Outdoor play examples

Services have been using the My World Outdoors resource and sharing their experiences of outdoor play with us.

These examples have been submitted by services after the Care Inspectorate published My World Outdoors. Their experiences, in their own words.

We publish regular inspection reports for all care services - and grades can go up and down depending on what we see. The examples here should always be read in conjunction with the latest inspection report.

If you want to let us know how you're using the My World Outdoors resource or your own experiences of outdoor play, please get in touch via hub@careinspectorate.com or go to Submit Your Story.

Polbeth Nursery is a nursery school situated beside St Mary’s Primary School, Polbeth. It is registered to provide full day-care for children aged from two years to primary school entry.

Polbeth Nursery - Garden 1“At Polbeth Nursery we have been working hard to develop our garden. We ensure that literacy and numeracy opportunities are evident in all areas of our garden. We have worked with our parents to help them understand the benefits of risk. We are considered a centre of good practice within West Lothian and beyond; our garden ideas are regularly shared on national sites.

Polbeth Nursery - Garden 2"Our garden is an extension of our indoor space and children have free flow access to it. We believe that all learning opportunities available indoors can be mirrored outdoors in engaging ways. Our children are encouraged to be independent, take risks and to fully explore the fun learning experiences our garden has to offer."

3 Bears Nursery operates from a converted church in Renfrew. It is registered to provide full day-care for children aged from six weeks to those not yet attending primary school.

“The vision within the 3 Bears is to provide a stimulating and challenging environment for learning through quality outdoor play. We have now completed our first block of forest schools which was a success. 

3 Bears Nursery 1“Leanne McCartney is our Forest Schools co-ordinator who has been at the heart of driving this project forward. When Leanne completed her training she shared it with all service users. Although there was a lot of apprehension initially with both the staff team and parents, Leanne took time to fully engage with them through small interactive workshops to give them a full understanding of the benefits of the forest School programme and outdoor learning.

“Forest school provides a huge amount of benefits for children such as an increase in their self-belief and self-discipline; it builds on their confidence, learning capacity, enthusiasm, communication and problem-solving skills and over-all well-being. The children are encouraged to become much more independent but also gained the skills to work as part of a team.

3 Bears Nursery 2“The children embraced the outdoor learning environment in all weathers, thriving in all of nature’s elements. They were fully involved in organising their day at the forest – from packing their individual back packs to risk assessing the area. They were also encouraged to use specific language such as ‘boundaries’, ‘risk assessing’, and ‘keeping ourselves safe’ which led to full discussions on how to ensure they were safe such as having a ‘leader’, ‘ender’ and why we had the boundaries in place. The children were keen to climb trees so staff encouraged them to risk assess and discuss the dangers and ways to keep safe. The children were then encouraged to freely explore ways in which they could climb trees safely

“Children took ownership of their own learning as each week they discussed what they would like to learn or explore. They looked in depth at the Julia Donaldson book ‘Stickman’ where they used their creativity to discover different ways in which the forest could be useful to create their own Stickman stories. Throughout their time at the forest children started to notice changes in the environment as the seasons were changing from winter to spring.”

“My favourite part was setting up boundaries. We put ribbon on the trees which we couldn’t pass, this helped us keep safe” Ryan aged 5

Bowhouse Primary School Nursery operates a morning and afternoon day care session in Grangemouth. It is registered to provide day care for children aged three years to those not yet attending primary school.

Bowhouse Nursery 1“Bowhouse Nursery Class in Grangemouth has enjoyed a positive partnership with the rangers of Scottish Wildlife Trust at Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre for many years and in recent years we have been making regular seasonal visits.

“The aims of our visits are very much linked to and influenced by curriculum and SHANARRI principles.

In particular we aim to promote:

  • The children’s awareness of the seasons, their influence on nature and the natural environment.
  • Encouraging the children to use their senses in a rich natural sensory environment.
  • Enjoyment of the natural environment in all weathers with appropriate clothing.
  • Promoting learning across the curriculum through hands on, interactive, social, fun learning experiences.
  • Children and families awareness and interest in Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre as a free local resource.

Bowhouse Nursery 2"We have found our visits to Jupiter have proved popular with children and parents alike. Our parents drop off the children at the ranger office and collect the children at the end of the nursery session. Many parents offer to help and join in enthusiastically. Den building is especially popular with dad who help, well let's be honest you're never too old to build a den! After his first visit one dad booked the other dates as holidays from work so he could help. we are extremely grateful to him for his den building skills and the joyful play experiences his son engages in with his friends and dad, appear to be a wonderful reward and we are sure building many happy memories.

“Our play sessions loosely follow seasonal themes to help us plan and resource the experiences; like a Halloween theme which lends itself nicely to smelly woodlands potions and a spooky treasure hunt. 

We have found the Natures’ Detectives site useful for activity ideas and resources.

“While we have a broad plan in place, no two visits are the same. We have found as we have grown in confidence, the positive role models experienced pre-school children provide for younger children along with regular use of our woodland kit of a small magnifying glass, a treasure collection bag and ponchos on hand for heavy rain have all encouraged the children to develop more independent investigations, co-operation and problem solving skills.”

Elphinstone Primary Schools Nursery operates from the building of Elphinstone Primary School, which is situated in a small village in the East Lothian Countryside. It is registered to provide day care for children with morning sessions during term time.

Elphinstone 1“The playroom has views across fields and onwards to the Lammermuir Hills. Being surrounded by nature provides the perfect background in which to immerse ourselves within.
We believe that children benefit hugely from access to nature and so have introduced as much nature as possible indoors as well as in our outdoor garden. Our children have sticks, shells, pine cones and other natural materials all year round and these are enhanced with seasonal materials such as leaves in Autumn, blossom in Spring for example. The children are not only able to watch the seasons change from their outdoor surroundings but experience it within their indoor space too.

“While our outdoor space is compact it has quality learning opportunities. Using recycled tyres and large sticks, a den in summer has beans and peas growing and in winter can be made into a shelter using tarpaulins.

“The children are encouraged to stretch their own personal boundaries, taking small risks which they feel comfortable with. These risks allow the children’s confidence to grow and we often witness children who have overcome one hurdle to stand, talk and support another child through the same thing until that child is comfortable.

Elphinstone 2“Our children attend ‘nature play’ sessions in a local woodland where they experience ‘wild’ nature. During these sessions they experience a whole host of things, the heightening of their senses with the changing light, the feeling of going somewhere wild with only nature surrounding them and physical challenges that they experience with the uneven ground to name a few. Their confidence grows the more they visit the site and they start to become bolder in the activities they do while they are there. The feeling of inclusion as they are all there together, doing something as a group and working co-operatively are all achieved through these visits.

“A child dissected an apple bit by bit describing and naming the parts of it. She then counted the number of pips it had and decided she wanted to plant them. The other children loved to help water it and measure how big it had grown and so decided what else they’d like to plant. They also gather fruits and vegetables that grow in the nursery garden as well as the school playground and decide what they want to do with them. In Autumn there are always calls for blackberry and apple crumble or leek and potato soup!”

St Cyrus School Nursery is part of St Cyrus Primary School in the village of St Cyrus on the North East coast. It is registered to provide morning and afternoon sessions of day care for children aged three years to those not yet attending primary school.

“A new member of staff told us about a mud kitchen that had been built out of pallets at a setting that she had previously worked at. We already had a mud kitchen but wanted to improve our outside area. We enlisted the help of two of our parents and used the Model for Improvement from My World Outdoors as we worked with our children, their adults and all staff to gather ideas and have a clear idea about what we were trying to accomplish. We then collated all of the ideas and planned what our finished mud kitchen might look like.

“The use of IT and sites such as Pinterest helped the children and staff to visualise ideas and stimulated more ideas. Our very committed parents then built the kitchen from recycled materials, visiting nursery regularly and involving the children in different parts of the design and manufacture process. Other parents/carers contributed pots, pans, plants and kitchen utensils. Once the kitchen was in place we asked if any changes could be made to make it even better. This resulted in a new plate rack being made out of an old drawer.

“The process has involved everyone in the nursery - even the cleaners and dinner ladies have been interested in it and have been asking lots of questions! The result is a fantastic learning opportunity for our children that has been developed from the sharing of good practice by an Early Years Practitioner. From this tiny seed our whole nursery community has become involved and have seen their views valued and acted upon.

“Our children spend happy focused time in our mud kitchen - taking orders, mixing, stirring, baking, serving and following their own recipe cards. They have fresh herbs to "add flavour" to their creations and the use of print and numbers wherever possible make sure that literacy, numeracy and a huge dose of wellbeing are at the centre of their learning.”

Lathallan Nursery operates as part of Lathallan Independent School in Johnshaven, Montrose. It is registered to provide day care for children aged from birth to those not yet attending primary school.

Lathallan Group“If you go down to the woods today…instead of Teddy Bears, you would find children from age 2-5 enjoying a fun filled morning or afternoon zip-wiring at Lathallan Nursery.

With special harnesses and helmets, the excited youngsters can zoom down the 100m zip-wire with a member of staff, or if they were especially brave they could go down themselves! The children have a great time, in what is a truly unique nursery activity.

“The Badgers pre-school class were asked what they liked about the zip wire.“I like shouting Iron man”, “I like going by myself”, “going super speedy”, “swinging, going fast”, “going with my teachers”

“Colin Christie, Nursery Administration Manager, explained “We felt that involving the children in zip wiring was an exciting and unique experience that we were keen to let the children try. The aim was to help the children build their confidence by trying something totally different, and lots of fun was had by all involved!”

“This unique experience for nursery aged children is just one of the many outdoor based activities that Lathallan Nursery children enjoy. Based in sixty acres of Scottish countryside, Lathallan Nursery make full use of the outdoor world to promote learning through fun and new experiences.

“Janice Jarvie, Nursery Manager explained, “The belief here is that outdoor learning is a keystone in all children’s education.”

“An excellent way to nurture a lifelong appreciation of the outdoors, all children at the Nursery are encouraged to engage with the surroundings in a variety of play and learning scenarios.”

Jenna Campbell Childminding Service is based in Ayr and registered to childmind a maximum of six children at any one time under the age of 16, of whom no more than three are not yet attending primary school and of whom no more than one is under 12 months.

"My garden was a blank canvas when I started childminding, as we had only just moved into the property six months previous. My sons birthday was coming up in the June, and as he loves being outdoors, my focus was to create him a simple play area. It started off with my husband fencing off a small area to the back, where we laid wood chip down and got a variety of plastic items such as a slide and sandpit.

Jenna Campbell - CollageMy ideas then just grew from there, and over the winter months ahead I planned areas for development starting the following spring. I don't have a separate play room for my childminding, and work from our family living room, so the garden was where I could let my ideas flow and really use my imagination. My reason behind each area is to provide a fun and enticing environment, which also provides endless learning opportunities. I took basic ideas for each area, then with the help of google, childminding forums, and forest school websites, I was able to bring those ideas together and have a plan in my head for what I wanted to include. 

Jenna Campbell - Signs

Currently we have 7 main areas, but they do all merge and flow into one another. These include a water wall, nature watch, music and sensory corner, a mud kitchen, a sand pit, a large chalk wall, and a climbing structure. I would say 60% of materials used were either donated, recycled or simply found by myself and the kids whilst out on one of our walks. It took quite a bit of imagination and vision but a lot of the areas were made completely from items considered as 'rubbish'. I have a love for natural materials and tried to use this where possible. All the work was carried out by myself and my husband on our days off and we were very open when developing each area. My ideas grew and changed at the last minute of building. It is very much an on going project but the work roughly took 4 weeks, going from a blank space to having each playarea clearly there. I would never consider it finished though! 

My parents love my emphasis on outdoor play and all have been very supportive in our developing of the garden, handing in items they felt I could make use of. So far the garden has been a great success with each child in my care, they all have their favourite area, and we are constantly developing and adding new bits in to suit their needs."


BBN Investments Ltd trading as The Club Out of School Care & Community Hub is based in Whitburn and registered to provide a day care service to a maximum of 56 school age children.

The Club tree climbing

"Play is so important, vital to the healthy development of our young people especially today as they don’t have as much opportunities/access to outdoor play. We live and are captivated, in a world of social media which has impacted on how young people play, with peer social interactions occurring without young people having to take a step outside.

We can provide young people with the opportunity to experience regular fun outdoor play.

The service I manage (The Club) is big and spacious, we offer all 16 play types ensuring we are offering a varied, FUN, stimulating and RISKY play programme. We provide a fantastic, popular, busy, expanding club with an abundance of opportunities indoors but we don’t have an outdoor space.  However, this has never been a barrier or affected the quality of service we deliver as all young people have regular access to being outdoors.

Rain or shine we are out in all weathers.  Parents are extremely happy that their child has outdoor opportunities, are engaged in rich, risky, fun play and are happy.   They provide their child with wellies, water proofs, and change of clothes and off we go rain or shine!!

We are centrally located between two play parks, one has a basketball court, football pitch and a woodland area as well as a park. The other play park is newly designed with a generous amount of green space which we use to provide many exciting play experiences. We have Polkemmet Park a few miles down the road with a wonderful woodland area.  

We believe it is paramount that young people have the opportunity to access outdoor play daily. Every space should be seen as a blank canvas allowing creativity and providing rich memorable play experiences they will never forget. 

The Club SlidingAt our club we like to take play a step further. The young people have enjoyed mud/ water sliding, messy play, water pistol fights, den building, forestry and much more, all within their local community. This is play they may never get to experience otherwise. They are exposed to the elements, out in all weathers, nothing stops us!  My favourite sayings are “we won’t melt” and “not such a thing is bad weather it’s bad clothing”           

Outdoor play is a main feature within our club. We believe our young people are learning and developing new/ existing skills such as problem solving,  positive peer socialisation,  negotiation, building confidence, self-esteem, risk taking/ decision making. “We are an outdoor classroom where skills learned are lifelong” Nowadays many children are wrapped in cotton wool and don’t get enough physical exercise. They need to be out in their local communities  building resilience, trying new experiences  pushing themselves to climb that tree a bit higher, jump from the high beam, fall over and start again.       

So please If you have an outdoor space USE IT, if you have barriers REMOVE them, and the rest will evolve………Always work less and PLAY hard!”

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