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.

Section 02: Why Outdoor Play-Based Learning

2.1 Vision

All Scotland's children have the best possible start in life through access to outdoor play-based learning to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

2.2 Children's Rights

Children have the right to play and learn - the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out in Article 31(1). Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life.

In Scotland, the Government has enshrined children's right to play outdoors every day in its national Health and Social Care Standards – As a child, I play outdoors every day and regularly explore a natural environment (HSCS 1.32)

2.3 Benefits

Playing and learning outdoors is fun. When we cast our minds back to childhood, many of our best memories are from outdoor play whether it's climbing the big tree, building a den for the first time or planting and nurturing a seed. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that outdoor play-based learning is positive and life-enhancing.

More importantly however, there is strong and compelling evidence that playing and learning outdoors has many benefits for children:

  • Improves physical health – children playing outdoors are more physically active so are likely to have
    • a healthier weight
    • better bone density through improved strength and greater exposure to vitamin D
    • better fundamental movement skills,
    • improved respiratory health
    • better immune system by experiencing a greater range of microbes
    • improved eyesight
  • Improves wellbeing – children's wellbeing and mental health is improved by playing outdoors
    • Resilience is developed through taking and managing risks outdoors in a safe environment
    • Self-esteem and confidence are increased through free play outdoors, making own decisions, problem solving and managing boundaries
    • Emotional health regulation and interpersonal skills are improved through negotiation and conflict resolution
    • Wellbeing is improved by being outdoors in nature which has a calming effect
  • Enhances child development – high level functions such as creativity, interpersonal skills, empathy and negotiation are improved
  • Improves learning for sustainability – developing a connection to nature and an understanding of environment and place as a child increases likelihood of caring about these things as an adult
  • Is cost-effective in meeting the expansion of funded childcare – an outdoor setting does not need a fully functioning building to deliver high quality, flexible early learning and childcare.

And importantly, it is fun and should be an everyday part of children's play-based learning!

2.4 National Position Statement on Outdoor Play and Learning

Fifty organisations and academics have come together to agree a national position statement on outdoor play and learning to promote these benefits, identifying evidence to support the benefits and commit to a number of actions to embed outdoor play-based learning as everyday activity for children in Scotland. The number of signatories is growing as individuals and organisation come forward to be part of the movement; if you would like to sign up let Inspiring Scotland know! The full text of the National Position Statement on Outdoor Play and Learning, the list of signatories, the context including the Scottish policy framework and the evidence is at Appendix 1.



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