Babies in the Community

Babies have a right to spend time outdoors, ‘under the sky’, in carefully considered nursery gardens and through visits to wild places such as fields, woodlands and beaches. There is another place where babies can be outdoors that is often overlooked, but it has many unique affordances and should be harnessed by practitioners working with children from birth to three years.

The doorstep mile

Even in inner city areas there are likely to be many opportunities for exploring, playing and connecting with your local community outdoors, all within a short walk of your setting’s doorstep. While a lack of resources, money and transport can be barriers to accessing woodlands and beaches, your local community is free and always available, with much greater scope for spontaneous outings.

Planned excursions and baby-led wanders

If you are lucky, there may be small or large parks and playgrounds within a short walk. Bristol also has thirteen local nature reserves, many of which have active volunteer groups who may be willing to support your planned visits.

Babies and very young children relish opportunities to be involved with daily life. Whether you need to send a letter or your setting is running low on milk, visits to local shops and the post office present rich opportunities for place-based learning. Through these experiences, children set down deep roots within communities and become immersed in local culture.

Equally, simply ‘going for a walk’ with no destination or purpose other than to explore the community is an enjoyable and empowering experience. Even in built-up, urban areas you will find signs of nature: weeds growing through cracks in walls, ants emerging from concrete ground and many species of bird may be observed. The key is to go at the child’s pace and share in their fascination for these minute details; if they want to stop and study the ants, allow them to wallow in this moment for as long as they need!

There will often be fascinating events happening too, like construction sites, roadworks, voluntary/community work, local shops and services operating and so on. Babies and young children might wish to watch people at work in the community and find out more about what they are doing. If you think their interest has been captured, stop and observe, commenting on what you see happening. If appropriate, you can say, “We’re curious about what you’re doing, can you tell us more about your work?” – people working in the community are usually delighted to be asked questions about their work!

It can be tempting to place toddlers in pushchairs for local outings, but it is best to avoid restraining them in harnesses wherever safely possible, as this limits opportunities for physical development. Even young toddlers can build surprising stamina and cover good distances, but they cannot do this without regular opportunities to go walking.

The benefits

The benefits of outings in the local community are broad and cover each area of the EYFS (and so much more). Some of the things babies and young children are likely to be doing are:

  • Building confidence and social skills as they encounter people like local residents and workers.
  • Learning social values and norms, for example, you can teach young children about holding up a hand to thank drivers when they stop to allow you to cross the road.
  • Taking in lots of information about local cultures, including on a sensory level.
  • Building physical stamina and fitness for walking; co-ordination and muscular development; this in turn supports brain development and wellbeing.
  • Endless opportunities for introducing new vocabulary in meaningful, real-life contexts.
  • Noticing details about seasonal/natural processes, such as the leaves changing colour on trees you walk past on regular routes.
  • Noticing letters and numbers in the environment, in purposeful contexts.
  • Learning how to be safe in environments they regularly access with their families.

Furthermore, through taking regular outings into the locality your setting will become increasingly visible and able to make valuable links within the community.

Tips and considerations:

  • Keep a bag packed and ready to go with a first aid kit, water, sun cream, nappies, hand sanitiser and a change of clothes for spontaneous outings into the community.
  • High visibility jackets will help you keep sight of the babies and children and ensure you can be seen by motorists, cyclists and other pedestrians.
  • Larger settings will need to have agreed protocols for taking children on local outings and staff will need support from leaders in feeling confident within the locality.
  • Hazards will be unpredictable, but in urban areas you may encounter litter and dog poo. From a young age, children should be taught to not touch these things.
  • Learn about how to keep children safe when meeting unknown dogs in the community. For example, you should always ask the owner before allowing children to approach or touch a dog.

Practitioners say:

“Through regular outings in our community we are building connections with people that teach us so much about the world. We know the names of many neighbours (and dogs!) who live on our road and we always stop to talk with them. Elderly residents, especially, can be keen to stop for a chat and the children build confidence and social skills through these exchanges. Through the simple act of greeting local residents while on our walks, we have made important friendships; elderly neighbours have delivered us plants and seeds for our garden, shared photographs and stories from our local area decades before we were here and come to offer their skills, such as gardening and mending. We also make links with local businesses. For example, we often choose to walk to the local florist to buy a flower for the lunch table. We know her name and she greets us warmly each time we turn up, welcoming the children in, teaching us about the flowers that are in season, allowing the children to touch and smell, supporting the children to pay and receive change.” Millie Colwey, childminder.

“I regularly access two local nature reserves with young children, always travelling on foot from my setting. As well as providing challenging opportunities for movement play and physical development, these places are abundant in wildlife and learning opportunities. For example, we visit Magpie Bottom Nature Reserve most weeks, and the volunteer group are always willing to talk to the children about their important work. Once they invited us to join them in planting bulbs; another time they invited us to watch them clearing their large wildlife pond and taught us all about how and why they do this. When I notify them about hazards (such as broken glass) they will endeavour to clear it up safely too.” – Millie Colwey, childminder.

Case Study

Free Range Tots is lucky to be situated in a fantastic area brimming with people who have the same ethos as us. People who adore nature, people who are creative, and people who love engaging with the children from our setting. During their time at our setting the children get to know some of our neighbours and also people from all the allotments that surround our home. We’ve become a common sight, us and a gaggle of young children walking round, looking at how the seasons change, looking at the wildlife and talking to everyone we meet.

We spend lots of time on our allotment, experiencing nature and learning about fruits and vegetables. We watch closely as the seasons change. One of the allotment reps is quite a well known local organic gardener and permaculture practitioner. He has a wealth of knowledge to pass on, and has been kind enough to spend time with our young children to enable them to experience such activities as pressing apples in early autumn; providing willow for wreaths at Christmas; collecting plums for jam and collecting eggs from his chickens.

The local community has also built a tree house for all the children of the area. We regularly stop by when we’re out on our nature walks. We love to climb up, feeling like we are the squirrels we see running in the trees. We help keep the area clean, by taking our grabbers and picking up all the litter. We hope this commitment to our local area will inspire the children to take an active interest in theirs one day and all the people within it.

The opposite direction from the allotments is the Bristol to Bath railway path, and just beyond that is a huge green playing field with a playground in one corner and nature reserve too, known locally as the Gossie. The nature reserve consists of a babbling brook running through a wooded valley, and its a habitat for many animals, plants and invertebrates. We spend our time here floating various things downstream, making mud pies, looking for minibeasts, or simply putting our hammock up and relaxing in the trees! In the playing fields themselves a variety of native saplings have been recently planted all round the edge, and we have been keeping an eye on their progress.

At Christmas we go Carol singing around our local community. Our community is always very welcome to our jubilant rendition of classic carols, our favourite being jingle bells and We wish you a merry Christmas. We always like to bring our favourite instruments to bring that extra festive cheer to everyone!!

Resources:

To find a list of local nature reserves in Bristol, visit: www.bristol.gov.uk/museums-parks-sports-culture/nature-reserves

For hints and tips on how to keep children safe around dogs, visit: bds parents leaflet.pdf (dogstrust.org.uk)

Early Learning Contacts

Nicola Theobald, Early Years Improvement Officer
Kate Hubble, Senior Foundation Years Consultant
Nicky Bale, Foundation Years Bristol Standard Consultant
Beth Osborne, Foundation Years Consultant Birth to Three
Kate Irvine, Interim Foundation Years Consultant
Ali Carrington, Interim Foundation Years Consultant