities they experience. In this issue of ChildLinks we look at nature-based preschools, where children spend most of their time engaged in free-play outdoors in a natural setting. Natural environments are the ideal place for children to develop the confidence and skills to explore, take on new challenges and test their theories about how the world works. In articles from Ireland, Lesley McIvenna from DCU considers how the outdoors provides opportunities for children to learn through play, movement, and communication and sensory experiences on a much larger scale outdoors in nature, as well as allowing children to explore and experience the natural world. Two providers of Irish preschools then outline how children thrive in their nature-based settings, eating, relaxing, playing and exploring outdoors in all weathers. Finally, Joan Whelan from the Irish Forest School Association outlines the history and development of Forest Schools in Ireland and how these work in practice, explaining how they offer positive outcomes for children’s learning and development. Also in this issue, researchers from the US outline how nature preschools can help cultivate a successful transition from preschool to school while other international articles consider how sustainability education can be cultivated in nature-based early childhood programmes and how a socially- and ecologically conscious critical pedagogy can be applied to nature-based programmes in early childhood care and education.