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Back to basics
Outdoor play


Offer daily opportunities for outdoor learning. The playground—and outdoor field trips—can encourage exploration and discovery in ways the indoor classroom cannot. Rigorous outdoor play helps children build physical stamina and strength, agility, flexibility, and coordination. Plan and offer activities that support heart health; exercise coupled with sound nutrition helps ensure lifelong health practices.

In addition, outdoor play offers experiences that support social, emotional, language, and cognitive growth in an atmosphere that is potentially more open, spontaneous, and creative.


Guidelines for outdoor play
Use these tips to set up and maintain great outdoor learning environments.
Provide daily opportunities for safe, robust outdoor play.
Plan for the weather. Don’t let cold weather become an excuse for staying indoors; just bundle up and keep moving. Make sure children have easy access to drinking water, especially in hot weather when they can become dehydrated.
Designate different zones of the playground for specialized play. For example, separate areas for running and wheel toys from areas used for gardening, reading, or art activities.
Think of the outdoor environment as an extension of the indoor classroom. Almost any material used indoors will take on a new life on the playground.
Maintain outdoor equipment with the same vigilance as you do indoor materials. Immediately remove and either fix or discard broken or unsafe equipment. Set a schedule for routine safety checks. Look for protruding nails, rust spots, splinters, inconspicuous holes, and insect infestations.
Stay engaged with children in their explorations and discoveries. Never regard outdoor play as a break in your teaching duties. Children need (and regulations require) you to stay attentive while offering guidance and support.
Keep an emergency supply box nearby at all times. Stock it with a first-aid kit, hand wipes and sanitizer, paper, pencil, chalk, a magnifier, signal whistle, attendance sheet, and emergency contact numbers. Emergency evacuations can happen while you are outside the building, so be prepared.
Establish simple and direct safety rules—and maintain them consistently.


Outdoor play basics
Every outdoor space should include these basic features.
Large muscle equipment for swinging, climbing, throwing, and riding.
An open, safe space for running and playing large group games.
A fall zone under and around all climbing equipment and swings.
A wheel-toy track that is smooth and wide.
Equipment that builds coordination and balance like hoops, balance beams and boards, tunnels, ladders, tires, and ropes.
Space and materials for art activities and sensory exploration. Use the fence or a large cardboard box as an easel. Rotate materials for finger painting, water coloring, tempera painting, and stamping. Offer chalk, shaving cream, clay, markers, and bubbles. Encourage writing, sculpture, sign painting, and sidewalk drawing.
Sand and water toys. Encourage children to investigate textures including mud and wet sand.
A garden plot. Offer opportunities for planning, digging, planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting vegetables and flowers.
Dramatic play props. Provide simple dress-up clothes that don’t interfere with vigorous play.
A quiet, soft place for reading, conversation, cloud watching, and daydreaming.