An Early Years Curriculum That
Emerges from a Child in Nature
Jan White, MSc
Co-Director, Early Childhood Outdoors
Professor Jan White is a leading thinker and writer on outdoor play,
advocating for nature-rich outdoor experiences for children from birth to
seven. Through forty years in education Jan has developed a deep
commitment to the consistently powerful effect of the outdoors on young
children. With a childhood love of rocks and soil, she realises that she has
always been, at heart, a dedicated mudologist! Now founder/co-director of
Early Childhood Outdoors, the UK-wide organisation for play, learning, and
wellbeing outdoors, Jan co-authored the globally influential booklet Making
a Mud Kitchen and has published several books, including Playing and
Learning Outdoors.
Jan says she has been “researching outdoor play” all her life. As you reflect on your
own “research” as a child playing outdoors, what are some of your findings?
Jan says that over the last two decades she has seen “a sea change in understanding
the outdoors, and the desire to help children be outdoors.
As you reflect on your own community, what changes, if any, have you noticed?
Jan tells us that preschools in the UK were originally all outdoors. In what ways would
this benefit young children?
Jan says “the whole society turned to nature” during the pandemic.
Did you?
If so, how did it affect you?
Jan talks about a European study that found that the happiest children were those who
had more time with their families.
What are some ways that you can support increased family time?
If you are already an outdoor or forest school educator, good on you.
If not, what can you do to increase the amount of time the children in your life spend
Drawing upon her background in ecology and chemistry, Jan believes that Western
society has focused too much on “independence” in the past several decades and not
enough on “interdependence,” saying that children should grow up “thinking that they
are not separate from the rest of the universe.
In what ways could that manifest in your work with young children?
Jan talks about applying the deep psychological needs found in “attachment theory” to
connecting children with nature.
What are some things you can do to support the children in your life to create an
attachment to nature?
Jan speaks about the universal childhood play behavior to build cubbies/forts/dens,
saying that it is connected to the natural urge to have a “place to be safe, a place of
refuge, a place that’s mine.
How do you/can you support this sort of play for the children in your life?
Take a moment to think about an important outdoor place from your own childhood.
What emotions does it evoke?
Jan talks about the urge to collect. Do the children in your life have opportunities to
How does this kind of play help children connect to nature?
Jan talks about the work of Susan Isaacs and her description of the ideal environment
for children as being a “generous environment” full of “big ideas, time, and stuff,” that
children are free to act upon.
As you consider the spaces that the children in your life have access to, are they
generous environments?
What can you do to fill them with more big ideas, time, and stuff?
Jan says that she believes the best environments for young children are scruffy ones,
places where the adults are not constantly compelled to tidy up.
Do the children in your life have access to a scruffy place?
If not, what would have to happen to make a scruffy (or scruffier) place possible?
Jan talks about the necessity of “softness,” which is often lacking in urban outdoor
settings. Do you include “softness” in your play spaces?
How can you add more softness?
Jan talks about how our language around the weather impacts how we and the
children in our lives respond to it (e.g., “drizzle,” “nasty weather,” “too cold,” etc.).
Can you think of weather language that you use which could be modified in order to
reflect a positive response to the various types of weather common where you live?
Jan sees access to water as one of the most important ways to connect children to
nature and the physical world.
If the children in your life don’t have regular access to water, why not?
What can you do to make water play more accessible?
Jan says we need to be really thinking about the big question of what education is for.
What are we trying to do with education?
How would you answer this question?
Jan says that play is basically what we call the self-educating process, and that it
should be our primary mechanism for learning.
How do you feel about this idea?
Jan says that she doesn’t think that typical classrooms are child friendly environments.
What do you think about that?
Jan says that the adult role with young children is to “be a fascinating companion.
What we really need is adults who are totally intrigued by children.
What does that mean to you?
What are your big takeaways from this talk?
Share your thoughts about this talk in our dedicated
thread about this speaker in the private Teacher Toms
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Tom "Teacher Tom" Hobson is an early childhood educator, international speaker,
education consultant, teacher of teachers, parent educator, and author. He is best
known, however, for his namesake "Teacher Tom's Blog," where he has posted daily for
over a decade, chronicling the life and times of his little preschool in the rain soaked
Pacific Northwest corner of the USA. For nearly two decades he was the sole employee
of the Woodland Park Cooperative School, a parent-owned and operated school, knit
together by Teacher Tom's democratic, progressive, play-based pedagogy. He has
authored two bestselling books, consults with organizations about his "Family Schools
program,” and inspires early years audiences around the world at major education
conferences, both virtually and in-person.
Teacher Tom also enjoys sharing his approach through online e-courses for early
childhood educators and parents, and via international ECE conferences. In 2020, he
co-hosted the epic “The Play First Summit” with Fairydust Teaching, attracting more
than 75,000 participants from over 100 countries. This year he is thrilled to be hosting
and producing Teacher Toms Play Summit all on his own.