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Exploring the Role of Outdoor Learning during Early Years Development


22 July 2022

Many parents will have fond memories of their time as children spent outside. Making mud pies, climbing trees and den building was something everyone seemed to enjoy throughout their childhood. 

However, childhood on average is vastly different to that of what we remember, with children spending on average 4 – 6 hours a day watching or using screens.

Despite knowing that excessive screen time isn’t good for children, the benefits of the great outdoors aren’t so clear. 

Here are the benefits of outdoor learning for children and why we incorporate outdoor play into everything we do at Kids Planet. 

How Kids Planet embraces nature in our settings

We recognise that outdoor learning is a vital part of your children’s development and wellbeing. This is why we’ve always encouraged outdoor play as part of your children’s daily routine. 

Where possible, we provide direct access to a secure outdoor play area for children to access throughout the day as and when they wish – no matter the weather! When direct access to an outdoor space isn’t available, we ensure that we spend as much time as possible outdoors

There are also opportunities for children to go out on trips to local forests and natural spaces where the children can learn, play and connect with nature. 

Spending time with nature can have a significant positive impact on your children’s mental health, well-being and development. Our appreciation and belief in the benefits of nature-based learning has led to the creation of the Udeskole approach.


What is udeskole?

Udeskole is a Danish concept meaning “outdoor school” and it is the theory and practice of outdoor learning in natural settings using the local environment to teach. For children in Denmark, spending time outdoors is a way of life, a part of their culture from birth and the impact on outcomes for children, as a result, are astounding.

At Kids planet we want to give children the same opportunities. The udeskole approach differs from the more commonly known forest school sessions as it aims to make outdoor learning a day-to-day experience, rather than a planned and structured event that only a selection of children can participate in at any one time. 

Being outside allows children to decompress and release pent-up energy that, without an outlet, can manifest into irritability, nervousness and sleep disruption. Just as adults enjoy time outside to destress and unwind, children can also reap the positive benefits of fresh air and time with nature. 

Studies have shown that children who feel connected with nature are generally happier, have better developed social skills and are more likely to be helpful and considerate towards others, including wildlife and the environment. 

Our Outdoor Lead Rhiannon Scott is truly passionate about outdoor learning and incorporating the practice of Udeskole across all of our nurseries. 

Listen to Rhiannon’s podcast, Episode 17 – Outdoor Learning, where she talks about her journey in the discovery of udeskole, how she’s worked with Kids Planet to incorporate the udeskole mindset across our settings and how playing within a natural environment can benefit children in their early years.

Persil Free the Kids – Dirt is Good campaign

In Rhiannon’s podcast, you’ll hear mention of the Free the Kids – Dirt is Good campaign by Persil. Although the campaign is no longer active, the campaign sends a powerful message about the positive impact spending time outside on a daily basis can have on mental health and well-being.

In the video below, inmates from an American prison are interviewed on their thoughts and feelings about their yard time and how they’d feel if their time outside was cut short. After expressing their views, a shocking truth was revealed about the time children spend outside in comparison to those in prison. 

Why is it good for children to play outside?

We’ve established that playing outside has a positive impact on a child’s mental health, well-being and development, but what exactly are the benefits of spending more time in nature and why is outdoor play important to children’s learning and development?

Language development and understanding of concepts

Being outside brings new opportunities for sensory discovery which can support a child’s understanding of the world and widen their vocabulary. Giving children the opportunity to learn words they can explore physically creates an intuitive understanding of more complex words such as “squish”, “fluttering” and “squirming”. 

Children can also gain a stronger understanding of how the world works. For example, what happens when water and mud are mixed together, how it changes from soil to mud or what happens if ice is left in the sun and how it changes from a solid to a liquid. These sensory experiences help their understanding of the world and can support problem-solving skills, thinking skills and language development.

Promotes risk awareness in children

Children who experience the practice of Udeskole are more risk aware and have stronger self-esteem and confidence compared to children who have few opportunities for challenging play. This is because Udeskole promotes challenging and risky play. As a very risk-aware society, this can sound concerning at first, however, children are always supervised and help is on hand if they need it.

Risky or challenging play is often reminiscent of activities we used to do as children, such as climbing trees, sliding and rolling down hills, jumping from heights and hanging from monkey bars. These adventurous activities involve an element of risk which gives children the opportunity to discover their physical limits, explore boundaries and develop an understanding of risk and safety. 

Challenging play can also build a child’s resilience to life’s challenges and teaches them that if they fail, it’s important to be persistent and keep trying. These lessons can impact every aspect of a child’s life and can influence how they approach challenges later in life.

Supports physical health

There are countless benefits of outdoor play on physical health and development. Exposure to bright light can help with sleep cycles, boosts levels of vitamin D and supports muscle and bone growth. Outdoor play gives children the opportunity for vigorous physical activity which supports cardiovascular and respiratory health.

When outside in an open space, children are more likely to make greater motor movements such as running, jumping and balancing which supports their coordination and athletic abilities. Studies have suggested that children who spend more time outside being physically active are at a higher physical advantage in comparison to their peers who spend more time indoors. 

And we understand that not all children have the same desire to be active when outside! Planning active social activities, cooperative structured sports or a family bike ride are great ways to encourage your child to be physically active and connect with nature. 

Builds a strong relationship with others and nature

As previously mentioned, children who spend more time outside have a greater connection with the environment, wildlife and their peers. Learning about the environment helps children understand how to respect the world around them, builds empathy for others and gives children a greater appreciation for nature which carries through to their adult years.

These positive experiences encourage children to become positive members of society and teach them how to act (and how not to act) when in the great outdoors. For example, teaching children about littering and being respectful towards wildlife. 

A simple but effective way to get your children outside and connected with nature is to introduce them to gardening! We’ve written a blog sharing tips on how to get your child into gardening, as well as a fun Bug Bingo printable sheet.

Holistic learning and play with Kids Planet

Outdoor education is a vital part of a child’s development and provides a holistic, well-rounded understanding of the world, themselves and their abilities. Be sure to listen to Rhiannon’s story and learn more about the Udeskole approach. 

Want to find your nearest Kids Planet setting? Use our Find a Nursery tool. Here you can find the contact information for each nursery so you can get in touch with any setting-specific questions.


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