Not all children attend well-equipped nurseries with exciting and
challenging outdoor areas. Some go to village halls or community centres
with little or no access to an outside area, some go to nurseries attached
to schools and some children play in someone’s front room! But all early
years settings should be providing outside play opportunities regardless of
Providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not
possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily
basis (unless circumstances make this inappropriate, for example unsafe
weather conditions). Providers must follow their legal responsibilities
under the Equality Act 2010 (for example, the provisions on reasonable adjustments). (2014 Statutory framework for the EYFS Section 3.58)
All groups of children are different, but in every group there will be some
children who learn best when they are outside. To make it easier for these
children to learn, you need an environment that is safe, inviting,
stimulating and challenging. No matter how small the space, it can be made
interesting, even if the equipment has to be set up and stored away each
day. Those settings that have no outdoor space available to them could
think about investigating the local park, woodland area and immediate
Ideally, the children should be able to move from the indoor to the outdoor
areas with minimum fuss, but this is not always possible. Some settings
have areas available to them but they are not attached to their indoor
space. Careful planning is the answer. It may be that groups of children go
to the area at one time. This is not ideal and care must be taken that all
of the children are given equal access; this means those that want to go
outside can rather than “it’s your turn now so you must go”.
In many settings children go outside only when the weather is warm and
sunny. This is often not the children’s choice but the adult’s! Children
don’t notice the weather and will choose to go outside even when it is cold
and rainy. If they are equipped with wellies and macs they should be
outside. How else will they have the experience of just being in the
rain/smelling it/seeing puddles form and jumping in them/ watching the
stream of water coming from the downpipe/ wondering where all the water
Outdoor play is as important as indoor play. Space, fresh air, freedom and
time are essential for children’s emotional, social and personal
Outdoor play is vital because:
It enables children to become independent learners. Children should
enjoy learning and you can help them to develop that all-important
disposition to learn by providing them with an environment which
they can explore, modify and use themselves. If they need to keep
asking you for equipment or resources you are taking away their
You can invite the children to make choices, follow their own
interests and get involved with what they are doing. For some
children the outdoors is where they are the most comfortable.
It encourages social and moral development. Outdoor play presents opportunities for exploring and using large
equipment. This involves children in taking turns, sharing, cooperating,
negotiating and talking to each other – all essential skills when
interacting with other people in a positive way. They will establish
relationships and begin to understand that others have feelings and
emotions, for example seeing friends become upset when hurt, and being able
It encourages children to grow in confidence and self-esteem. Some
children appear more comfortable with themselves and others when
they are outside. They play with confidence in the knowledge that
they can be noisier and more boisterous and they do not feel as
restricted as they may do indoors. Confidence and self-esteem are crucial for children’s well-being and
ability to learn. Those children who are given opportunities to achieve
success, whether it is through being able to be good at climbing or being
leader in an imaginative game, are the most likely to enjoy satisfaction
and a feeling of well-being. They will want more.
It promotes and enables physical activity. Joining in physical
activity can have huge benefits for young children. It can help
them to cope with success and failure in a supported environment
and to develop a sense of fair play.
It makes a unique contribution to the development of the whole
child and research evidence suggests there is a link between
physical activity and academic achievement, as well as an
improvement in children’s behaviour and the development of social
interaction (Using Physical Activity and Sport, DfES 2000).
Giving children the choice to be outside is a powerful tool.
Conflicts can be resolved more easily and imaginative,
well-planned, challenging areas for children with diagnosed
behavioural problems can often result in calmer, more interested
We all know young children need space, as movement is central to
their development and learning. Their motor development is at a
crucial stage and they need to be given opportunities to strengthen
their large muscles to improve the control of their smaller ones.
(To write with control they will need to develop their arm and
shoulder muscles as well as their hand and finger muscles.)
It allows time to consolidate skills learned. Children need time to
repeat, mimic, and try once more the skills they have been
learning. Sometimes this may be through giving them the time alone.
At other times it may be through providing for the same skills with
a wider range of activities and experiences that may be bigger,
noisier, messier than those offered indoors.
Whatever facilities you have available, good practice in outdoor
play means that the children are in the most effective teaching and
learning situation. They will be given challenges that are both
exciting and stimulating so that they want to find out more. The
adults will be
supporting and intervening at appropriate times because they have
observed the children and know at what stage to intervene in order
to carry them forward. (Sometimes the children are best left to do
this for themselves.)
Good practice means:
That, if possible, the children can go outside whenever they need
Planning what the children will experience so that their learning
is seamless and interlinked and enables them to join up their
The area is so organised that the children understand the systems,
for example where to get equipment if they want it, what to do if
they need help.
That the children themselves can change and modify the area to suit
their methods of play at that time.
Having an area that is versatile so that the children can look
forward every day to something that is stimulating for them.
Sometimes if children are working on a project they do not want to
put it away at the end of the day or session. Being versatile means
being able to
accommodate their needs and leaving it so the children can go back
to refine it until it has run its course.
Having committed staff and helpers who understand the value of
children playing outside.
Excerpted from Outdoor Play, by Sue Durant. Published by Practical Preschool Books. Used with permission of the publisher. Get the whole book for numerous great outdoor play ideas which support children's learning within the context of the EYFS.