Student spotlight: My idyllic setting

Mitzi Harris
Thursday, April 14, 2022

Early Childhood student Mitzi Harris shares with us her reflection on the core values of early years and gives an insight into what her ideal early years setting would include.

Mitzi Harris

early childhood studies student, anglia ruskin university


Studying Early Childhood Studies BA (hons) at Anglia Ruskin University has enabled me to reflect on core values of learning that are used in early years settings. My research has allowed me to underpin a combination of values to conjure my ideal early years setting that supports how children learn best. I feel that combining learning opportunities with an open-ended outdoor environment, which exhibits child-initiated learning; will provide an integrated pedagogy that best supports children's learning.

Playing and learning outdoors is a valuable tool used across early years settings. From my research, the quality of outdoor learning can differ across curricula. Many early years settings can provide children with an over-plasticised, safe environment which I believe does not offer children adequate opportunities to learn (Tovey, 2012). I feel that an early years outdoor setting should provide rich, sensory opportunities for children to engage in. Within my ideal early years setting, I would include a ‘greenspace’ for children with chances to immerse in nature. Having a distinct, green, environment would provide a wholesome experience for children (Brown, 2010). I believe that an open greenspace would encourage them to think beyond a structured play environment and an engaging outdoor environment can encourage storytelling (Hand Made Places, 2018). Being a children's author, this would be an asset to my setting, and I firmly believe that this would best support children's learning, giving them a chance to learn in a calm, child-centred environment, without distractions.

My ideal setting would bring together specific areas of learning with the outdoors, to provide children with a better learning experience. According to the Forest School Association (2012), outdoor learning provides many benefits to children, such as the ability to form relationships. In my own practice, bringing together literacy and Forest School was a privilege of mine. As part of my degree placement I currently work at my local primary school, with children aged four to eight years, where Forest School sessions are held with the Foundation Stage every week. One week, I was able to gift children with an imaginative and explorative literacy task. The children had been ‘gifted’ a letter from the ‘Forest School Fairies,’ which encouraged them to explore the natural, greenspace environment as well as think imaginatively. They had to make their way around the forest and find items to send to the fairies. One of the tasks even included making a den for the fairies and their guests, using sticks and rope. Not only did this encourage children to develop their imaginations, the children also used their motor skills through the construction of the den.

Alongside the open-ended natural environment, my ideal setting would provide children with an interactive indoor environment, with spaces to be creative and initiate their own play. I would provide ambiguous resources, such as building blocks and cardboard boxes, so that children could re-arrange their own play. Within my ideal setting, having a free-flow environment would help children learn best as it would help them to develop at their own pace. Pioneer of child development, Susan Isaacs, saw free flow play as a way of integrating learning for children (Hirst and Nutbrown, 2005).

My ideal setting would allow adults to take a step back from intervening and take on the role of a facilitator. Like in the Forest School curriculum, I believe this is how children learn best, as they are less reliant on practitioners. Piaget's ‘Theory of Cognitive Development’ confirms children learn best when constructing their own knowledge of the world around them (Gelman, 2010). He believes that children should be able to experiment and conduct their own play research (Piers, 1972). This aligns with my chosen role of adults within my ideal setting and as his theory suggests, it is how children learn best. Furthermore, my idyllic setting would aim to promote child-centred learning across all areas of development. The open-ended environment and free-flow play echoes the self-initiated pedagogies which are valuable for learning.

To conclude, not only should an environment drive autonomous learning for children, but the role of the adult should aid this approach to learning, implementing self-driven pedagogies into practice. Finally, it is with strong confidence that I believe children learn best when constructing their own learning, driving their interests and curiosity in open-ended environments.


Reflection points


  • What would be the musts in your ideal setting?
  • What role would storytelling play within your provision?
  • Does your setting encourage free-flow play?
  • How much time do your children spend in the outdoor environment?




Brown K, 2010. Curriculum for excellence through outdoor learning. [pdf] Learning and Teaching Scotland. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2021]

Forest School Association, 2012. What is Forest School? [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 October 2021]

Gelman S, 2010. LEARNING FROM OTHERS: CHILDREN’S CONSTRUCTION OF CONCEPTS. Annu Rev Psychol, [e-journal] 60(115-140) Available through NCBI: [Accessed 25 November 2021]

Handmade Places, 2018. Celebrating the ancient art of oral storytelling. Handmade Places, [blog] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2021]

Hirst K and Nutbrown C, 2005. Perspectives on Early Childhood Education. [eBook] Sheffield: Trentham Books. Available through Google Books: [Accessed 24 November 2021]

Piers M, 1972. Play and Development: A Symposium. W. W. Norton & Company. [Accessed 17 November 2021]

Tovey H, 2012. Outdoor play and exploration. [pdf] Froebel Trust. Available at: [Accessed 17 November 2021]

Keep up to date with Early Years!

Sign up for our newsletter and keep up to date with Early Years education, process and events! We promise we won't spam you!