Outdoor learning in the early years

by Kathryn Solly

The benefits of outdoor learning in the early years have now been firmly recognised for  both educators and young children’s learning and development. Being outside in the fresh air for three hours every day helps benefit brain and body functioning. Simply being outside improves health, social and emotional wellbeing, improved immunity, sight, sensorial and hearing development, neuro and physical development, and cognitive enhancement at a child’s unique pace.

Why is outdoor learning important?

Children are born ready to be and learn outside and with increasing sedentary lifestyles, movement outside is a critical life opportunity. They are innately curious, driven learners who flourish if allowed to find out more about the world around them through playful contact throughout the year. Investigative, imaginative and inventive STEAM possibilities abound through a variety of natural materials providing authentic experiences. This hands-on, experiential learning can use the whole body and mind through a variety of experiences and outdoor learning activities. Outdoor learning also nourishes opportunities for awe and wonder which allows each child to revisit their fascinations, schema and dispositions.

Ample time and opportunities outdoors enable all children whatever their starting point (including those with SEND) to explore, go on adventures and build up their confidence, self-esteem, trust and security by using intelligent risk benefit management.  Rather than being cosseted indoors, going outside to learn provides rich and variety opportunities and activities which can be tailored to each unique child through interactions with all kinds of natural elements and sensorial opportunities. Consider the possibilities of hiding in bushes, climbing up onto a tree trunk, feeding the birds, gardening, exploring clay, mud, sand, water…..These activities also nourish their ecological identity and understanding.

Outdoor learning in EYFS

Many educators would LOVE to incorporate more nature and outdoors in their time with children, but there is often a reluctance to venture outside the classroom for various (good) reasons. They firstly have to become comfortable themselves outdoors and the support, encouragement and guidance of an outdoor leader or champion, or leadership team who understand the value of outdoors is critical. Understanding their context outside is also crucial as even the smallest space has development possibilities. They also (like the children) need good clothing and the chance to build up their own confidence, understanding through quality CPD and thus enhance their repertoire of outdoor learning. By finding solutions to issues together as a team and taking families with you is a firm starting point for outdoor learning.

Outdoor learning is whatever you want to make it but the important thing is to use it as much as possible for the benefit of the children. It enriches and extends the whole curriculum through its flexibility and openness to adapt to varied unique child interests and agendas. See outdoors as a tapestry to embroider alongside the assistance of the children and nature is a great starting point. From counting seeds to plant, comparing and sorting shades of autumn leaves, measuring rainfall, mixing mud to different consistencies for daubing marks, modelling and designing patterns etc.  The quality of adult /child interactions is infinite outdoors and when supported through quality simple resources such as magnifying glasses and fiction and non-fiction books which link to child interests, adults and children learn together.

Kathryn Solly is a specialist Early Years trainer and consultant. Previously she was the Headteacher of the historic and diverse Chelsea Open Air Nursery School and Children’s Centre for nearly 17 years. Kathryn facilitates more in depth early years CPD training courses on this topic for Early Education. 

outdoor learning

Further reading

Loose parts play

Here are some links to resources to support your play. Loose parts play tookit is such a rich and comprehensive free publication from Inspiring Scotland to

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Grab and Go Kits

Some of the childminders involved in the Outdoors and Active project thought that a kit of easy to carry, low cost resources could encourage children

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