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Learning through Outdoor Play

May 20, 2015

As the weather is starting to improve it is a good opportunity to spend as much time as possible outdoors, with the children in your setting.  Below, we have highlighted the ways in which children are stimulated by their experiences outdoors, as well as how these explorations are crucial to their development.  We have also provided resources for making the most of this time, including a template for a treasure hunt and an observation sheet for educators and parents to recognise and record what the child is interested in.



Through play children make sense of their world. Infants and toddlers in particular use their senses and whole body to investigate and play. Children at this young stage are at a “sensory motor “stage of development. This means that they are learning through their senses and through movement. Outdoors children’s senses are naturally stimulated through the ever changing sights, sounds, smells, taste, and touch of the world. As their bodies and minds grow and develop, outdoors provides endless opportunities for new experiences.

Think about the way young children play outdoors, looking, touching and feeling everything they can get their hands on. Filling, and emptying things into any sort of container, transporting themselves and their collections around their space. Toddling, balancing, falling, getting back up again and repeating these vital activities over all different types of surfaces and slopes builds their motor skills.

Play with natural materials such as sand, clay, water, wood, etc offers stimulating sensorial play that engages children’s imagination and supports concentration and problem solving skills.




Movement is vital for young children’s development. Lack of movement severely and deeply prevents healthy development. Movement wires up the neural pathways in the brain.

They need lots of practice to develop and synchronise their brain structures and nervous systems that co-ordinate their body movements. Outdoors provides opportunity for movement on a large scale. In their first few years of life babies vestibular (balance) and proprioception (Senses) are developing so they need lots of sensory and movement experiences to develop strong healthy minds and bodies.

“Children develop their vestibular sense (balance) through teetering, tipping, spinning, and swinging, rocking, jumping, bouncing, sliding, and fast forward motion. In order to develop perfect coordination of body and brain children need action in which their muscles encounter resistance: pushing, pulling, stretching, carrying, digging, raking….. Skipping, climbing pedalling, pushing wheelbarrows, are actions that fill this need and outdoors can provide places, spaces and materials for this to happen.” White 2014



Outdoor Play and Play Learning Training in Mayo

Early Childhood Ireland are pleased to announce an Outdoor Play and Learning Training Day on Saturday 23rd May 2015.  This is a great opportunity to incorporate 2 on-site visits to:

Robeen Childcare Centre, Hollymount, Co Mayo  (9- 1pm)


Outdoor Explorers Castlebar  (2 to 4pm)




White, J., 2014 Playing and Learning Outdoors: Making Provision for High Quality Experiences in the Outdoor Environment. (2nd Edition) Abingdon: Routledge


Further Reading

Below please find some web sites that provide lots of information and ideas on childrens outdoor play and children’s sensory processing and development.




Below are two templates which might be useful for you

1) for parents/educators to help recognise what their toddler is interested in outdoors

2) for older children to use on an outdoor treasure hunt

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