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My world outdoors: Sharing good practice in how early years services can provide play and learning wholly or partially outdoors

There is significant and growing interest in how children and young people access the outdoors to play, learn, develop and have fun. The Care Inspectorate regulates and inspects over 9,000 care services for children and young people, one or more of which almost everyone in Scotland attends before they start school, or during their school years. These services include childminders, nurseries, playgroups, out-of-school clubs, and other forms of daycare for children.

There is a long historical tradition of outdoor experiences for children in Scotland, marked by innovation stretching back over two hundred years. There is significant evidence that playing outdoors is more than just fun: it can contribute positively to child development, child health, and early learning. That is why, in this resource, we have grouped together examples of effective practice around the recognised wellbeing indicators, where children are safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible, and included. With creativity and effective leadership, all types of care services in every part of Scotland can use outdoor play to support each of these wellbeing indicators for children.

This resource is designed for people who provide services, people who commission them, and parents of children who attend them. Our inspections help to identify effective ways of using outdoor play in every part of Scotland and in every type of care service. 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. At January 2016, over 90% of care services for children were considered to be operating at a good, very good or excellent level; you can find the current grades and most recent inspection report for all care services at

Many childcare services have access to their own gardens and outdoor play areas; many are also close to outdoor parks, woods and fields which can help stimulate a love of the outdoors and allow children and young people to explore nature. Some such services provide an outdoors experience one day a week. Others have designed their provision in an even more innovative direction. There are almost twenty care services in Scotland – nurseries, playgroups and out-of-school care services – where the early learning and childcare is provided exclusively or almost exclusively outside, in woods, parks, forests and on beaches. This is a highly specialised form of service, but one which is growing in popularity.

This resource pack seeks to learn both from mainstream services who are providing innovative access to the outdoors, and care services provided entirely outside. I also hope it helps support a move away from a risk-averse approach to one where proportionate risk assessment supports children to enjoy potentially hazardous activities safely.

The Care Inspectorate’s role is not just to inspect care services, but to support improvement too. We share good practice to help all care services achieve the best possible quality of care. The reason we have chosen to publish this resource now is not just that it reflects the growing in interest across the sector – seven new outdoors nurseries were registered in the last year alone – but growing importance is being attached to early learning and childcare.

With the recent increase in funded childcare hours to 600 per year, and the future increase to 1140 hours per year, this is an important moment in the early learning and childcare sector. Because innovative and refreshed models of provision will be needed to deliver the planned increase to 1140 hours by 2020, that provides an opportunity for people providing and commissioning services to plan now for how access to the outdoors can be built into future provision.