Examining our Outdoor Pedagogy and Philosophy Values and Beliefs

There are many perspectives in the literature and in practice on the meaning of the term play-based programming and learning. How early learning professionals define play-based influences what they believe their role to be with children and in the way in which they present the environment for and with children. Recently, in addition to the term play-based, the term “pedagogy” has become prevalent in the literature. Like the term play-based, there may be varying interpretations of the meaning of pedagogy and “what it looks like in practice”. In our Empowering Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education (2016) text, Diane Kashin and I identified pedagogy as an interactive process with adults and children related to how the environments, experiences, and play options promote development and learning. We suggested that early learning professionals are most effective when they engage in critically examining how they position and make meaning of pedagogy in their practice. 

It is also interesting to note that there is an emerging trend of combining the word pedagogy with other familiar terms such as play-based and outdoor play. For example, Wood (2009) defined “play-based pedagogy” as: 

The ways in which early years professionals make provisions for play and playful approaches to learning and teaching, how they design play-based learning environments, and all the pedagogical decisions, techniques and strategies they use to support to enhance learning and teaching through play. (p.27). 

Meanwhile, Dietze, Craig, Fowler, and O’Donoghue (2020) have documented “outdoor pedagogy as: 

spaces, places ideas, and materials that support children in triggering their curiosity and in exploring their sense of wonderment, interests and activities, which in turn, contribute to their opportunities for connectedness to their environment, the people in the environment, their learning, and depth of engagement (p.9).

Taking a slightly different perspective, the European network for forest pedagogy indicated that “forest pedagogy” encompasses social, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability, as well as interactions and relationships of human-environmental relations, with an emphasis on sustainable development.

As I examine the three definitions above in relation to children, experiences, play and learning outdoors, (which I refer to as outdoor pedagogy), I see elements of Rousseau, Frobel, and Dewey’s perspectives in each. They maintained that children flourish in environments that honour their sense of and need for natural curiosity and inquiry. This means that children require space, materials, time, and options to self-choose their activities, opportunities to tinker with ideas, engage in and experience with one or more ideas, and determine when they wish to focus on other ideas. When children experience the freedom to explore, they acquire an “understanding of both the social and natural world around them” (Wood and Attfield, 2005, p.29). Such opportunities for children are strongly influenced by the values, beliefs, and practices of early learning professionals. 

One of the positive outcomes of COVID 19 has been the emphasis on the importance of children being outdoors. Many early learning programs are reevaluating their programs and adjusting schedules and spaces. As outdoor pedagogy becomes more prevalent in early learning and child care programs, early learning professionals benefit from revisiting and critically reflecting upon their philosophy and what outdoor pedagogy means in their practice. Think about:  

  • How your values, beliefs and philosophy align to children’s quest for curiosity, a sense of wonderment and learning? 
  • How you make your philosophy visible in your practice? 
  • What might you wish to refine in your pedagogy and philosophy and why? 
  • How might your colleagues support you in making changes? 
  • What are you doing by “default” (acting without thinking) and how does align with current values, beliefs, and aspirations (Dietze & Kashin, 2016)? 

When early learning professionals bring together their image of how children experience, play, and learn as part of their philosophical journey, a pedagogical orientation is formed (Dietze & Kashin, 2016). Combining values and beliefs about outdoor pedagogy with philosophy is a process that requires educators to engage in deep thinking and an array of processes such as – pondering ideas, asking questions about why particular values are important, connecting with colleagues to have crucial conversations, engaging in further research, documenting, and revisiting your perspectives periodically as new learning and experiences occur.  

The feeling tone, space design, ways in which children use the space, the noise level, the connections that children make to their peers, the dialogue amongst children and adults, and the duration of their concentration within spaces and places in the outdoor environment, provide observable perspectives on the program and early learning professionals’ philosophy. 

Figure I provides considerations for reframing your philosophy, while below, I offer ten core questions intended to support early learning professionals in connecting their values and beliefs about outdoor pedagogy with their personal and program philosophy. The statements are offered to enhance deep thinking and critical analysis of one’s current philosophy and how it may be revised to make outdoor pedagogy reflect more current beliefs and values. I recommend that when reviewing and revising philosophy statements to use “I believe statements” to examine, reflect upon and then articulate the statement. 

I believe that:

  • Children’s experiences, playing and learning in nature contribute to ……….
  • Children require ____________ time outdoors because…….
  • Children gain _______________ about their space, place and sustainability when they ………..
  • Children benefit from outdoor environments that ………
  • Children require outdoor experiences and nature in all seasons and in all kinds of weather because  ……..
  • Children learn about their world by engaging in ………………………
  • Children require me to advocate for ___________ because …….
  • My role is to ___________ so that …………
  • I facilitate outdoor pedagogy and make children’s learning visible by ……….. 
  • I am guided by theorists such as ________________ in my practice by the way in which I ……..

As you think about your philosophy, and if you choose to share it with colleagues, do you envision that it will align with theirs or your program? How might it differ and why? What might you learn about you, your colleagues, and the program when you choose to make your philosophy visible? How might the review and revision of your philosophy and practice influence your next phase of your career? Why? 

As early learning professionals expand their lived experiences, knowledge, skills, and learning about children and the value of outdoor pedagogy, it is important to reflect upon beliefs, revise, expand, change, and evolve their philosophy statement to reflect current and evolving ideas, practices, thinking and new ways of knowing, even if it pushes us to question our current practice and take us in new directions. Much like finding our roots and making connections about children’s play, experiences and learning outdoors, documenting philosophies, making values and beliefs visible and revisiting perspectives as new thinking and learning evolves is an ongoing journey, that may take us on new paths, cause us to feel lost at times, and then rejuvenated when we have found our way and make new connections with children, outdoor pedagogy, and nature. Our philosophy and journey of change begins from within – Knowing what we believe and why. Thinking and reflecting in the great outdoors is a way to find our roots, make connections, and revise our outdoor pedagogy journey.  


  • Dietze, B., Craig, D., Fowler, H., & O’Donoghue, L. (2020). ECE Faculty and Early Learning & Child Care Programs Advancing Outdoor Pedagogy Theory of Change (May 2020) (Unpublished). 
  • Dietze, B., & Kashin, (2016). Empowering pedagogy for early childhood education. Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada. 
  • European network for forest pedagogy. (ND). Retrieved from http://forestpedagogics.eu/portal/
  • Wood, E., (2014). Free choice and free play in early childhood education: Troubling the discourse. International Journal of Early Childhood Education, 22(1), 4-18.