Play is a natural behaviour, instinctively creating imaginative stories, games, and activities, which help develop social, emotional, intellectual, and physical skills. This creative language can help children integrate themselves with each other and understand the world around them.

In this article 'get outside and play' is defined as a way to naturally learn and develop their soft skills by experiencing nature in its true form. This is important because not all children are accessing outdoor play and not all children learn best in the classroom.

Children naturally help each other to play
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.

Carl Jung - A world renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst

There is no right or wrong way of playing, but the act of play itself should not take place in an adult-led environment. Except for those children who have not yet found their play instinct.

Play can be performed both indoors or out, and is thought to produce the most efficient experience when in a loosely supervised, unstructured free play (spontaneous play) environment.

Even though play exists indoors, and is predominately the first environment an infant will experience when playing, the outdoor setting has so much more to offer.

Outdoor Play

The outdoor environment provides us with the opportunities to use our senses for a unique play platform that can not really be duplicated inside. The outdoors is a constantly changing and open environment, where you can be adventurous, experience freedom, and connect with nature.

“Play is the beginning of knowledge.” - George Dorsey

Approaches to Outdoor Play

Play is an essential platform to help children develop and understand the world around them. Using structured outcomes you can explore alternative approaches of play:

  • An unstructured approach (also known as natural learning), is not focused e.g. playing in your garden, visiting parks, playtime/lunchtime in school (no aim)
  • A semi-structured approach, whereby the group are given boundaries and rules to follow (loose aim)
  • A structured approach (guided/themed approach), is a valuable way to focus the activity around the group's aims and objectives.

Barriers to Outdoor Play

Traffic - Population has increased, cities and their infrastructure have grown, and the danger from this motorised reality, stops children exploring their neighbourhood.

'Zero Risk' - Society's view on health and safety has become obsessive; it limits children's freedom to explore and discover the environment around them.

Conservation/Landowners' - Reducing the opportunity for people to be able to freely roam about the natural environment. Scotland's Land Reform Act 2003 is a piece of legislation, which the UK parliament needs to adopt to enhance the public's experience in the outdoor environment.

The Consequence of Modern Society towards Outdoor Play

In recent years, children have a lack of engagement with nature. This is largely due to the barriers to outdoor play and advancements in technology. If a child misbehaved, as a consequence, they would have spent time in their room. Yet in modern society, their room has become a 'technical' safe haven.

Richard Louv (American non-fiction author and journalist) coined the term 'Nature Deficit Disorder', emphasises this pandemic and expresses the importance of outdoor play and how it aids the development of our children.

For more information on how our modern society might be hindering our children's development, click here - Has Our Culture Changed the way we Play?

The Importance of Outdoor Play

Dr Kristina Towill - Canadian Psychologist

Summary of Outdoor Play

Play is crucial for children's development and it is about knowing when to provide certain opportunities. The benefits of this include:

  • Observing natural behaviour
  • Children becoming more adventurous and lets them build connections
  • Takes us to areas in our local environment that we wouldn't normally venture to

By providing opportunities for outdoor play, this will encourage children to appreciate their local community and will promote positive well-being. It allows them to become imaginative and use the natural space in different ways. Through regular contact with the outdoors, this will develop children holistically and provides them a different way of learning. Through whatever activity they decide to do, they are developing their awareness of nature and the importance of sustainable living.

Helping you get Outside

Families, carers, and schools, might be happy to go outside but may require a helping hand to get started. Here are some suggested points that can help you or your way:

Parents and Carers

Local Environment

  • Find out what is going on in your community. Become familiar with the local parks and discover what your local visitor centre is doing to help people access the outdoors.  

Online Resources

Organisations

Schools

Training

Curriculum

Online Resources

School Spaces

Take a look at our nature-based activity resources.