Get Up & Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood - Staff and Carer Book

Outdoor play for one-to five-year-olds

Page last updated: 25 May 2011

Children who spend more time outdoors will generally be more active. Access to a covered outdoor area allows children to be active in all weather conditions, and being outdoors in cooler weather does not cause the common cold. Outdoor areas usually provide children with more space, and opportunities to use larger muscle groups and experience moving in a whole range of different shapes, speeds and directions. Outdoor play also allows children to be messy and noisy.

Outdoor play gives children opportunities to:

  • make big movements
  • try new movements
  • have 'rough and tumble' play
  • improve their balance, strength and coordination skills
  • seek adventure, whatch and explore nature
  • extend their creativity
  • learn from their mistakes
  • manage their fears and build toughness.

Taking 'chances' in outdoor play

Although outdoor play may appear risky, children need opportunities to play freely and explore outdoor play spaces. Allowing children to get to the next level of exploration helps them to test themselves and manage new tasks. As with ‘rough and tumble’ play, playing outside is important for the development of both girls and boys. What some adults may see as consequences of ‘risky’ play could actually be side effects of fun active play experiences, such as:
  • being messy and loud
  • getting grubby
  • getting small grazes, bumps and bruises
  • dealing with heights, different surfaces and new play areas and items.
Parents should be encouraged to allow their children to participate in risky play, and be educated to understand that the benefits may outweigh the risks.

Active play and children with disabilities

Children of all abilities benefit from physical activity and play. Engaging with parents is particularly important when working with children with disabilities. It is crucial to find out from parents the details of their child’s disability, and how it affects everyday functions and abilities. It is also important to discuss the child’s interests, dislikes and capabilities as well as what the parents’ goals are for their child. Ask whether it is possible to contact the child’s health professional for more information. You can help by being patient and generous in spending time with children with disabilities.

Reminders for outdoor play…

Be SunSmartŠ - Abide by sun protection policies – sunscreen, shelter, hats and suitable clothing.

Supervise - Make sure that you actively supervise children around water, heights, steps, fences, animals or small objects.

Clothing - Encourage parents to dress children in clothing and footwear that is suitable for being active.

Water - Make sure children drink plenty of water when playing outside, particularly in hot weather.

Join in - Join in with children’s play and support them in outdoor play. Make sure that play is still led by children.