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 1

Scotland's National Position Statement on Outdoor Play and Learning

Scotland's Outdoor Play & Learning Coalition Position Statement

Playing outdoors is fundamental...

All children and young people have the right to play and the right to learn as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Children.

Playing outdoors enhances learning and is fundamental for children and young people to thrive in health, wellbeing and development.

It is our shared responsibility to support and enable all of Scotland's children and young people to access our diverse greenspaces and natural landscapes and to empower them to enjoy these spaces for the purposes of playing and learning. We commit to working together to meet these responsibilities.

Playing and learning outdoors is life-enhancing.

  • It improves the physical health of children and young people by increasing physical activity1-4 and equipping them with the skills and attributes essential for living a healthy and active life, thereby contributing to reducing health inequalities5-8 and supporting the aims of national health policies.
  • It promotes mental, social and emotional wellbeing9-11 by helping to reduce stress, increase self-esteem and confidence, develop emotional resilience12-13, and build children and young people's confidence in their own capabilities and ability to manage risks and deal with uncertainty14-15.
  • Importantly, it is fun! And through that fun, it promotes the development of essential social skills, helping children and young people to develop compassion and empathy and to build lasting and loving relationships16-19.
  • It supports wider learning by helping to boost creativity, imagination and understanding. These benefits are enhanced further when playing outdoors in diverse greenspaces and natural landscapes, particularly when the play is led by the child or young person. This provides multiple and enjoyable challenges and creates and enhances learning opportunities. It can also prepare children and young people for more structured learning, thereby supporting the aims of national education policies20-24.
  • It brings people together, connecting children and young people with their local areas and communities and helping to develop a sense of place and feeling of belonging and inclusion. It provides a wealth of opportunities for intergenerational activity, enhancing community cohesion, reducing social isolation, and helping to build inclusive, resilient communities25.
  • It is a powerful tool through which children and young people learn to understand the world around them and their place in it, creating a sense of ownership of all of Scotland's landscapes. Playing and learning outdoors is essential for our children and young people to understand, value, enjoy and protect our natural world. It connects them to their environment, enhancing their appreciation and understanding of its physical properties and diversity26-31.

We commit to life-enhancing outdoor play and learning for all of Scotland's children and young people by:

  • Widening access to the high-quality, diverse greenspaces and natural landscapes that exist throughout all our communities to ensure that all children, young people and families have easy, local access to excellent outdoor play.
  • Opening up more of our communal and publicly-managed spaces for playing and learning outdoors, ensuring that children and young people know they are entitled to access these spaces and feel safe and comfortable using them.
  • Enhancing and enriching urban greenspace and built environments to be inviting, play-friendly places, offering easy access to the outdoors and nature close to home.
  • Empowering every adult involved in the lives of our children and young people with the confidence, enthusiasm and skills to encourage and support them to play and learn outdoors.
  • Generating and sharing knowledge and evidence-based research to promote better understanding of the benefits of playing and learning outdoors.

We will work together to embed playing and learning outdoors as an everyday activity and we will celebrate it as a fundamental part of growing up in Scotland.


  • Inspiring Scotland Scottish Government Active Scotland
  • Adrienne Hughes PhD, Lecturer in Physical Activity for Health, University of Strathclyde
  • Anne Martin PhD, Research Associate, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow
  • Architecture and Design Scotland Care and Learning Alliance
  • Care Inspectorate
  • Catharine Ward Thompson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Edinburgh
  • Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland
  • Central Scotland Green Network Trust Children in Scotland
  • Clare Nugent, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh
  • Claire Warden, Chief Executive of Mindstretchers Ltd, Auchlone Nature Kindergarten and Founder of Living Classrooms CIC
  • College Development Network Community Woodlands Association Development Trusts Association Scotland Dynamic Earth
  • Early Years Scotland Education Scotland Fathers Network Scotland
  • Forestry Commission Scotland General Teaching Council for Scotland Glasgow City Council
  • Glasgow Science Centre
  • Greenspace Scotland
  • Greg Mannion PhD, Senior Lecturer in Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling
  • Grounds for Learning Scotland Historic Environment Scotland International Play Association Scotland John Muir Trust
  • John Reilly, Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health Science, University of Strathclyde
  • Lesley Riddoch, Journalist, broadcaster and author National Day Nurseries Association
  • National Trust for Scotland NHS Health Scotland Parenting Across Scotland
  • Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy at the Gonski Institute for Education, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia
  • Paul McCrorie PhD, Research Associate, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow
  • Paul Ramchandani, LEGO Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning, University of Cambridge
  • Peter Higgins, Professor of Outdoor and Environmental Education, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh
  • Play Scotland
  • Royal Zoological Society of Scotland Scottish Canals
  • Scottish Childminding Association Scottish Land and Estates
  • Scottish Natural Heritage
  • Scottish Out of School Care Network Scottish Social Services Council Skills Development Scotland
  • Scotland's Outdoor Play & Learning Coalition Position Statement

Supporting Document

We are starting from a very positive position. Our policies and legislative framework in Scotland are very supportive of outdoor play and learning to the extent that other countries are beginning to look to us for advice on how to deliver outdoor play.

Scottish Government and Inspiring Scotland have been working together on the promotion, delivery and development of outdoor play for many years with a range of partners. As the significant benefits of play delivered outdoors to children's physical health and mental, social and emotional wellbeing have become clearer, dialogue has developed between a wide range of groups involved in outdoor play and learning; those in regulation and registration, in training, in the management of outdoor spaces, researchers and environmentalists.

Through this dialogue, it became clear that providing outdoor play and learning for children and young people supports the aims and objectives of public bodies and organisations across a number of sectors, including addressing pressing issues such as poor health outcomes and health inequalities and supporting national efforts to close the attainment gap in education. It became apparent to a growing number of people and organisations that enabling more playing and learning outdoors could go a long way to ensuring the best outcomes for Scotland's children and young people.

At the same time, discussions about how to achieve Scottish Government's commitment to deliver 1,140 hours of funded nursery hours to all 3 to 5-year-old and eligible 2-year-old children by August 2020 were taking place. That commitment will nearly double funded provision which brings huge benefits but will also require challenges to be overcome such as the limited suitable physical infrastructure to expand provision within existing nursery provision sufficiently. One way this can be addressed is by significantly increasing outdoor nursery provision.

The concurrence of these developments led to Inspiring Scotland and the Scottish Government convening a roundtable discussion co-hosted by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, and Celia Tennant, Chief Executive of Inspiring Scotland, and involving leading international experts in the fields of health, education, childcare and the environment.

That group recommended the establishment of a Coalition for Playing and Learning Outdoors in Scotland to bring together all those organisations involved in outdoor play and learning, those who can influence the development of public spaces and organisations whose work influences how children in Scotland grow up. 50 organisations came together in person in June to start the process of drafting a shared position statement. The text was further refined with input from those attendees and other organisations with 50 bodies signed up to the final position statement. This position statement represents a commitment from the signatories to work together to embed playing and learning outdoors in the way children and young people are raised in Scotland.

Beyond the commitment of the signatories, this statement is intended to give support and encouragement to those already involved in outdoor play and learning and to those who recognise its potential but have yet to make the first step. We also hope that this statement and the commitment of the signatories will serve as an inspiration to all those who are in a position to deliver or to enable outdoor play and learning but have not previously considered it.

There is already innovative practice taking place in Scotland and, whether in our major cities and towns or our coastal, island or rural communities, we want to build on that to make the opportunity to play and learn outdoors a universal part of growing up in Scotland.

Policy Framework in context

The journey through education for any child in Scotland must include opportunities for a series of quality outdoor learning experiences. There have been a number of Scottish Government policies and guidance over recent years which set out national expectations and continue to highlight outdoor learning experiences for children as being key to provision of high quality learning. The most relevant are Scotland's National Performance Framework (2018), Getting it Right for Every Child (2008), Curriculum for Excellence 3-18 (2008), Health and Social Care Standards (2017), the Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision (2013), the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, The STEM Education and Training Strategy for Scotland (2017) and the Mental Health Strategy (2017). The value of outdoor play to children and young people cannot be over-emphasised and the links across these frameworks demonstrates the wide ranging benefits for health and wellbeing.


Playing and learning outdoors

The Position Statement uses the phrase "playing and learning outdoors" as a singular and broad-ranging term. We believe learning is an inherent quality of play and, therefore, use of this phrase is not intended to suggest playing and learning are separate and mutually exclusive activities. As such "playing and learning outdoors", as used in this statement, can refer to activities in which no specific learning outcome is intended. However, this statement also refers to outdoor play practice in which learning is a specific and intended outcome such as in a school, childcare or other educational setting. In every case covered by this statement, the playing and learning referred to must be outdoors.

Diverse greenspaces and natural landscapes

The Position Statement uses the phrase "diverse greenspaces and natural landscapes" to cover the wide range of place types available for playing and learning outdoors in Scotland. It is intended to be inclusive of but not limited to urban public parks, gardens, commons, open green areas, and play parks as well as natural, wild landscapes such as woodlands, forests, beaches and coastal areas, hillsides, meadows, moors and mountains held in the public gift or open to the public. Use of the phrase "greenspaces" is not intended to exclude the urban built environment but, reflecting the commitment in this statement to enhance and enrich the urban built environment, implies a preference for urban areas to include, as much as possible, the diverse flora of Scotland.

Children and young people

The Position Statement uses the phrase "children and young people" to mean anyone under the age of 18 years old, as well any young people whose additional needs or circumstances mean they may benefit from playing and learning outdoors beyond the age of 18. "Young people" has been included in the statement, in favour of the United Nations definition of a child as anyone under 18 years old, to reflect our intention to demonstrate that playing and learning outdoors should not be limited to younger children but encouraged for all young people.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Position Statement supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Specifically, it refers to the rights conferred in Articles 31, 28 and 3:

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 and the arts.

Article 28 (1)

Parties recognise the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity.

Article 3 (1)

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The Evidence

The claims made in the Position Statement are supported by robust evidence and research from around the world, some of which is listed below. Please note, this list is not exhaustive and was not compiled as comprehensive literature or evidence review and should not be taken as such.

1. Currie C, Whitehead R, Van der Sluijs W, Currie D, Rhodes G, Neville F and Inchley J (2015) Health Behaviour in School-aged Children: World Health Organization Collaborative Cross-National Study (HBSC): findings from the 2014 HBSC survey in Scotland. Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit (CAHRU), University of St Andrews.

2. Gray C., Gibbons R., Larouche R., Hansen Sandseter E.B., Bienenstock A., Brussoni M., Chabot G., Herrington S., Janssen I., Pickett W., et al. What is the relationship between outdoor time and physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and physical fitness in children? A systematic review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2015;12:6455–6474

3. Cooper A.R., Page A.S., Wheeler B.W., Hillsdon M., Griew P., Jago R. Patterns of GPS measured time outdoors after school and objective physical activity in English children. The PEACH project. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act. 2010 doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-7-31

4. Johnstone A, Hughes AR, Martin A, Reilly JJ. Utilising active play interventions to promote physical activity and improve fundamental movement skills in children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC public health. 2018 Dec;18(1):789.

5. Lee, I-Min et al., (2012). Effect of physical activity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet, Volume 380, Issue 9838, 219 - 229.

6. Raitakari O.T., Porkka K.V.K., Taimela S., Telama R., Rasanen L., Viikari J.S.A. (1994) Effects of persistent physical activity and inactivity on coronary risk factors in children and young adults: The cardiovascular risk in young Finns study. Amer. J. Epidemiol. 140:195–205

7. Jennings, V, Larson, L., Yun, J., (2016). Advancing sustainability through urban green space: Cultural ecosystem services, equity, and social determinants of health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(2)

8. Maxwell, S., Lovell, R., (2017). Evidence Statement on the links between natural environments and human health. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School

9. Gray P. The decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in children and adolescents. Am J Play 2011;3:443-63.

10. Twenge et al. Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938-2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical

11. See 7.

12. Twenge, J.M. (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952-1993. J Personal Social Psychology;79:1007

13. Egorov, A.J., Mudu, P., Braubach, M., Martuzzi, M. (2016). Urban green spaces and health. World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen.

14. Brussoni et al. Risky play and children's safety: Balancing priorities for optimal child development. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2012;9:3134-8

15. Ball, D.J., Ball-King, L.N. (2018) Risk and the perception of risk in interactions with nature, Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health, Oxford University Press. 215-220.

16. Ginsburg KR. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Paediatrics 2007;119:182-91.

17. Richardson, E. A., et al (2017) The role of public and private natural space in children's social, emotional and behavioural Development in Scotland: A longitudinal study. Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health, Research Institute of Geography and the Lived Environment, University of Edinburgh. Environmental Research 158, 729-736

18. Michael Yogman, Andrew Garner, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Committee On Psychosocial Aspects Of Child And Family Health, Council On Communications And Media, Pediatrics Sep

2018, 142 (3) e20182058; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-058 early/2018/08/16/peds.2018-2058

19. Humphreys, C., Blenkinsop, S., (2018). Ecological identity, empathy, and experiential learning: A young child's exploration of a nearby river. Australian Journal of Environmental Education

20. Christie, B, Beames, S & Higgins, P (2016), Culture, context and critical thinking: Scottish secondary school teachers' and pupils' experiences of outdoor learning British Educational Research Journal, vol. 42, no. 3, pp. 417- 437. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3213

21. See 16.

22. Cumming, F., Nash, M., (2015). An Australian perspective of a forest school: Shaping a sense of place to support learning. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 15(4), 296-309.

23. McCree, M., Cutting, R., Sherwin, D., (2018). The Hare and the Tortoise go to Forest School: Taking the scenic route to academic attainment via emotional wellbeing outdoors. Early Child Development and Care, 188(7), 980-996.

24. Camasso, M.J., Jagannathan, R., (2018). Nurture thru nature: Creating natural science identities in populations of disadvantaged children through community education partnership. Journal of Environmental Education, 49(1), 30-42

25. Mannion G (2016) Intergenerational Education and Learning: We Are In A New Place. In: Punch S, Vanderbeck R, Skelton T (ed.). Family, Intergenerationality and Peer-Group Relations. Geographies of Children and Young People, 5, London: Springer, pp. 1-21.

26. Margrete Skar, Vegard Gundersen & Liz O'Brien (2016) How to engage children with nature: why not just let them play?, Children's Geographies, 14:5, 527-540, DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2015.1136734

27. Richardson M, Cormack A, McRobert L, Underhill R (2016) 30 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0149777. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149777

28. Profice, C., Santos, G.M., dos Anjos, N.A., (2016). Children and nature in Tukum Village: Indigenous education and biophilia. Journal of Child and Adolescent Behavior, 4(6)

29. Tsevreni, I., Tigka, A., (2018). Young children claiming their connection with nonhuman nature in their schoolground. Children, Youth and Environments, 28(1), 119-127.

30. MacQuarrie, S., Nugent, C. & Warden, C. (2015). Learning with nature and learning from others: nature as setting and resource for early childhood education. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 15(1), 1-23

31. Higgins, P. & Christie, B. (2018). Learning for Sustainability. In T. G. Bryce, WM. Humes, D. Gillies, & A. Kennedy (Eds.), Scottish Education (5th edition.). Edinburgh University Press.



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