Impact of outdoor nurseries for health and wellbeing of children, families and communities

Family playing on a beach

Outdoor nurseries are Early Learning and Childcare establishments where children spend most of their time in the outdoors (e.g. parks, forests) engaging with nature. Outdoor nurseries present a potentially effective strategy for preventing diseases, fostering connectedness to the natural and social environment and reducing inequalities. However, there is limited robust evidence to support the effectiveness of outdoor nurseries as part of a system to promote and support positive health and wellbeing.

Therefore, over the next five years, researchers at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit will be working with partners to undertake research projects to systematically generate evidence on the impact of outdoor nurseries in Scotland and internationally to enhance the evidence base and improve policy in this area.

This large programme of planned work currently involves five projects:

Project 1 - Exploring the potential of outdoor nurseries for health and wellbeing of children and families MVLS ISSF Summer scholarship: May – August 2019

Project 2 - Nature-based early childhood education for child health, wellbeing and development: a systematic review: September 2019 – October 2020

Project 3 - Evaluation of outdoor nursery provision for child, family and community wellbeing 1 + 3 Masters and PhD studentship: September 2019 – October 2023

Project 4 - Outdoor play: Investigating parental and practitioner perceptions of risks, benefits and competencies (Summer Scholarship): May - August 2020

Project 5 - Empowering stakeholders in Early Learning in Childcare to evaluate and implement outdoor childcare: July 2020 - June 2021

Exploring the potential of outdoor nurseries for health and wellbeing of children and families

 Project 1 - Summer internship: May – August 2019

 This project aimed to: 

  1. map the content, context and culture of outdoor nursery use in Glasgow;
  2. develop an understanding of how parents/carers understand the role of outdoor nurseries for their child’s health and wellbeing;
  3. explore how children spend their time in outdoor nurseries.

 To address the aims of this study, we used three different qualitative data collection methods 

  • Semi-structured focus groups/individual interviews with parents/carers
  • Direct observation of two consecutive nursery days.

The findings of this project will contribute to developing theory of how outdoor nurseries can benefit health and wellbeing of children, families and communities. This theory will then be used to develop a protocol for evaluating the effects of outdoor nursery provision in Glasgow.

STAFF:

Jessica Kenny (intern)
Anne Martin (PI)
Paul McCrorie (Co-I)

COLLABORATORS:

Rachel Cowper, Programme Manager for Thrive Outdoors, Inspiring Scotland
Heather Douglas, Early Learning and Childcare Lead, Glasgow City Council

FUNDING:

This project was funded by the MVLS Institutional Strategic Support Fund (Wellcome Trust) Summer Scholarship.

Nature-based early childhood education for child health, wellbeing and development: a systematic review

Project 2 - Systematic Review: September 2019 – September 2020

The aim of this research project is to systematically review and synthesise the published and unpublished evidence to:

  1. Determine the extent to which attending nature-based early childhood education is associated with children’s health, wellbeing and development.
  2. Determine the effect of nature-based early childhood educational interventions on children’s health, wellbeing and development compared to traditional early childhood education.
  3. Explore the perceptions of children, parents and/ or practitioner’s perceptions of nature-based early childhood education on children’s health, wellbeing and development.

PUBLICATIONS:

Systematic literature review of nature-based Early Learning and Childcare on children's health, wellbeing and development

Nature-based early childhood education for child health, wellbeing and development: a mixed-methods systematic review protocol

STAFF:

Paul McCrorie (Co-PI)

Anne Martin (Co-PI; Scientific Lead)

Avril Johnstone (Co-I, RA)

Valerie Wells (Co-I)

Hilary Thomson (Co-I)

INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATORS

Susanna Livonen - University of Eastern Finland

Ingunn Fjørtoft - University of South-Eastern Norway

Boris Jidovtseff - University of Leige, Belgium

Andora Vidal - University of Leige, Belgium

Rita Cordovil Matos - University of Lisbon, Portugal

Frederico Lopes - University of Lisbon, Portugal

COLLABORATORS:

This systematic review is supported by a steering group with expertise in research, policy and practice:

Rachel Cowper, Programme Manager for Thrive Outdoors, Inspiring Scotland
Professor John Reilly, Physical Activity for Health Department, University of Strathclyde
Sophie Finlayson, Policy manager, Early Learning and Childcare Directorate, Scottish Government.

FUNDING:

Project funded by Scottish Government - Early Learning and Childcare Directorate

Evaluation of outdoor nursery provision for child, family and community wellbeing

Project 3 - 1 + 3 Masters and PhD studentship: September – October 2023

We envisage the PhD to incorporate both qualitative and quantitative methods and will depend on the direction and shape that the 1+3 PhD takes. It could include:

  • Literature review
  • Exploration and identification of appropriate methods/analytical techniques to evaluate effectiveness (e.g. natural experiments):
    • Identification of appropriate exposed and unexposed groups, including the assignment process.
    • Approaches to minimise bias in in the design
    • Development and testing of outcome measures, and identification and accurate capturing of potential confounders.
  • Interviews, focus groups, participatory methods to capture child, family, and community impact
  • Feasibility testing and piloting of outcome evaluation.

SUPERVISORS:

Paul McCrorie

Anne Martin

PHD STUDENT:

Oliver Traynor

Undergraduate summer scholarship: outdoor play - investigating parental perceptions of risks, benefits and competencies

Project 4 - Outdoor play: Investigating parental perceptions of risks, benefits and competencies (Summer Scholarship): May - August 2020

Challenging and at times risky outdoor play has been positively linked to physical, mental and emotional child development. As such, it forms an important component within early learning and childcare (ELC) settings. However, parental negative perceptions of risks associated with outdoor play prevent children from experiencing health and wellbeing benefits. This project aims to understand the choices, benefits and worries around outdoor play of parents with children aged 2-5 years. This project involves translating an existing online survey, available in French language, into the Scottish context. The survey photographically illustrates 10 different scenarios of risky outdoor play (e.g. climbing a tree) inviting parents to indicate their perception of risks, benefits, child competence, and consent to engage in outdoor play. This project compliments a wider body of research exploring the preventive health benefits of outdoor ELC. Increasing outdoor learning and childcare for those under five has become a significant policy priority of the current government. By understanding more about parental perceptions of risk in the outdoor play environment, findings will directly inform local and national policy decisions.

SUPERVISORS:
Anne Martin
Paul McCrorie

UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT:
Marine Keime

START DATE AND DURATION:
6 weeks from 25 May 2020

FUNDING:
Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity

 

Empowering stakeholders in Early Learning in Childcare to evaluate and implement outdoor childcare

Project 5 - Empowering stakeholders in Early Learning in Childcare to evaluate and implement outdoor childcare: May 2020 - April 2021

Scottish Government are expanding guaranteed free childcare hours in 2020 and have identified outdoor early learning and childcare (ELC) provision as an opportunity to deliver this policy initiative through increased infrastructure capacity, and in turn improve health and well-being. However, there is little robust evidence to inform the optimisation of implementation nationally, and importantly, if/how outdoor nurseries improve the health and well-being of young children. The overall aim of this impact activity is to build capacity of ELC stakeholders for evaluation and implementation of outdoor childcare. Two broad approaches will be integrated into our impact activities: Evaluability Assessment and Normalisation Process Theory. We will invite relevant national stakeholders (including policy-makers, ELC Managers, practitioners, nursery managers/providers) to complete an online survey and take part in a series of (online) workshops at three time points: 

  1. Beginning of the expanded free childcare policy
  2. Three months after implementation 
  3. Six months after implementation.

STAFF:
Anne Martin (PI)
Paul McCrorie
Nai Rui Chng
Stephanie Chambers

COLLABORATORS:
Early Learning and Childcare Directorate (Scottish Government)
Thrive Outdoors (Inspiring Scotland)

START DATE AND DURATION:
12 months from 4th May 2020

FUNDING: 
ESRC (Impact Acceleration Account scheme) 

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