GCVS Blog – Outdoor Play Event

Laura Dover
Development Worker | Everyone’s Children Project

The Everyone’s Children project at GCVS promotes and supports third sector organisations in Glasgow that provide services to children, young people and families.

We held an event on Outdoor Play on the 5th June at The Albany Learning & Conference Centre, to highlight the progress and good practice that has developed in the CYPF sector, as well the work that still needs to be done to improve both the quality and quantity of outdoor play in Scotland.

Henry Mathias, Head of Inspection at the Care Inspectorate, opened the event by describing his recent trip to Norway, which had broadened his horizons regarding outdoor play. Three-year-old children at a nursery there visited a hut in the mountains in all weathers and the children themselves told him “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. This attitude is now reflected in the policy of the Care Inspectorate, particularly since the publication of “My World Outdoors”, their guide to outdoor play in childcare settings.

The new National Care Standards enshrine outdoor play as a right to be enjoyed by all children, with the aim of a “free flow” so that children can move from indoors to outdoors as they please. The Care Inspectorate want to encourage childcare settings to allow children to experience fully natural environments, such as woodlands or beaches.

Henry reassured nursery staff that, where accidents happen, formal action by parents is less likely than they might think. From the Care Inspectorate’s point of view, outdoor activities where there is a “tolerable level of risk” – such as climbing trees, building fires and playing near water – are permitted where the benefits to children’s health development and wellbeing outweigh the potential dangers.

Rachel Cowper from Inspiring Scotland spoke about the benefits of the outdoors and natural environments to children’s physical & emotional health – not only are there obvious benefits from increased physical activity, but freedom to play outdoors builds up emotional resilience, as well as strengthening the immune system. It was also noted that children’s awareness of their natural environment also encourages an understanding of sustainability.

While there are now 22 registered outdoor nurseries in Scotland – with more in the pipeline – most of these are in rural areas, where there is abundant access to safe outdoor space. To change this, Inspiring Scotland has been leading a collaborative pilot in Glasgow to bring the benefits of outdoor play to children in deprived urban areas in Castlemilk, Drumchapel and Dalmarnock. Practitioners from 3D Drumchapel and the Jeely Piece Club presented on their experiences of creating an early learning & childcare setting in a natural environment, as well as the practical skills and equipment needed. They emphasised that:

  • patience, flexibility and a tolerance for dirt and bugs was essential.
  • investing in good quality protective clothing for the children will ‘poverty-proof’ and ensure that children whose families are unable to provide them with suitable clothes are still included.
  • there are benefits for staff, who have had the opportunity to work with practitioners from other organisations and develop new skills.

Feedback from event attendees shows that many providers left the event with a better understanding of the practicalities of outdoor nurseries and feeling inspired to get involved in outdoor play initiatives. Despite the barriers to access, many providers are already making innovative use of the outdoor space they have. We hope the afternoon provided new ideas on how to maximise and improve the quality of outdoor experiences within the constraints of funding and resources.

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