Encouraging Outdoor Experiences

One of the biggest challenges to outdoor play is sometimes just getting started. So, in wanting to encourage the children and staff to get outdoors more, where do you begin?

Encouraging Outdoor Experiences

One of the biggest challenges to outdoor play is sometimes just getting started. So, in wanting to encourage the children and staff to get outdoors more, where do you begin?  Firstly you might want to have an outdoor play audit, so you can think about your current service and attitudes towards outdoor play, and how it can be enhanced, improved etc. Discuss and answer the following topics with your staff, then think about what you could do to improve in each area.   Your Attitude to Outdoor Play

  • I believe that children need to be outdoors for at least part of the day but I am not that enthusiastic about it myself; or
  • I am very committed to children’s play experiences outdoors…

  Do you have an outdoor play policy?

  • I have a basic policy stating that we will go outside each day weather permitting/
  • I work with parents to provide suitable outdoor clothing and footwear..

  How do you view your outdoor space?

  • as a place where children can let off steam;
  • or a place where children can have meaningful learning experiences;

  How much time do you spend outdoors?

  • i.e. 20 minutes a day weather permitting
  • as much as possible

  Outdoor Environment

  • my outdoor space is packed with plastic waterproof materials and resources
  • has attractive enclosed spaces where children can play or rest…
  • I have a good storage sytem for both outside and inside
  • I have a range of open ended materials outside

  Parental Engagement

  • I don’t talk to parents about outdoor play apart from saying that we provide it ( we have to under the Regulations)
  • I explain the importance of outdoor play with parents and communicate with them about the different learning going on outside


  • I don’t really plan specific activities for outdoors, I just observe and see what happens
  • It is a vital part of my curriculum and I plan for it

  Transitions between outdoors and indoors

  • I have no transitional space between the outdoors and the indoors available
  • I have my indoor/outdoor area designed so children can manage personal  choice and free flow play

  Once you have consider how you fare when it comes to outdoor play, think about how access to outdoor play could be improved: Do your staff need some training to understand the importance of the outdoors? Do you need outdoor clothing or equipment?   So how can you encourage your staff and children to explore the outdoors more:

1)  Have a clear philosophy on outdoor play – what is your ethos and attitude to outdoor play? This should be clear after discussing the topics above. Jan White has a nice example from a play centre on her website  

2)  Bring the staff onboard – after doing your outdoor play audit you will know whether your staff are happy and confident outdoors and in planning for children’s outdoor experiences. Or you might need some inhouse or external training on outdoor play and how to link it with Siolta and Aistear . Early Childhood Ireland has a training programme on providing Quality Outdoor Play. Discuss and plan outdoor experiences with your staff , after discussing their observations of the children and their interests.  

3)  Bring parents onboard – organise a parents meeting and discuss your philosophy with them. Involve them in policy making and keep them updated. Include research on outdoor play benefits. Discuss this issue of suitable clothing for children and how together you might tackle this.  

4) Develop an outdoor play policy – in consultation with staff, children and parents.  

5) Design your outdoor  environment make it interesting both inside and outside. Ideally the outdoor play area should be directly connected to the indoor area, providing ease of access throughout the day. Most of the things that can be done inside can also be done outside, for example reading stories, taking part in pretend play, doing group art projects, and playing with sand or water. Make sure you have an area for drying wet outdoor clothing.  

6) Outdoor Resources: Objects can be transported using wagons, trolleys or wheelbarrows; houses can be constructed using different sized cardboard boxes, old sheets or curtains; marks can be made using large pieces of chalk or buckets of water and large paint-brushes; gardening activities can be undertaken; and roads and dens for mini-beasts can be created.CD’s can glint off sunlight and streamers make for some interesting wind exploration.    

7) Are you ready for any weather? Given the unpredictability of the Irish weather it is important to ensure children have wellies and waterproof jackets plus a change of clothes available in the setting so that they can play outside in all types of weather. It is also useful to have ‘windy day’ and ‘rainy day’ boxes ready to help adults and children respond spontaneously to changing weather conditions as they arise. (see above)

Early Childhood Ireland has a fantastic outdoor resource ‘Garden of Possibilities‘ that provides practical ideas to maximise the potential of your outdoor space and inspire daily outdoor play, whatever the weather! It was inspired by the award winning ‘Garden of Possibilities’ at Bloom and has links to both Siolta and Aistear throughout.  

The most important part  of successful outdoor provision is a team of committed and enthusiastic adults – your staff –  who fully appreciate what the outdoors offers, who are dedicated to getting very young children outdoors for significant amounts of time, every day, throughout the year, and who overcome the barriers or limitations in their setting. They enjoy being outside with these children, striving to understand what they are doing and how they are benefiting from being there, and taking pleasure in being with them in this fabulous journey of discovery.

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