Expansion of early learning and childcare in Scotland: Quality Action Plan

A Quality Action Plan to underpin the expansion of early learning and childcare (ELC) in Scotland to 1140 hours per year by 2020.

Good Access To Outdoor Learning

We know the benefits of outdoor learning, exercise and play for young children in terms of their wellbeing and physical and cognitive development. We know children are more physically active when outside. We also know that play and learning outdoors has a positive impact on learning in science by, for example, enhancing understanding of the changing seasons, enabling greater levels of physical exploration, and experiences with wildlife and the elements. There is also some evidence that outdoor learning helps to facilitate different adult/child and peer relationships, allowing some children, otherwise not reaching their potential, to flourish in this different environment (Maynard et al, 2013).

Many ELC settings have already embraced the CfE emphasis on a broader learning experience, including active learning and learning outdoors, and outdoor-based services generally achieve higher inspection grades than the national average for children’s daycare.

There are a range of resources available on the National Improvement Hub to provide support for professional development in outdoor learning across the 3-18 curriculum. Additionally, the Care Inspectorate’s ‘My World Outdoors’ [3] (March 2016) aims to encourage further development of high quality outdoor play, and the Scottish Government’s recent publication ‘Space to Grow’ [4] (June 2017) provides guidance on the provision of high quality outdoor spaces for ELC and Out of School Care ( OSC) settings.

Two of our nationally-funded delivery model trials, in Edinburgh and Angus, focus on outdoor learning. In Edinburgh, 16 children from two school-based nurseries with particular support needs, spent half of every day in an outdoor setting. Evaluation is underway but early benefits were seen in relation to the happiness and socialisation of children, and their growing confidence and enthusiasm, both while outdoors and when back in the nursery setting. The children expressed a strong preference for being outdoors and parents have expressed similar satisfaction with their children’s experiences. In Angus, a rural nursery setting has bought and tailored a yurt to open up the nursery to the outdoors for children to use as part of their expanded hours from August 2017. Inspiring Scotland is also working with Glasgow City Council’s Early Years Team to test the impact of a collaborative early years model of outdoor play and learning in areas of high deprivation.

One of the barriers to increased outdoor learning is a perceived difficulty in setting up or accessing outdoor space. We will help remove this barrier by producing a step-by-step guide for practitioners which provides practical advice on how to access outdoors spaces, including land or forest areas owned by local authorities, private landowners or national bodies (such as the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage) to create safe, nurturing and inspiring outdoor learning experiences. The guide will also support providers through the Care Inspectorate’s registration process for outdoor provision and provide good practice examples of how to use outdoor play to promote learning across the curriculum, and encourage all ELC providers to give children more hours of age-appropriate physical activity, with all children benefiting from at least two hours per week.

Action 10: We will promote greater use of outdoor learning and physical activity by producing a ‘how to’ guide on finding access to suitable outdoor areas and making the most of the opportunities that these offer to promote children’s development.

The guide will be published by December 2018 and will have wider relevance beyond ELC. Enhanced access to outdoor learning in ELC will inevitably lead to increased demand and expectations for a similar experience as children transition into primary school and out of school care. It will also contribute to the commitment in the Scottish Government STEM Education and Training Strategy for Scotland to enhance opportunities for children in ELC to establish STEM fundamentals, learning particularly about their natural environment through outdoor play.


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