What the Care Inspectorate Expects

The role of providers and staff is to work out the main physical and environmental risks and take steps to reduce them. You need to balance the risks against the benefits and make children the main focus of the risk-benefit assessment process.

My world outdoors - Group of children at beach












While we acknowledge that every setting is individual, as a minimum we expect children and young people of all ages to experience:

  • routine access to a stimulating outdoor play area including daily opportunities to spend time outdoors and, if children attend full-time, part of their day should be spent outdoors
  • freedom of choice to move between the indoor and outdoor environments, whenever practicable
  • the opportunity to explore the natural environment
  • access to a range of high-quality outdoor play and learning opportunities throughout the year
  • resources to support learning and development

Through access to a range of outdoor activities we expect that children will:

  • participate in a wide range of activities that will support a healthy lifestyle
  • develop the skills to assess and manage risk
  • experience personal achievement and build confidence
  • explore and make choices
  • develop physical skills through movement and energetic play

Looking through the SHANARRI lens


Know each child as individual. This means you can help enable them to access an environment safely, so that most activities are within their capabilities but some will challenge them to develop their physical skills and confidence further.   Consider children’s potential to learn and benefit by taking risks. As children and young people develop they need to try new things and learn new skills. They need to work out risks for themselves as part of their learning process.  Involve children in the risk-benefit assessment process so they can develop their knowledge and self-awareness and contribute more of their ideas and learning. By including children in the risk assessment process, you can empower them to make safe decisions. 


As a provider or practitioner, your role is to help children experience the highest standards of physical and mental health, and support them to make healthy, safe choices.
Playing and learning outdoors offers other benefits, such as development of the senses: hearing; vision; smell; and spatial awareness, as well as increasing capacity for learning.
All children’s services will have unique aims and premises that may or may not lend themselves easily to outdoor experiences. Imagination and creativity are important. Within everyone’s wider community there are environments where children’s health can benefit from playing and learning outdoors. For example, parks, woodland, beaches, farmland and allotments can all be used to help support better health outcomes.


It is important that you find ways to provide children with opportunities for outdoor learning. Any outdoor area whether it be beach, forest or well-resourced, adapted tarmac playground can provide a rich environment to excite exploration, investigation and open-ended play to help develop children’s thinking and creativity skills.
  • To help you reflect on your service’s outdoor practice, ask yourself:
  • Have we planned for and provided resources for a range of rich outdoor learning experiences across the curriculum?
  • Do we need advice from a specialist agency such as Grounds for Learning to help us develop our outdoor play area or programme of activities?
  •  Do we have high expectations of what children might learn outdoors?
  • What is the best way to ask children what they want to do or learn outdoors?


You can create opportunities for babies, children and young people to connect with nature and the outdoors. Children who are dealing with negative issues in their lives often express themselves in behaviours that may cause disruption indoors: running and shouting; boisterous play; climbing and jumping. These types of behaviours can be expressed in the space and freedom of the outdoors with much less negative reactions from adults and less impact on the children’s peers. Children may need the time and space of the outdoors to be alone, to work through scenarios in play, or to vent anger and frustration. The outdoors offers children the chance to come together with others in their own time, to play in parallel, to learn the rules of negotiation from the sidelines and gradually join in and become part of the team. Being able to make choices about where and how they spend their time can support children to develop self-regulation skills. With the right environment and equipment emotions can be expressed in positive skills and achievements; supporting children’s resilience, self-esteem, health and wellbeing.
Responsive care giving from interested and engaged adults will enable children to get the best out of their outdoor experiences. For example:
  • being sensitive to children’s emotional wellbeing
  •  respecting children’s interests and choices
  •  role modelling a positive attitude towards the outdoors in all weathers
  •  interacting to support children’s enjoyment and learning
  •  ensuring that children are dressed appropriately for the weather.


You should ensure that children have appropriate opportunities to enjoy a range of suitable physical activities, including some vigorous activity.
When planning the programme of activities, you could ask the following questions of staff, children and parents:
  • how much time and opportunities do children in your settings have for vigorous physical activity?
  • what outdoor activities could you introduce to help meet the physical activity guidelines?
Using the Early Years Collaborative Model for Improvement could help you to plan and improve children’s opportunities and experiences outdoors.


Most children generally love to be outdoors and they have a right to access nature. As discussed in previous sections the benefits of outdoor play and learning to children’s development, health and wellbeing are many. We can respect children by developing our skills as enablers; helping children to have access and take part, taking account of what we know from our relationship with the child, our observations of them and what they tell us about their individual preferences, views and ideas.
For example, you might reflect on children’s personalities and ask yourself questions such as:
  • Who in our setting would enjoy and benefit from risky, energetic, physical activity?
  • Do we have quieter, creative children who would prefer sitting on the grass exploring transient art with flower petals and leaves?
  • Is this child a water baby who wants to splash in puddles or dam a stream?
  • What can an individual child be successful in achieving that will boost their self-esteem?
  • How can we collaborate and role-model while letting children and young people take the lead?
  • Are we reinforcing this child’s achievements with positive feedback and praise?
You respect children using care services when you ensure all of them are:
  • listened to
  • able to influence the service you provide
  • included
  • not discriminated against on any basis
  • given equal opportunities and can participate fully
  • able to reflect on their experiences and contribute to improving the service.


Giving children opportunities to engage with their local environment can help develop their responsibility within their own community. Topics include: waste management, habitat or wildlife protection; or exploring sustainability in the key areas of Scotland’s fishing, farming, energy, tourism and forestry. Projects for young children should be relevant, understandable real-life experiences that extend their natural interest and enquiry. For example, growing and eating their own produce or sharing produce with another group in the community have become commonplace. Many settings have worked towards the Eco-school Scotland Award. For older children, perhaps in out-of-school care or residential settings, they might enjoy discovering, exploring and conserving a local wild place and sharing their learning while working toward the John Muir Award, run by the John Muir Trust.


Cultural Inclusion

In Getting it Right for Every Child, ensuring children are included means examining each child as an individual and ensuring they can take part, feel included and accepted. Children’s self-esteem relies on their culture and diversity being valued and celebrated and feeling they can contribute equally. Encouraging children to engage with the local community in local outdoor projects helps all children to feel included in the sense of the New Zealand early years guidance ‘iki’; to have a sense of place, belonging and identity, to have two-way engagement with the community. These aspects are important in building all children’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

Physical Inclusion and Disability

For each child, think about accessibility, their stage of development and physical ability. For example, this could mean thinking about creating safe spaces for babies to crawl, explore and develop their senses. If any child has mobility or sight impairment, sensory considerations are crucial. You should plan thoughtfully so that everyone is included, rather than taking separate measures to meet the needs of an excluded group. You should consider accessible pathways and manageable gradients for your service’s grounds. However, your areas need not be sterile – think about adding interest and sensory experience, with varying materials, for example. The public areas you visit should already be accessible but may pose challenges that need creative solutions.

Social Inclusion

Services can play an important role in ensuring that outdoor play is seen as something that can be enjoyed by girls and boys alike. Social attitudes and values can mean not all parents and carers see outdoor play as an equal opportunity for both girls and boys. Economic barriers may need to be overcome if payments are required for ‘extra-curricular’ activities.
There are close links in ensuring children are included by respecting their views and interests, and involving them in planning and risk assessments of their own abilities.
For most children, the outdoors can be a great leveller, offering an environment where they can be free to participate in their own way – an environment where all differences are respected and can play on common ground.
You can promote equality and ensure that children are not excluded, for example because they don’t have the right clothing or footwear or attend part-time.
The outdoors should offer opportunities for children to play in wider age groups and with siblings in the same setting, or in the community. The outdoors experience can support children to build friendships, familial relationships and a have wider sense of community that helps them to feel included.


My world outdoors - rockpoolThe Care Inspectorate is conscious of the importance of striking a balanced approach to risk in order to achieve the best outcomes for children. For example, we have seen how the use of written risk assessments for everyday activities can become unnecessarily restrictive. While a written risk assessment may be necessary for a particular activity, if applied disproportionately to routine play activities, then this can result in unintended consequences, with staff spending so much time completing paperwork that it either takes them away from working directly with children or makes them decide that it is not worth planning the activity in the first place.

We are therefore encouraging a reasonable and proportionate approach and actively countering any assumption that as a regulator we are expecting written risk assessments for routine play activities. A traditional approach to risk assessment tends to focus solely on eliminating negative aspects of risk rather than also embracing its benefits.

We are therefore actively promoting a risk-benefit approach and produced the following statement on risk in play:

Care Inspectorate statement on risk in play “The Care Inspectorate supports care service providers taking a positive approach to risk in order to achieve the best outcomes for children. This means moving away from a traditional deficit model that takes a risk-averse approach, which can unnecessarily restrict children’s experiences attending registered services, to a more holistic risk-benefit model. For example, we encourage services to use risk assessment to support children to enjoy potentially hazardous activities such as woodwork using real tools, exploring nature and playing in the mud and rain. We do not expect written risk assessments to be carried out for daily play activities.” 30 October 2015

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