How to make the most of outdoor space at your setting

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Shane Jordan is an Education Environmental Practitioner and a qualified Early Years Practitioner with a Level 4 Higher Education Certificate in Education Studies. He explains how you can improve the garden or outdoor area at your setting to benefit young children: 

Try as your might, indoors cannot replace an outdoor environment. It cannot replace the sensory moment where a child’s attention is captured by nature and the outdoors. Children need the tools, an open space, challenge and opportunity to control their environment and freedom. Another important thing is changing the garden around every month so things seem fresh and new to both child and practitioner.

Garden improvement tips

There are many ways you can bring the forest into your garden:

  • Waterput a water tray outside for children to play with. Anything can be used for splashing and pouring. Cups, plates, toys, stones and plastic bottles. Cold water is best for hot days, and warm water for cold days.
  • Herbs  – chives, oregano, parsley, lemon palm, mint etc. These plants have a beautiful aroma, and an aromatic scent.
  • Vegetables  – potatoes, tomatoes and  runner beans  can be planted to show the children how vegetables grow from the soil .
  • Trees – plant a small tree or use logs and timber to mimic the natural environment.
  • Bushes and shrubs  these can be added to the green environment and enhance the woodland effect.
  • Flowers – this adds beauty, colour and smell to a garden. Planting bee friendly flowers is good for the ecosystem too.
  • Animals – looking at minibeasts in their natural environment, and use tadpoles as a way to view the life cycle of frogs, as well as having fish and assigning responsibility for feeding them indoors.
  • Sand – best if it is mixed with water to create sandcastles. Keep it ventilated so it doesn’t smell.
  • Features – places to sit in, on, under, lean against, and provide shelter and shade – a tree, climbing frame, log, chair etc.
  • Different areas that provide nooks and crannies, and places that offer privacy and views – this is good for hide-and-seek and other concealment games, but also a quiet private place for children to talk and be away from adults.
  • Equipment do not all need to be manufactured. As much as possible, they should be made of natural materials such as logs, stumps and boulders, stones and pebbles.
  • Pavement or hard surface – for riding bikes or scribbling  on with chalk. Plus, if it rains, children have a place to run on without slipping.

What’s vital is having both spaces utilised and used correctly. Many practitioners know what goes inside a nursery, but less about what goes outside one.

Keeping clothes clean

Keeping children clean and tidy is a great concern for parents and practitioners. Children may wear expensive or delicate clothes to nursery and be afraid to get it dirty or torn. Something to mention to children’s parents/caregivers is their clothes should not be a barrier for them to play. Parents can be encouraged by asking them to bring a spare pair of clothes (play clothes) that their children  can get dirty,  so getting  grass stains etc on them doesn’t become an issue.


If you have any questions for Shane, he can be contacted here


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