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 05: Creating Your Space

After finding and securing a suitable space and the necessary permissions, you can consider how to create your space. What needs to be done to make it fit for purpose? How can you create a high quality environment that enables your children and staff to thrive? This section covers the key points you need to consider.

Things to think about in this section

1. What is a quality learning environment? Will your space encourage energetic activities outside? Will there be calm spaces? How and where will you store things? How will you assess and balance benefits and risks? How will you involve children in that assessment while retaining responsibility? Section 5.1 covers key aspects

2. Do you plan to make regular excursions beyond your boundaries or your satellite setting? Section 5.2 provides a link to guidance produced by the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education (SAPOE) which may support your planning.

3. What kind of shelter are you planning to provide? Is there existing built or natural shelter you can use or adapt? Section 5.3 describes the options and factors to consider.

4. What will your entrance look like? How will the boundaries of your site be set and signalled? Are there fixed boundaries that will need to be maintained? Go to Section 5.4 for advice on this.

5. How will you ensure children can wash their hands and develop good hygiene practice in comfort – Section 5.5 sets out Health Protection Scotland's guidelines and some advice about how to follow those guidelines.

6. How will you ensure children have access to toilets? These do not have to be fully plumbed in porcelain but must be easily accessible and afford children privacy and dignity. Where will you change nappies? See Section 5.6

7. Where will children be able to sleep or rest? What makes a suitable spot? What equipment will you need? Section 5.7.

8. How will you keep children warm when it's cold or keep them dry when it's wet? Do you need to provide clothing for staff? How will you dry wet clothes? How will you store or transport clothes? Section 5.8

9. Do you have access to utilities such as electricity or mains water? If not, what do you need to do? Do you need to transport items? Section 5.9

10. Having worked out what you need for shelter, toilets, handwashing, do you need to buy equipment to transport or store items? Section 5.10

11. What will you do when the weather is bad enough that you can't go to your usual site(s)? How will you decide? How will you ensure that children still have a positive experience? How and when will you inform parents? Section 5.11

12. How will you balance risk against benefits? How will you support children to assess risk in a safe environment? How will you ensure your staff are confident about balancing risk and benefit? How will you reassure parents? Section 5.12

5.1 Achieving a high quality learning environment

The unique nature and location of your setting will shape the possibilities for play-based learning. In fact, each child will read the physical landscape and perceive play opportunities in their own way. Framing this, you need to develop routines and ways of working that create a nurturing environment. It should be a constantly evolving space that changes in line with the children's interests and needs.

Put the wellbeing (SHANARRI) indicators from Getting It Right for Every Child at the heart of your practice and decision-making – not just as you plan but as the setting evolves. Staff will need to reflect and ensure the space is always a motivating and challenging learning environment. Actively involve the children in creating the outdoor space, making the ethos of your setting evident to children, parents, carers and all staff.

A quality care and learning environment features the following:

  • A space that encourages children to engage in energetic activities outside.
  • Calm spaces to rest and sleep away from the hubbub of the other activities or where they can spend time on their own if they choose.
  • A nurturing outdoor provision, incorporating the wellbeing (SHANARRI) indicators. See the examples in Education Scotland (2011) Outdoor Learning – Practical Guidance, Ideas and Support for Teachers and Practitioners in Scotland p 28 and My World Outdoors
  • Well-organised fixed or mobile storage.
  • Children can easily access suitable resources, whether provided or found, and understand the routines and expectations around their use.
  • Information displays for parents/carers/other visitors should be kept up-to-date and be with information that is personalised and relevant to children's needs and interests.
  • Natural materials found outdoors are gathered in line with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and other relevant codes. By-laws and landowner requests are followed.
  • Where semi-permanent play structures are created, this should involve the children and systematic checks should be in place to ensure the structures are safe for the children's developmental levels.
  • The changing weather, seasons and nature are the predominant resources.
  • Indoor environments such as shelters complement and extend the learning opportunities outside. "Sustainable systems should be in place to ensure ethical sourcing and good maintenance."
  • Consider the Inspiring Scotland Loose Parts Toolkit and the play types identified by Bob Hughes in his book, "A Playworker's Taxonomy of Play Types", which are helpfully explained on Play Scotland's website.

This extract taken from a recent Care Inspectorate report clearly shows the range and depth of learning which is achievable in an outside environment.

"Children were being given inspiring opportunities to grow and develop, be adventurous, build their resilience and be active, independent and innovative in their play and learning. For example, hammocks and tents provided cosy spaces for the children to sleep and rest, tarpaulin erected under the trees created sheltered areas where the children could come together for circle time, enjoy games, stories and their lunch together with friends. We were able to see children having fun swinging on tyres and branches, exploring and learning about foraging for mushrooms, measuring the rainfall and reading the temperature gauge on the weather station. As well as filling up the feeders for the wild birds and the water for the chickens. Staff had also opened snack time up to let children decide for themselves when they should take a break from all their energetic play and have some food, helping them to recognise when they were hungry and needed to eat." Care Inspectorate Report, Stramash Elgin

While risk-benefit assessment is the professional responsibility of staff, involving children in risk-benefit assessment routines can help them develop an understanding of risk and ensure they feel secure.

5.2 Going Out There – Scottish Framework for Off-site Visits

If you have a designated site and make regular excursions beyond the boundaries of your setting, you need to take account of this guidance. It was developed by the Scottish Government, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education (SAPOE), Education Scotland and the Association of Directors of Education, with input from other partners including voluntary organisations and providers. See also section 5.12 below on risk-benefit assessments.

Unsure about how your practice fits the framework? Just contact your local authority outdoor education officer for advice. Going Out There contains a number of toolkits including examples of generic risk assessments for a variety of off-site visits which will require tailoring for your group.

5.3 Providing shelter

In any outdoor setting, children will require places that provide respite from the elements so you will have some form of shelter. Children need to be able to access the shelter independently whenever they wish to.

In addition, building dens and creating hidey holes offers some shelter and fulfils other important functions. They help children develop a sense of belonging. They provide private space away from adult gaze, time to spend alone for playing, resting and napping. They also offer places for small groups to gather and can also support learning.

There are many ways to provide shelter.

  • Potential natural shelter

As children are small, it's important that you get down to their height when assessing natural options. What may feel like a strong wind to an adult standing up can feel totally different at ground level behind a stone wall or in a little homemade den. Natural hollows and dips also provide shelter, and tree species that reduce wind airspeed year-round can help. Your site maintenance and management plan may include approaches to improve the natural shelter of your site in the long term such as tree planting.

  • Costs of procuring and maintaining shelter

Take account of the higher wear and tear that may happen as a result of constant exposure to the elements. Remember to consider any potential out of hours visitors to your site and the precautions needed.

  • The shelter location

If constructing a temporary or permanent building, make sure the doors or openings face away from the prevailing wind to reduce draughts. If your site is fairly open with little or no tree cover, think about how to provide shade from the sun. Equally, in a woodland site, consider what to do in windy conditions.

Different types of shelter work better in different areas. For instance, yurts have been less successful in wetter and windier areas in western Scotland but have worked well in more sheltered areas in drier parts of the country.

Temporary shelters will often have less impact on the environment than semi-permanent shelters which in turn will often have less impact than permanent ones. There are other considerations and use of natural found materials can minimise the impact. For instance, a semi-permanent shelter made of gathered branches is likely to have less environmental impact than a plastic tarpaulin shelter erected as needed.

  • The children's needs

It is important that children feel warm on cold days and can warm themselves up in a range of ways, including shelter and heat. For example, sitting on insulated mats feels more comfortable. Also consider the children's ages and appropriate length of sessions.

  • Adults' needs

The needs of staff and other adults who visit the site need to be taken into account. Adults also need to be able to shelter and may have different seating requirements. Staff may need somewhere sheltered on-site to have a break or to do paperwork.

  • Engaging learning space

Create an indoor shelter that's also an engaging learning space. Consider what the children can do inside and how you can facilitate learning.

  • Static or roving

Do you intend to be based in the same place, or move around on a rotational/nomadic basis? Nomadic or temporary sites require shelter that's easy to erect, making the most of existing natural resources. Tarpaulin can be tied to trees or fences and pop up tents can be erected in minutes.

  • External factors

Are there any planning restrictions or landowner expectations to consider?

When your setting is in the early stages of getting established, it may make sense to use temporary measures while your community works out what it really needs. Many settings do this. What's more, taking a participatory approach to building shelters with children, co-creating the space, is empowering for everyone involved.

You can find more information from My World Outdoors and Creative STAR Learning.

5.4 Boundaries

Think carefully about making your entrance inviting and exciting for children and visitors. This is your most important boundary line and it conveys a message about your vision, values and ethos.

You can use many types of boundaries in an outdoor context. Informal features include:

  • a change of surface where the edge of a path or a line of trees visually indicate the boundary
  • scarves, ribbons or other decorations to create a working boundary in a woodland
  • cones, branches or markers on grass in a public park
  • natural feature such as an outcrop of rocks or a line drawn in the sand on a beach.

With regular practice that focuses on children's independent ability to stay within boundaries, almost all children remember and meet the expectations. If a child struggles with this, consider why and how to positively support the child to manage this;

  • How could resources and equipment be personalised to meet the child's needs and interests in the designated area?
  • How interested and engaged is this child in the play?
  • What support is needed?

Observe what happens when a child chooses to ignore the boundaries. Are they seeking attention from an adult? Are they finding a space to be alone away from the group? Are they following their curiosity about something or someone? Understanding their intentions will help you provide focused support.

Involve the child in determining the boundaries. It could be they need more say in this and their behaviour is telling you about their interests.

If your site has fixed boundaries such as walls, gates, hedges or fences, you'll need to maintain them in good condition. Planting hedges can help increase biodiversity and act as a barrier to road traffic pollutants. As an intermediate barrier, you can create a brush barrier weaving branches and other long natural materials to form a temporary barrier which can encourage brambles or other wild plants.

Find out more at Enter in Style at Highway Farm

5.5 Handwashing

You need to consider how to provide suitable hand hygiene facilities for both staff and children, including warm running water, liquid soap and disposable hand towels. The Health Protection Scotland (HPS) guidance (2018) are set out below and are updated regularly. They are based on the requirement that children should be able to wash their hands independently. HPS specifies warm water because that improves comfort which encourages better hand washing practice in children especially in cold weather. Your staff will need some method of keeping water warm or topping up with hot water when required and you should minimise the environmental impact of whatever arrangements you put in place including sourcing biodegradable liquid soaps and hand towels where possible and considering options for disposal. You should also consider access, the cost and staff comfort, particularly when staff need to bring water to the site.

Section 6.7, provides further information about hand hygiene and infection control. You will also find some useful ideas on the Creative STAR website.

You should make parents and carers fully aware of all infection control arrangements – toilets, nappy changing and handwashing – before their child starts attending your setting.

The Health Protection Scotland's guidelines are updated regularly and we recommend you check them regularly for updates. The guidelines describe good hand hygiene practice:

  • Use warm water
  • Never share water in a communal bowl when washing hands
  • Use liquid soap (there is no need to use soaps advertised as antibacterial or antiseptic)
  • Dry hands thoroughly using paper towels (childminders may use kitchen roll or a designated hand towel, which should be washed every day or more often if visibly dirty). A designated, lined bin that the children can operate easily should be provided for disposal of hand towels
  • When away from the childcare facility, and if there is no running water available, hand wipes may be used (children and staff should wash their hands at the first available opportunity)
  • All visible cuts and abrasions should be covered with a water proof dressing
  • Alcohol hand rub should be available for use by staff (hands should be washed with liquid soap and water if visibly soiled).

5.6 Toileting

When planning toilet provision, above all, it is important to protect the privacy and dignity of children and adults. Make sure that staff can manage the chosen approach. Consider how to minimise the environmental impact and cost.

Conventional standard flush toilets

If you have a building, does it have utilities? If so, you may already have or can install standard flushing toilets and hand wash basins. Check whether your site is on a septic tank system and what it needs to keep working well. (Or are there nearby public toilets you can use?)


If there are no utilities or local public toilets, you'll need to arrange other alternatives. No one-size-fits-all model exists. Common alternatives include compost toilets, chemical and portable toilets and wild toileting. (Handwashing is covered in section 5.5 above.)

In your planning, take into account the number of children, their ages and abilities and the number of staff and different sizes of toilets required. Also think about your site's unique characteristics and its location.

Consider all the pros and cons of different sustainable options in consultation with your landowner or manager, your local environmental health officer and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) for approval of discharges.

Training and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may be needed to ensure staff understand and can carry out what's required. Any extra work should be factored into your site maintenance schedules.

"The design of sustainable toilets and drainage should ensure that waste and wastewater is recovered, treated or disposed of without endangering human health or harming the environment, and in particular without risk to water, air, soils, plants or animals. Toilets should not cause a nuisance through noise or odours and toilet buildings should integrate sympathetically with their surroundings." Taken from A Study into the Provision of Sustainable Toilets in Remote Rural Locations – page 6.

Fixed compost toilets

These will only work if you have systems in place to manage the waste processing from start to finish. Check whether secondary processing of accumulated solids is required and where this would be sited, including how the final compost is stored and used. It's important to ensure neither children nor visitors can access human waste compost during any stage. PPE must be worn by whoever works with the compost and risk assessments must be carried out.

Portable toilets

These are likely to be small-scale compost or environmentally friendly chemical toilets. Portable compostable toilets can be based on a foldable toilet seat or toilet box with a biodegradable bag arrangement and sawdust sprinkled after each use. In either case, disposal of the contents needs to be considered:

  • Who disposes the contents, when and how
  • Anticipated amount of use
  • How you will dispose of the contents and the associated environmental impact
  • A toilet tent or visual screening, be this natural or man-made, is required to ensure the privacy and dignity of users

Wild toileting

The Scottish Access Code provides advice about wild toileting. It's not advisable as the main provision but it may be necessary from time to time. The dignity of the child is paramount, even during emergency wild toileting. Make sure you have an agreed approach based upon the advice of the landowner, an environmental health officer and the Care Inspectorate.

Nappy Changing

It's important to respect children's dignity, privacy and comfort for nappy changing where required with some form of screening and matting. Your staff will need to use a method in line with the Health Protection Scotland and Care Inspectorate guidance on changing nappies and ensure good practice for manual handling procedures.

3D Drumchapel coordinate a collaborative outdoor partnership with two local ELC settings where they run sessions in local woodland four days a week.

"The toilet we use comes flat pack in its own bag, we transport it to site on our trolley and it is easy to assemble. We make sure everyone has privacy with the toilet tent which covers the toilet and it is big and tall enough for an adult to stand up in. It is a pop-up tent so really easy to put up; although a bit of a knack to refold!

The toilet clicks together from the base and has a top piece which is the seat. Inside we use a toilet bag which contains chemicals to neutralise any odours. We also use sawdust to absorb the waste each time it is used, the toilet bag is easily disposed off in either the nappy bins back at one of the nurseries or at the community centre. All staff are used to changing nappies so have not had any bother with dealing with the portable toilet."

5.7 Sleep and Rest

You will need to think about where children can sleep or rest outdoors. The sleeping spot needs to be away from the hubbub of the main area but where staff can see or hear them, directly or through using a monitoring device.

Even children who do not nap as a routine sometimes need a short sleep. Remember to consider:

  • Space – this should as cosy and comfortable as possible
  • Clothing – children need to be dressed in layers according to the weather. It is not good for a child to be too hot or too cold when sleeping. The neck of a child gives an indication of comfort levels when a child is clothed
  • Insulation – children need to sleep on an insulated mat or mattress; sleeping bags or blankets should be available when needed
  • Avoid the sun shining directly onto a child
  • Protect the child from biting insects or disturbance from animals
  • Provide a sheltered spot away from the wind, draughts and out of the rain
  • If you are using bedding, ensure that it is washed at least weekly and when visibly dirty. Bedding should be allocated to a named child

If hammocks are used by children for napping then due consideration should be given to the height of the hammocks and the need for a soft surface underneath. Hammocks are not suitable for babies or toddlers so use a suitable alternative. There are many options: camp beds, double decker beds, carry cots, raised dens, coracles can all work well.

5.8 Clothing and kit

Whatever the weather or terrain, children and staff enjoy being outside in nature when they're wearing robust, appropriate outdoor clothing, footwear and accessories. The clothing will need to change according to the weather, seasons and type of learning and play taking place.

Consider how to manage clothing, accessories and footwear. Staff should be given clothing and footwear that is suitable for sustained periods outdoors in all weathers to ensure they are adequately protected and to model good practice. You may decide to also provide kit, including backpacks and portable seats for children, building the costs into your business plan. As a general guide, outdoor facilities provide outer layers but not base layers. As employers, you should provide staff with the PPE they require – in most cases this means good outdoor jackets and waterproof trousers. You should also consider what footwear will be needed in your setting and whether you plan to provide it.

Providing clothing and kit has several benefits. Importantly, it 'poverty proofs' outdoor provision so you don't preclude children whose families can't afford outdoor clothing, kit and footwear suitable for sustained periods outdoors. It also gives you control over the quality and appropriateness of children's clothing while attending. You may need to consider storage of clothing.

If you expect families to provide and source their own clothing, kit and footwear, list what's needed and provide links to quality brands. As with staff, the minimum clothing likely to be needed is an outdoor jacker and waterproof trousers. Here are a couple of links to gear guides - Stramash and Little Forest Folk which you can adapt to suit your circumstance.

Variable factors include:

  • If your practice is nomadic, will children need to carry their own spare clothing in their own backpack?
  • Do you have enough accessories and spares so that, during inclement weather, children can easily stay warm and dry?
  • Do you need a system for drying wet clothing during the day?
  • If required, is there adequate storage space for each child's own clothing and spares, particularly on a fixed site?
  • You'll also need to think about hot summer weather and whether children are wearing suitable clothes and footwear.

5.9 Utilities

Electricity (and mobile phone reception, internet access)

Your electricity supply needs to be thought through. If your site is off-grid, explore alternative options bearing in mind the following factors.

  • Whether the site is for sole use and secure, or in a more public, accessible location.
  • Hours of darkness. How will the setting operate? Staff need to feel comfortable with the system to facilitate play, safety for all, travelling to and from the site and drop-off and pickups. Contact your local crime prevention officer or architectural liaison officer for advice on a range of measures.
  • Keeping any digital devices you may want to use such as laptops, tablets, digital cameras and mobile phones charged. This is particularly important for accessing records if they store personal data; a back-up may be needed and spare batteries, portable mobile phone charger, solar charger, etc.
  • Communication to and from the site, both day-to-day and in an emergency. Mobile phone signals may be affected by hills, trees, adverse weather and even tides. Check which providers offer the best signal for your site. Staff should be aware of known blackspots and have plans in place regarding communication in these places.

Operating off-grid

If you don't have electricity, you can install solar lights as Summerlings Outdoor Nursery does to light paths and the toilets at the Sheiling Project near Beauly. You may also want to carry hand and head torches in winter when the days are shorter. You can get solar-powered water-heating bags which will keep water warm and are used by the satellite service based at Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh.

Water management

If your site has no water mains connection, the process requires careful management and should be risk assessed and include water provision in your emergency procedures. Find out how to provide fresh water daily to meet everyone's consumption and hygiene needs (water butts and other grey water storage are not suitable for drinking or hygiene). Regular testing for quality must take place for private water or non-mains water supply.

If you are the landowner, you must liaise with your local environmental health officer to ensure this is undertaken. If you rent land, check where the responsibility lies as part of agreeing your lease. The Scottish Government provides guidance on private water supplies including information about grants to improve or set up a private water supply, maintaining your water supply and ensuring the water is safe to drink through their website. The Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland has a useful website.

Making the most of natural resources

As an outdoor setting, your learning resources are primarily loose parts, as defined in Loose Parts Play: A Toolkit (p5). This goes beyond recycled, junk, natural materials and random found objects to considering the interplay with the weather, seasons, climate and other phenomena. Observe, reflect and facilitate learning by using the guidelines within the Curriculum for Excellence, Building the Ambition and other national and local early years guidance.

Points to consider

How do the resources stimulate children's learning across all curriculum areas?

How does your provision facilitate all types of play? Play Scotland's website sets out the different types of play.

How can you make the most of the nature play themes, as outlined in Loose Parts Play: A Toolkit (p11-14), and foster attachment to nature and place? This is the foundation of Learning for Sustainability.

How can you facilitate children playing in nature while balancing a minimal impact approach? Consider the Leave Less Trace Principles and caring for the place you use.

The type of context for your outdoor setting will affect your approach to resourcing:

  • Do you have sole use and so can leave things out? If so, are there security considerations?
  • Do you use a public park and need to pack up your kit at the end of every session? Where are essential items stored? If they are carried there, ensure staff and children can do this safely.

5.10 Acquiring capital equipment

The equipment and resources you will need depends on the number of children and adults – and any additional support needs – and how portable or fixed you need everything to be.

Basic elements to think about:

  • Hand washing equipment.
  • Toilets and potential nappy changing, if required.
  • Providing a place to nap and rest.
  • Shelter, warmth and respite from the elements.
  • Snacks and meals.
  • Tools for basic maintenance jobs and gardening for staff and children.
  • Transport for materials e.g. old prams and buggies, shopping trolleys, suitcases, rucksacks, festival trolleys.
  • Storage for equipment and resources including a warm, secure place to dry wet gear.
  • Acquiring and managing clothing and accessories, including spares.
  • First aid and emergency kit.
  • Storage for medicine.
  • Seating, such as insulated mats.
  • Basic equipment to support nature play-based learning across all curriculum areas.
  • GDPR compliant recording and data storage.
  • Flexible provision for children with additional support needs.
  • Mobile phone and/or tablet and charging equipment/spare batteries.

5.11 Adverse weather and contingency planning

Our weather is constantly changing – the saying "Four seasons in one day" is well known! This affords endless opportunities for children to explore and expand their imaginations and learning. You should not shy away from being outside in most weather conditions but there are times when changes are needed. Planning for inclement weather is essential and you will need well-thought-through and articulated contingency arrangements which provide positive experiences for children and that have been discussed and agreed with parents.

You need to:

  • have a good understanding of when it's necessary to move to an alternative site.
  • have a contingency plan (or plans if you have different ones for different circumstances).
  • ensure the alternative location meets the requirements for providing a quality experience and be able to articulate the activities/experiences that will be on offer there.
  • consider how you intend to access the alternative site location and how you will inform parents/carers about changes to location.
  • assess the feasibility of your plans when the session has begun.
  • Assess what conditions are likely to cause issues for your site. This is likely to rely on weather forecasts so you may need to set out criteria for triggering the decision to move to an alternative location. Bear in mind, not all weather reports are accurate, so you may need to experiment until you find the one that's best for your location.

The decision to move is specific to the needs of your setting, the nature of the site, ease of access and microclimatic variables. Agree as a staff team when to make the call on moving. This is particularly important when you're still learning about the unique characteristics of a new setting.

Consider, too, potential hazards for parents transporting their children to your setting. Whenever Transport Scotland, the police or other authorities have advised against travel, you must respect the safety of your children and staff by closing your service. Your landlord may advise that the site is not suitable in certain circumstances so you will need to consider how to keep in contact.

If your setting is in a remote location, you should put a system in place for providing your precise location to emergency services – beyond a postcode and online map directions. We would advise knowing 6-digit Ordinance Survey grid reference for very remote locations. If there's an accident, it's essential that you and your staff know exactly how to provide a grid reference for wherever you are. You can use apps to provide this information, so long as you have Wi-Fi. You should also speak to your local fire services to discuss access to the site and to water, especially in a more remote area.

Working out clear directions will also help prospective parents and visitors find your setting.

Secret Garden in Fife has an excellent description on their website of how they responded to a recent storm – it covers what they did in advance, what they did on the day, how they monitored the changing weather and how they adapted as it changed.

5.12 Risk-Benefit Assessment

Risk-taking and challenges in the outdoors are important for young children. Supporting children to repeat familiar activities and try out new skills will help them test their own confidence, boundaries and skills. This is important because children who can't measure risk and challenge for themselves may be unable to judge their own capabilities and boundaries.

Conversely, an outdoor environment that lacks stimulation may lead to poor behaviour and children making reckless decisions.

Use risk assessments to judge the benefits of an activity or feature. Then, rather than removing or not including this activity or feature, encourage children to use it safely.

If any parent/carer is concerned about a specific risk, invite them into your setting to find out more. You could consider holding an open day to demonstrate good practice and allay concerns. This way you could explain the benefits of play-based learning in the outdoors, and develop a mutual exchange of knowledge, ideas and understanding.

The site appraisal process outlined in Section 4.4 will help you to work out the site-specific hazards and put in place measures to manage the risks. The Care Inspectorate produced a statement about risk in play and their expectations about your management. You can see examples of good practice in My World Outdoors (p16-23).

Risk-benefit assessments may be needed for the following outdoor situations:

  • On-site outdoors
  • Off-site, including infection prevention and control
  • Food handling including campfire cooking
  • Creating and maintaining semi-permanent play structures
  • Playing near water
  • Woodland play, including tree climbing
  • Beaches, including rock pooling and paddling
  • Woodwork, tinkering and tool use
  • Gardening
  • Use of rope, string and other long things
  • Individual support for any identified child where the need arises
  • Caring for animals
  • Fire – including building a campfire
  • Foraging, e.g. for brambles
  • Contractors working onsite

Further advice

The Health and Safety Executive have set out their statement on Children's play and leisure: promoting a balanced approach. Further links are in Appendix 4.

Children's Play and Leisure: Promoting a Balanced Approach

Health and safety laws and regulations are sometimes presented as a reason why certain play and leisure activities undertaken by children and young people should be discouraged. Such decisions are often based on misunderstandings about what the law requires. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has worked with the Play Safety Forum to produce a joint high-level statement that gives clear messages tackling these misunderstandings. HSE fully endorses the principles in this statement.

This statement makes clear that:

  • Play is important for children's wellbeing and development.
  • When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits.
  • Those providing play opportunities should focus on controlling the real risks, while securing or increasing the benefits – not on the paperwork.
  • Accidents and mistakes happen during play – but fear of litigation and prosecution has been blown out of proportion.

Learning to recognise and manage risk is essential for children's healthy development. Most services encourage children to take part in monitoring and assessing risk their sites as a core routine. On entering a site, one nomadic service uses a 'Risky Business' approach with the children alerting staff to anything they feel is unsafe in the space – for example, dog mess or broken glass.

Children are also involved in the setting of site boundaries with staff encouraging them to lay scarves or rope at a distance they feel is safe. Sometimes staff may need to explain why a boundary needs to be set at a specific point and this leads to greater understanding of why boundaries and rules are made. The boundaries around a site may grow and adapt as children and staff gain confidence or seasonal factors create a need for change.



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