Making Outdoor Play a Positive Learning Experience for all Children

The role of the educator is to set the stage to support all children in their learning. There are different approaches and ways to teach skills and facilitate outdoor play in order to create a positive and meaningful experience. There are many benefits in planning outdoor play such as:

  • snow-tree-imageAllowing time to explore while practicing gross motor skills.
  • Providing a way to release high energy levels.
  • Creating opportunities to build independence, confidence and a sense of belonging.
  • Supporting the development of creativity and imagination.
  • Allowing opportunities for cooperative play, the development of play and social skills.

As educators, consider the following strategies and facilitate positive learning experiences when planning outdoor play:

  • Be responsive to children’s ideas, interests and goals by seizing opportunities to teach, model, facilitate, expand and reinforce positive social play.
  • Outdoor play must meet the needs of various developmental levels and interests (e.g., Toddlers like to start and stop often when riding toy cars. Preschoolers love to ride faster and through complex pathways.)
  • Provide various activities that support dramatic, sensory, quiet, active, manipulative, small and large group active play.
  • Provide toys and equipment that are of children’s interest and are stimulating.
  • Define play areas by using pylons, stops signs, etc.
  • Plan for transitions and give warnings to children on what comes next through the use of verbal, visual and auditory cues.
  • Communicate sequence of events using statements such as “First – then”.
  • Plan the rotation of materials to maintain children’s interest and curiosity.
  • Establish clear and consistent expectations.
    • Regarding where to jump, climb, ride, slide, and set boundaries
    • Number of children allowed on the play structure
  • Plan and facilitate group activities.
  • Provide close proximity to support children’s individual needs.
  • Offer concrete choices to support the engagement in activities.
  • Listen to the children and make comments that match what they are saying.
  • Imitate what the children are doing, play their way without shifting the focus.
  • Introduce a new activity on a regular basis to sustain motivation.
  • Teach children the steps to conflict resolution.
  • Teach children how to recognize and manage emotions in regards to winning and losing.
  • Promote non-competitive games.
  • Provide opportunities to support children in forming friendships.
  • Create a calm down area for the outdoor space.

Jocelyne Desbiens and Brooks Hachey
Behaviour Consultants
Children’s Integration Support Services


Read related articles originally published in Interactions magazine by the Canadian Child Care Federation ( and shared with their permission:

Interaction - Vol. 30, Number 1, Spring 2016