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 07: Staffing

Things to think about in this section

1. Ensuring new staff share your values and ethos. Do your staff embrace the outdoor ethos? Are they experienced in delivering outdoor play? Are they confident outdoors? How will you find out? See Section 7.1

2. What to look for at recruitment? Do staff come with both early learning and childcare/play experience and outdoors? What qualifications may be needed to meet SSSC registration requirements? See Section 7.2

3. What induction would help staff new to outdoor play and learning? Are there other staff with more experience who could be a buddy? Are they motivated and enthusiastic? Section 7.3

4. What training does each member of staff need when s/he starts? How many staff skilled and/or trained in outdoors do you need? Do they have appropriate training to provide children with a range of learning experiences outdoors? If not, what training and tools would be helpful? What ongoing training do they need?
Section 7.4

5. Who can provide training? Is it something you could do by bringing trainers in? Do you need a bespoke package to suit your setting and/or your staff? Are your staff personally experienced and knowledgeable about spending time outdoors? Section 7.5

Children and parents, should have confidence in the people who support and care for them. If you have an existing staff team who are used to primarily working indoors they may not all be attracted to working outdoors at first. Giving them a broad understanding of what it means to work outdoors, and supporting with the right training, can dispel the myths and transform their confidence and enthusiasm.

7.1 Values and ethos in an outdoor setting

Your staff need to understand the distinct value of playing and learning outdoors. They have to understand how to use and adapt the outdoors and the many rich opportunities for play-based learning. Staff need to be confident in their surroundings and know how to use what's present – instead of relying on a lot of equipment and toys outside with them – trusting children to be co-creators of their own learning and understanding when their role is to step back and observe and interpret the play. They also need to have a deeper understanding of the environment, not just as a fun place for play-based learning, but also of our responsibility to care and protect nature and the world around us.

It is worth emphasising that the fun of outdoor play-based learning goes beyond the children; and practitioners who work outdoors also enjoy the benefits it provides. Our experience is that if staff are confident and trained, they really enjoy playing outdoors with children. We know of practitioners who, after many years of being indoors and despite early trepidation, have become great advocates of the joy and benefits of outdoor play-based learning.

7.2 Recruitment

If you are opening a brand-new service, or expanding your setting into the outdoors, you will need to think about how to undertake recruiting staff. As with any organisation, you will want staff who fit with the values and ethos of the service you will be providing. Clearly, for outdoor play-based learning you will need staff who embrace the concept of the outdoors as a high-quality learning environment. They must want to be outdoors themselves and have a desire to share nature's wonders with the children.

Some excellent outdoor practitioners come to the sector from alternative and diverse routes such as community learning and development, outdoor education, environmental sector, public health and so on. It may mean that there is an investment, involved in supporting such staff to gain the required childcare qualifications to register with the SSSC but this will reap rewards as acquiring enthusiastic, motivated staff who are confident and competent in the outdoors and come with a range of skills to support children's learning is key to success .

7.3 Induction

All staff must be given a clear, robust induction for the specific setting you're using and should be provided with continuous professional development opportunities (Section 7.4 below). (The Social Care and Social Work Improvements Scotland (Requirements for Care Services) Regulations 2011 (SSI 2011/210/9/15).

Be aware that development requirements may vary considerably, depending on each person's training and experience. Some staff, for example, may have been trained in outdoor play-based learning at the start of their career but have never put it into practice, while at the opposite extreme, other staff may come from a role in forestry or the environment and need qualifications and training in childcare. Where you have staff experienced in outdoors, it may be helpful to set up a formal buddy system for those newer to this type of setting, especially those who might be nervous about working in an outdoor environment.

7.4 Finding training providers

Many training providers in Scotland support training and CPD for outdoor play, and some of these are verified by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and tracked against the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

Courses include:

  • How to deliver loose part play outside.
  • Dynamic risk assessment.
  • Environmental awareness.
  • How to make shelters.
  • How to interpret the curriculum for excellence.
  • How to enable STEM-based outdoor play.

7.5 Developing personal skills and Continuous Professional Development (CPD)

You will need to assess and consider how to address gaps in your staff's confidence levels, skills and experience.

  • How many people need to be skilled in accessing and supporting outdoor play?
  • Which training could support – CPD, PDA or other formal qualifications?
  • Personality for coping with cold, wet and rainy days – are your staff as resilient as the children?

Continuous professional development should be available to all staff whether predominantly indoors or outdoors. (The Social Care and Social Work Improvements Scotland (Requirements for Care Services) Regulations 2011 (SSI 2011/15).

As with induction, CPD requirements will vary, depending on each member of staff's existing training and experience. Some will require or desire more intense ongoing outdoor training. As with all staff, individual needs should be assessed and discussed regularly.

The SSSC have developed the Continuous Learning Framework (CLF) which is a useful resource to support individual staff and organisations in planning personal and workforce development needs.

See Section 4.5 for additional learning opportunities.



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