My World Outdoors front cover
Author Care Inspectorate
Resource Type Care Inspectorate Programmes & Publications

My world outdoors

In recent years we have seen a wonderful flourishing of outdoor play in Scotland and the Care Inspectorate is proud of our role in helping this to happen.

The practice resource My World Outdoors, which highlights the benefits of outdoor play for children attending early learning and childcare, has been very influential.


My World Outdoors set out our position on the risks to children from playing outdoors and addressed some of the myths that had built up regarding regulation. For example, services would assume that as the regulator we would not tolerate children taking part in risky activities such as climbing trees, cooking on real fires or playing near water. In fact the opposite is the case and for children’s overall health and wellbeing we recognise that the benefits far outweigh the risks, which can be properly managed. This was starkly illustrated by William Bird’s 2007 research published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which shows that children have progressively lost the right to roam freely from their home within four generations. So we issued a clear policy statement in My World Outdoors and ran a national roadshow in partnership with Play Scotland to address these myths.

Children playing in leaves

We also wanted to tell the inspiring story of how specialist outdoor-based services have developed in Scotland. When the first forest nursery applied to be registered, this presented a dilemma for our predecessor body the Care Commission. Having a nursery fully immersed in a woodland setting without a nursery building did not meet many of the traditional environmental standards and there were concerns about the infection control risk. These concerns were overcome and through this we learned to be more flexible in how standards are applied so that children can realise the benefit of what the Japanese call ‘Shin-rin Yoku’ or ‘forest bathing’. Since ‘The Secret Garden’ in Fife was registered as the UK’s first outdoor-based nursery, we have been actively supporting the growth of these unique specialist services. Scotland now has almost 20 of these services and we were pleased to register the first outdoor-based out of school care service.

The more balanced approach to risk as set out in My World Outdoors is also reflected in the new Health and Social Care Standards, with one stating:

“I make informed choices and decisions about the risks I take in my daily life and am encouraged to take positive risks which enhance the quality of my life.”

These Standards are radical in that they focus on what people should expect from any type of care service rather than provider inputs. Rather than inspecting tangible measures such as records, policies or infection control procedures, we are asking the ‘so what’ question and assessing the impact a service is having on an individual’s outcomes. So for outdoor play, as well as inspecting whether an outdoor play area is safe and well equipped, we are now inspecting the quality of children’s outdoor play experience and what they do when they are outside. The most relevant Standard for outdoor play states:

“As a child, I play outdoors every day and regularly explore a natural environment.”

Children walking to water

The Care Inspectorate carries out a large number of inspections each year and we want to use the knowledge we gain from this to best effect by highlighting the good practice that we are finding. With Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) consisting of range of different services - including playgroups, out of school care and childminders as well as different nursery types – we are the only national body that visits all services for children operating across the country. So we want to use this privileged position to share and celebrate the positive experiences we are seeing.

It is often easier to adopt a risk-averse position and to focus on the negatives for children in today’s society. And there is plenty to be negative about, with Scotland’s topping the international league tables for obesity and the amount of time children spend looking at screens, while attainment levels continue to fall. My World Outdoors celebrates our strengths as an international leader in outdoor play. While we may still fall behind Scandinavian countries, our innovative and flexible approach has generated significant international interest. For instance, we were recently funded to advise Canadian Government regulators on the development of outdoor play provision.

My World Outdoors also recognises that this is part of our rich national heritage. When the Robert Owen established what many call the world first nursery school in New Lanark, this was based on the benefits of nature and physical play.

“The children were not to be annoyed with books… the schoolroom for the infants’ instruction was furnished with paintings, chiefly of animals, with maps, and often supplied with natural objects from the gardens, fields and woods – the examination and explanation of which always excited their curiosity …

…their chief occupation will be to play and amuse themselves in severe weather: at other times they will be permitted to occupy the inclosed area before the building; for, to give children a vigorous constitution they ought to be kept as much as possible in the open air.”

(Robert Owen)

Similarly, when a previous State funded expansion of ELC took place at the beginning the 20th Century, in Scotland this took the form of a network of ‘Child Gardens’ in urban areas. These Child Gardens were based on Froebelian principles of natural play, with children spending most of the day outdoors and each child having their own vegetable plot.

Since My World Outdoors was published, the Care Inspectorate has worked with Scottish Government and Inspiring Scotland to produce further guidance promoting outdoor play as part of ELC expansion. These include:

Space to Grow
Out to Play

As part of our ongoing work with Scottish Government promoting the development of outdoor play for children, we have published ‘Seeing the wood for the trees’.  This is an academic paper that charts how the regulation of early learning and childcare has evolved to improve children’s experience of outdoor play. The paper will contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the scrutiny of care and will be added to the course materials for the Professional Development Award. There is considerable interest in the role that we are playing in supporting the flourishing of outdoor play in Scotland. For example, the Lawson Foundation is funding the Care Inspectorate to give a keynote address at a conference in Canada and our presentation will be based on this paper.


Outdoor-based daycare of children services

Since registering the UK’s first full-time forest nursery, the Care Inspectorate has welcomed the increasing number of new outdoor-based services being registered (and existing services becoming outdoor-based), which have expanded to include voluntary sector playgroups, local authority nurseries and out-of-school clubs, as well as private nurseries. We define an outdoor-based service as one that describes itself as a specialist outdoor service and where children spend the majority of time outdoors.

Opportunities for children to play outdoors and explore their natural environment have generally become more limited within local communities. This was starkly illustrated by William Bird’s 2007 research published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which shows that children have progressively lost the right to roam freely from their home within four generations. So increasingly the role of registered early learning and childcare services is to proactively ensure that children have a range of experiences outdoors, from the service’s own outdoor play area, local parks and further afield.

Playing with shell

Children’s experiences and their capacity to learn and develop are enhanced by being able to experience nature first hand. Simply being outside in fresh air is beneficial, but when children are helped to actively explore nature themselves the dividends for improving outcomes are exponential. If staff help children to develop their own free-flow play activities outdoors and learn through nature, then we are seeing children flourish. Many children become more confident, co-operative, calm and content. And for some children it can be transformative. For children experiencing emotional and behavioural problems or struggling in a traditional formal setting, immersion in a natural setting can be therapeutic and release their potential.

In 2008 The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery was set up in the Howe of Fife and was registered as Scotland and the UK’s first specialist full-time outdoor-only service. The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery was conceived when Cathy Bache began providing a specialist outdoor play experience as a registered childminder in 2004. With the support of her Care Commission inspector, Cathy overcame the concerns of the statutory agencies regarding risks to children to establish a very successful and popular service. The Care Commission’s experience of registering this innovative service helped the regulator to appreciate that the benefits outweighed the risks and delivered positive outcomes for children attending.

Playing with rocks in water

These new outdoor-based forest nurseries follow in the footsteps of the pioneers of Scottish early learning and childcare. For example, from 1903 a network of child gardens was established in Edinburgh, based in single-storey buildings with each nursery playroom opening onto its own large veranda and spacious garden.

As described by a visitor to one of these child gardens: “The crowning glory of the place is the garden, and the story of how that was made from waste ground used as a rubbish heap. A little plot has been made and a few seeds sown in the waste places of the Canongate, and it has become a garden for work and play…” (‘Diary of A Free Kindergarten’, Lileen Hardy, 1913)

The Care Inspectorate is committed to promoting and improving the quality of outdoor play for children in line with key national policy and guidance which set out national expectations. The most relevant are Getting it Right for Every Child, Curriculum for Excellence 3-18 , the Health and Social Care Standards the Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Building the Ambition: National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare.

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.

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.

The 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:

"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



Further reading

Here's what others have done - what can you do?

Where our inspectors have identified particularly effective or innovative practice in outdoor play and learning, we have asked some care services to describe what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Their experiences, in their own words, are presented here. We believe this is an effective way of sharing good practice and can help to improve the overall quality of early learning and childcare across Scotland.

Of course we know there are many excellent care services which we have not been able to feature here, and there are many more examples in My World Outdoors.

Amber Kindergarten - magic moment

Children are outside every day, in the playground or in the nearby forest, which is a five-minute walk away. Here are some of the benefits for children being outside that the service identifies:

“In our experience, children benefit enormously by being outdoors – a different mood comes over the whole group and each individual child seems to instantaneously relax. The contact with natural materials and textures feeds the sensory being of the child and brings them to instinctively experiment, investigate and elaborate. The children spontaneously share their experiences, and the imagination and creativity are given free rein. Social skills and language can be greatly improved in these situations. “The learning that happens outdoors touches all areas of child development and deeply nourishes the growing child. It is interesting to see how shy and withdrawn children can gradually open up when playing outside and come to feel more confident and strong.

“An important aspect of outdoor time is the possibility to observe the changes in nature, the transformation of the elements and the interdependence of all living beings. Besides the obvious element of ‘scientific’ learning, these experiences, in my opinion, give the child a deep sense of belonging, allowing them to feel part of a wonderful, ever-changing world. Ultimately, these are the seeds of resilience.

“One such magic moment happened a few years ago on a crisp, cold, winter morning. We were walking on the road to go back to the kindergarten when the sun came out and it was warm and strong. After a while, from the roofs and from the meadow, a thin film of mist started to rise. We were singing and from our mouths, the same was happening. The children started to laugh and were excited that they could do the same and make mist, just like the Earth. And not in a million years, as a teacher, could I have hoped to teach them that; that we are all part of the world and we belong together.”

Doodlebugs - our chalet

“Our nursery is an Old Church Manse and we are really fortunate to have a large mature garden for our children. Last year we decided to focus on creating an outdoor learning space with what we already had. The idea came from wanting to offer something different from our existing provision in the garden, so it was a bit of an experiment in creating something that was going to get the children involved in playing with different items and ultimately creating their own play resources. It’s been a great project for staff, and it’s been wonderful to watch the children enjoy this space so much too. 

"The chalet was originally an empty playhouse which, as with most unused spaces at nursery, slowly became a storage area. Our staff used their imaginations and developed this unused empty space from items that were around nursery, their homes and the garden. They brought in unused items and recycled lots of tyres, logs and other natural resources. Watching the area develop was very enjoyable for staff and watching the children enjoy the space encouraged staff to experiment with lots of different products. “Oh, look, I found this in my garage, wouldn’t it be great for the chalet!” is a typical comment.

"Cost is minimal if you have a shed or area already in your outdoor space. The chalet is made from wood and we have tried to keep the majority of the resources natural or recycled: pots of moss, clay, sticks, stones, logs, leaves, shells, acorns, and so on. The children make their own resources and enjoy den-building, making bows and arrows, feeding birds, clay-making activities, hanging mobiles, bird-watching and lots and lots of inventing!

"We watched a group of children make a hammock for the treehouse with bark and string. They then added a pulley so the hammock moved upstairs and downstairs. We have a tough tray full of sawdust on the floor, the children added tubes for the sawdust to be poured into. They then attached string to the tube and added a stone for weight at the other end and wow! A child made a weighing device! The children have learned so much from this natural play and it is wonderful to see them extending and taking ownership of their own environment."

St Dominics Nursery Class - Thomas Wood

“We contacted our local factor at Drummond Estate to ask about having our forest school in Thomas Wood. They were delighted to say yes – our next move was to contact the people who manage the woodland and they were very helpful in helping us to organise a three-year woodland management plan and to ensure that our working area was safe for the children to use.

"The children became involved with this, supporting their knowledge and understanding of the importance of putting something back and not taking away the habitat that is a vital resource for many living creatures, as well as the importance of trees in their world. This turned them into eco warriors as they became aware of the importance of protecting the woodlands for their future and future generations, learning about sustainability. Three members of staff completed different levels of forest school training – an amazing opportunity that has enhanced the experiences of all stakeholders.

"The different experiences on offer look at how the children can use the resources within the woodlands; recognising that we only use dead wood for fairy dens, dens and shelters, transient art and fires. The group understand that we would never simply cut a tree down to make a den. They recognise that if we were going to make our own tools from wood we would need to use green wood and look for a tree that was at the end of its life, or perhaps one that was not growing as it should. We would only use natural wastage – our ‘gifts’ from the woodlands – and an opportunity to clear the woodland floor to allow regrowth.

"They are continually building on their skills through working co-operatively, as they grow in selfesteem and confidence. Children are empowered to realise the importance of protecting living things as they develop a sense of wonder and awe about their planet and the natural beauty that surrounds them. The empathy that has grown in the children has been a joy to observe as they become familiar with, and grow in, what could only be described as ‘immense love’ for Thomas Wood and an appreciation of what they can learn from this environment."

Cottage Family Centre Creche - Dad's group

“It was felt that it was imperative as a family centre that The Cottage provides a space for a Dad’s Group. This idea came from dads after a comment from a dad that was dropping off his partner and child to a mother and baby group at the centre. A local health visitor who was at the time completing a dissertation on young dads as part of her master’s degree at college was then contacted for her evidence and thoughts on dad provision. The Cottage felt that this group would need to function differently from other groups as we did not think that getting them to sit around a table doing activities would be a successful way for them to bond as a group as well as feel that they were achieving anything positive that would make them want to come back week after week.

"Our first group of seven dads wanted to do something that would give them both physical activity and emotional support and therefore we agreed to do the children’s garden with the support of local businesses and achieved this. One day one of the dads asked about a piece of wasteland that was directly adjacent to our children’s garden and said that would be great for growing fruit and vegetables that could be used for groups provided in the centre. After contacting the local council, we secured this land and the dads developed into a beautiful woodland area with beds for the children and parents to plant and grow. This garden also allowed families to have fun together and is used for one to one sessions with our family support service, supervised contact sessions, family fun day events as well as by our children’s support service to give children the opportunity to play, grow and explore.

"Our Dads project has been ongoing since 2010 and operates four days per week. It has given the dads in the group a purpose that has benefited the community as well as allowing them to learn new skills, gain support from one another, form friendships and has given them a sense of feeling that they are part of something again. This is huge for our Dads Group as they all suffered from low self-esteem and a lack of confidence which was due to a number of reasons which included job losses, lack of being able to gain employment, addiction, poverty and mental health issues. The dads in this project have told staff that it has given them a sense of fulfilment and they have all benefited by feeling included and with a real purpose.

"Staff working with the dads have noticed tremendous change within their general wellbeing and have said that the project has given them a focus and made them feel that they are able to be more involved in their children’s lives as they have a greater understanding of their needs. It has also allowed staff involved in this project to get to know them and access appropriate services such as counselling and educational opportunities.”

Aberdour Playgroup - At the beach

“We have found that the imaginative games that evolve from the beach are continued on the children’s return to the playroom. The children direct their own play; they have a respected voice in their learning. One example of this was when a couple of the boys started acting out the Peter and Paul birdie rhyme as they played on the beach. They were singing the rhyme and using the space to run along the shoreline to fly away and come back. On our return to playgroup, the boys wanted to make Peter and Paul puppets. They rummaged in the junk box and raided the art table and found all the materials they needed to make their puppets. As they were doing this one or two of the other children decided they would like to make bird puppets too. With only a little (very little) direction from the play leaders, three or four puppets were created. Then, as a whole group, they decided they would like to put on a puppet show, so they all decorated the climbing frame, sorted out their roles, put out chairs for an audience and put on a show for all the children and adults in the playroom.

"As practitioners, we just stood back, observed, admired the creativity, problem solving, choice making and confidence they all showed. As a demonstration of the curriculum in action, we need look no further. The beach provided the catalyst, the rest evolved.”


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 at

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.

“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.

"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. 

“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.

“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 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.

"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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

"My 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. 

"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 play area 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.

"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!!

2We 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. 

"At 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!”


Space to grow

A resource to help early learning and childcare (ELC) and out of school care (OSC) services the best they can be in terms of design.

Our creative journey

A resource featuring good and innovative practice examples of expressive arts in early learning and childcare.

Food matters

A resource celebrating the many ways in which early learning and childcare settings are supporting children to have positive eating experiences and enjoy well-balanced, nutritious food.