Out to Play - creating outdoor play experiences for children: practical guidance

Guidance and advice for early learning and childcare settings and practitioners on how to access outdoor spaces to create safe, nurturing and inspiring outdoor learning experiences.

Appendix 2

Site Appraisal – Its suitability for use by your setting

(With thanks to Forestry Commission Scotland for permission to use and adapt)

When commenting, think about how easily changes could be made to improve an aspect.




Is the site within walking distance or is it necessary to request that parents drop off and pick up children a designated place?

Look for safe parking/drop-off and assembly points within or just out with the proposed site.

Consider other access to the site too, e.g. by walking or by bicycle.

Can you enter and leave the site easily? Are there any locked gates, etc.

Can the site be easily accessed by contractors or emergency vehicles?

Think about the network of paths – does this exist? If not, how easy is it to walk across and around the area, especially for pre-school children?

Think about the ground cover – leaves, grass, needles, heather. Or is it very boggy, or have too many "inhibitor" plants such as brambles and nettles? Remember this will change with the seasons. Can it be thinned?

Slope – ideally a mix of flat and sloped terrain. Think about its aspect (north or south facing) and when the sun reaches the slope or whether it is in shade during your session. This will also change with the season.

Boundaries – are there natural boundary features within the area you want to be, e.g. a line of trees, a hedge, path, etc?

Do you need to put up a fence or similar to create a safe space?

Will you need to use a marker system to begin with such as ribbons, so that the children will learn where they can explore?

Think about a designated place of safety in the event of a serious incident. Is there a nearby facility?

Is there a suitable gathering place or shelter? Will this be

Temporary and easy to take up and put down

Permanent, such as a building or mobile unit

Natural features

Dens and natural shelter created with children?

Are there historical remains/evidence e.g., old walls and/or buildings, ditches, tracks etc. Are there any restrictions around these places?

Site Character - This is how the place feels. Ideally it should have a feeling of "wildness" about it. Do remember that even small places can feel wild and isolated for a young child.



Traffic noise, including overhead if you are near an airport or a busy railway line

Mix of trees young, mature, different species

Presence of water, e.g. stream, river, loch, bog/wetland, ditches, mud

Presence of stones, rock outcrops

Multi-sensory variety: sights, sounds, smells, shapes, colours

Dips and hollows

A variety of places: enclosed, open, to hide, roll, sit, have physical challenge, be quiet, a good view, etc.

Evidence of wildlife. Opportunities to watch wildlife.

Vegetation – Remember that variety is the spice of life! Some characteristics that you might seek:



Mature trees especially those with limbs suitable for low level tree climbing and for rope swings

Young trees – for coppicing and shelter building

Shrubs – for hiding, den building, hanging things on

Fallen trees – for climbing on, walking along, etc.

Availability of sticks on the ground

Stumps – for standing on, using as a table, mixing potions in, etc.

Open canopy and cover – glades of light

Variety of plants and fungi

Features Ensure any water features are protected. Washing lines should be at an appropriate height to avoid entanglement.

Storage Make sure equipment is stored/stacked as safely as possible and that staff are trained in handling and lifting large objects.

Routes and activity areas Make sure all routes are kept clear – ask adults and children to tidy as they go.

Out of hours visitors Daily checks of the grounds should be made for animal faeces, cigarette butts, bottles and cans, syringes and graffiti.

Air pollution Barrier planting may reduce traffic fumes. Make sure that children's asthma medication can be quickly accessed from outdoors.

Entrances and exits Make sure doorways are kept free from trip hazards – use signage, tape etc where necessary. Fit door furniture to reduce the risk of trapped fingers and ensure transition space has adequate seating and storage.

Potential Hazards

Here the trick is to think about whether these are manageable and the level of risk posed. The risks may also be seasonal. Think about "heads, shoulders, knees and toes" when looking for hazards at different levels and bear in mind how children perceive the environment from their height and developmental age/ability.



Litter – including drug paraphernalia and sharp objects or unidentifiable objects.

Standing dead trees or dead wood in trees. Do you need an aboriculturalist to check your trees and provide advice? Check with your council or the landowner if they can advise – there are not many arboriculturalists around.

Water – location, feature, ease of access. Will this require measures to prevent young children from accessing unsupervised?

Steep drops.

Animal encounters, e.g. excessive midges, ticks, livestock, dogs & dog mess, nesting birds, horses

Quantity and type of potentially harmful plants – ask owner or environmental professional for advice here, if needed.

Security of the area – think about whether structures and children's creations are likely to remain or be removed/destroyed. How important is this?

Is it a safe place to access during hours of darkness – are there well-lit areas or will you need to install lighting?

The amount and type of


other users – who else uses this park and is it appropriate for children to be playing there

degree of seclusion needed – consult your ALO (Architectural Liaison Officer in the Police Force) if necessary


Flush toilets in a suitable building

Availability of public toilets

Alternative options: compost, chemical

Where to take waste off-site

Informal toileting options – amount of natural privacy, ability of the site to cope with waste

Power lines and electricity substations: location and possible ease of access by children

Site work by landowner e.g. tree felling, footpath improvement?

Is there wifi and mobile phone coverage? Do you notice any blackspots?

Where is the nearest GP surgery/hospital; staff need to know distance and contact details.

Any other thought and comments? What action is needed, if any, to make your site suitable?

Potential Hazards – Beaches

Here the trick is to think about whether these are manageable and the level of risk posed. What can be done to enable visits to go ahead? Bear in mind the risks may also be seasonal.



Litter – particularly broken bottles, sharp objects, unidentifiable objects washed up by the tide

Tides – can you access the beach at high tide?

Is there a risk of getting cut off?

How much does the beach change after storms throughout the year – ask local experts. Is the intended area accessible all year round regardless of tides and storms?

Water – evidence of rip tides and eddies. Is it possible to paddle, if so where?

Steep drops – the presence of cliffs or large rock outcrops that are easily accessed by children, from above or below

Potential animal encounters – dogs and dog mess, nesting birds, jelly fish, crabs, etc.

Quantity and type of potentially harmful plants (NB seaweeds are generally harmless)

Security of the area – are there natural boundaries?

What about exits from the beach?

The amount and type of passers by. How much seclusion do you need?

Toileting options – formal or informal. How will you provide privacy?

Presence of a life guard and life rings.

Any other thoughts and comments:

Owner: Contact details of owner/site manager:



Do you have permission to use the site from the owner/manager?

Does the owner have insurance for enabling this to happen?

Do you have a written agreement in place which clarifies remits and responsibilities? (Please attach and keep safe)

Do you have you permission to:

1. Establish and maintain a toilet system, if no buildings or public facilities exist nearby

2 .Lighting a controlled camp fire (NB even a disposable barbecue is a fire)

3. Cut branches and do small scale wood work

Are there any "no go" areas e.g. because of

  • Safety
  • Wildlife protection
  • Private property
  • High risk of environmental impact
  • Cultural heritage or archaeological value

Are there any seasonal or woodland management factors which may impact on the group using the woods? Examples include:

  • Timber operations and tree maintenance or felling work.
  • Spraying of crops. The wind can carry the chemicals or slurry into areas used by the group.
  • Movement of livestock that impacts on the group's normal access.
  • Hunting, shooting or similar estate work.
  • Work or situations where a water supply used by the children for play becomes contaminated.
  • Archaeological excavations.

Any specific requests about behaviour of the group or management of the woods? For example, if you wanted to plant trees would this be possible?

Is there any site management work needed before you can use the site? When will this happen?

How robust is the site? Consider how often you will be using the site, the numbers of children and seasonality.

You may need options to minimise the environmental impact of your group's use, e.g.

  • The creation of simple pathways to make the site more accessible
  • Regular checks of the trees in the main site
  • Use different areas in rotation or at different times of the year
  • Agreeing to abide by a "Leave Less Trace Nature Play Principles"



Back to top