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Exploring Forests and Outdoor Experiences – Bath Spa University

Exploring forest and outdoor experiences in different cultural contexts to establish a shared understanding.

Project overview

This research seeks to establish a critical understanding of the concept and provision of forest and outdoor experiences, using three case studies – from the United States, England and Denmark. The project takes an exploratory multiple case study approach, with each researcher presenting a separate single-case study. Students on the Early Childhood Studies programmes, from both the undergraduate and postgraduate courses, have undertaken fieldwork as co-researchers.

Project aims

Through the project, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the most important elements of forest and outdoor experience. We'll also identify the ways in which different cultural understandings may impact upon the interpretation and understanding of the nature and impact of forest experience and outdoor play.

The essence of our project is to explore and value the different ways in which outdoor experiences are perceived, and use this to inform and enrich knowledge and understanding in outdoor pedagogy. We recognise and acknowledge the different ways in which educators work with the children in their settings and the ways in which the children engage with their surroundings.

Worthwhile and beneficial experiences

Our concerns are rooted in the desire to ensure that young children receive worthwhile and beneficial experiences in outdoor environments. Our rationale for locating this project in the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (REACH) is in recognising the importance and contribution of different cultural perspectives when exploring and developing outdoor experiences in early childhood.

Unique contribution

The project contributes to research in the field of forest experience and outdoor play and is unique because of its cross-cultural dimension, foregrounding elements of accessibility, sustainability and pedagogy. It aims to enable researchers and practitioners to work towards an improved theoretical understanding of the phenomenon of outdoor experience and play, and to provide a critical analysis of current provision.


This project is funded by the School of Education and is led by Dr Lone Hattingh at Bath Spa University, with Professor Leigh O’Brien from SUNY Geneseo in the United States.

Publications to date

  • Layen, S. and Hattingh, L. (2020): ‘Supporting students’ development through collaborative reflection: interrogating cultural practices and perceptions of good practice in the context of a field trip’, Early Years, 40(3), pp. 306-318. DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2018.1432572.
  • Hattingh, L. (2016) ‘Learning on Field Trips and study visits: disrupting assumptions through listening, observation and reflection’, in Hordern, J. and Simon, C. A. (eds) Placements and Work-Based Learning in Education Studies: an Introduction for Students, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 79-86.

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