The Environment

The EYFS Outdoors:
38 Activities for Outdoor Learning

June 20, 2022

Sue Asquith on why outdoor learning is more important than ever.

Sue Asquith on why outdoor learning is more important than ever.
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  • Taking early learning and the EYFS outdoors has been regularly cited as one way to reduce transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • But the benefits to learning outdoors go far beyond just that, as Sue Asquith explains.
  • You’ll also get to read 38 different ways you can follow the EYFS outdoors, with each idea attached to a different key area of learning.

The activity habits that we develop in early childhood matter. Healthy eating, physical exercise, our relationship with the outdoors – they all form the basis for a child’s whole lifestyle, in the short- and long-term.

But is that all that outdoor learning is about in the Early Years? Not exactly. As well as providing the perfect backdrop for physical activity, spending time outdoors has been shown to positively affect your mood, lower stress, blood pressure and heart rates.

We’ve known about many of these crucial benefits to outdoor learning in the EYFS for some time now. But there’s one slightly new reason why it might be time to brush up how you’re approaching the EYFS outdoors…

Why are we focusing on outdoor learning now?

Covid-19 has led to more than one drastic change to the way we do things in the Early Years. A pivot to more outdoor learning may just be one of the most positive.

During the Coronavirus update on 25/05/2020, Boris Johnson acknowledged “that the transmission of the virus is lower outdoors and that it is easier to follow COVID secure guidelines in open spaces.”

That’s not all. Department for Education (DfE) guidance suggests that we risk-assess activities and resources and ‘keep windows open as far as possible to ensure ventilation and…use outdoor areas as much as possible”. Guidance from the DfE on protective measures to aid reopening recommends you “consider which lessons or classroom activities could take place outdoors,” and that you “Use outside space for outdoor education, where possible, as this can limit transmission and more easily allow for distance between children and staff.”

All in, it’s time we start planning to be enabling a significant deal more of the EYFS outdoors.  

Planning for our “new norm”

As lockdown restrictions lift and more children return to their childcare, we are all busily drawing up and adjusting COVID-19 risk assessments. We of course need to consider how we might coexist with this virus whilst making “reasonable endeavours to deliver the EYFS learning and development requirements as far as possible in the current circumstances”.

Increasingly, it seems that optimising chances for children to be outdoors may form a crucial part of these plans.

Of course, there are many things to take into consideration when planning for outdoor learning, including the fickle UK weather. Most importantly though, we need to consider learning possibilities to cover all seven areas of learning and development outdoors, as well as providing opportunities for children to build those all-important Characteristics of Effective Learning skills for life too.

These are present as children actively learn through first-hand experiences of the world, show curiosity, play and explore as well as take chances to create and think critically about the world they’re exploring.

With that in mind, here are 38 ideas, broken up into the different EYFS areas, to help you plan for bring the EYFS outdoors.

1. The EYFS Outdoors: Personal, social, and emotional development ideas

  • Try low-level experiences for babies and young children, like using old tyres as a sturdy base for investigations – they could be a holder for a washing up bowl for water play or a planter for herbs to investigate with their key person.
  • Wind chimes and windsocks, old CDs, and other objects suspended from a tree branch make interesting things for babies and young children to watch and adults to key into cues.
  • Parachute games can help form good relationships as children play with others.
  • Construction with crates, planks, large blocks are great for physical development and problem-solving.
  • The outdoors is also a great opportunity to build relationships in key person groups too.

2. The EYFS outdoors: Communication and language ideas

  • Provide small reading nooks for children to explore books independently or for storytimes in small groups.
  • Songs and rhymes work just as well inside as outside – try them out in your new environment.
  • Make print available outdoors – laminated words reflecting children’s home languages or perhaps a ‘recipe sheet’ or ‘menu’ for your mud kitchen!
  • Listen to the sounds – birds, bees, aeroplanes, cars, and emergency service sirens- and talk about what is making them. Conversations about the weather are a fantastic opportunity to extend language, talking about the wind ‘blowing’, ‘swishing’ and so on.
  • Make puppets and use them, thinking about how you will provide role play outside like a garden centre or car wash, for example.
  • Sometimes providing a narrative can help support learning, talking about what children are doing “jumping up and down” or “splish splash” (as they jump in puddles).

3. The EYFS Outdoors: Physical development ideas

  • Consider how babies can safely explore outdoors. For example, how to facilitate tummy time, chances to learn to crawl, creep and walk.
  • Make instruments or have ‘Wake up shake up’ sessions to further explore movement, giving children free rein to move and dance. Dance with ribbons and scarves to encourage gross motor skills, crossing the midline and bi-lateral movements.
  • Provide resources for the children to help build an assault course outside.
  • Sweeping brushes and other tools can help develop more physical skills. Large scale mark-making can be done with chalks or water and large brushes on the floor or a large piece of paper.
  • Consider nooks and shaded areas for play and rest too.

4. The EYFS Outdoors: Literacy ideas

  • Share your favourite books and stories in a new setting.
  • Watch the clouds, talking about the various shapes you can see (like a dragon or The Gruffalo). Add to the children’s word bank by talking through the different types of clouds and their shapes.
  • Make your own stories – try a ‘magic carpet’ where each child adds something to the story and you recap as you go. For example, they can choose characters, where they are going, what adventures they will have and so on. This can be done with a large piece of paper too so that the children can draw, practise their emergent writing and you can scribe to capture their thoughts.
  • Try sound or sensory walks as you explore your outside space.
  • First-hand experiences of the weather, seasons and world are in abundance outdoors. Factual books might extend this too!
  • Children could write for a purpose, taking orders from customers in their café, or you could display open and closed signs to promote print in the outdoors environment.

5. The EYFS Outdoors: Mathematics ideas

  • Try out the same songs and rhymes that cover important mathematical ideas from indoors.
  • Provide items in a range of sizes, weights and textures. Talk about the size of things such as a “big book” or “small book”. You can try providing treasure basket and heuristic play outdoors on a dry day too.
  • Collect natural treasures to count (pine cones, leaves, shells, and rocks), sort into sizes, even or uneven groups, divide to share them with a friend, categorise, sequence – the list is endless!
  • Large dice can be rolled to explore numbers, add spots from two dice, decide which is the largest or smallest number (or perhaps they are “the same”?)
  • Explore volume and capacity – try making a weighing scale using a coat hanger and small buckets – and then provide objects and resources to weigh so children can hypothesise how many lighter objects it will take to weigh the same as a heavier object? Explore how many small cups of water might it take to fill a bucket or other experiments with volumes.
  • Use large 2D shapes on the floor, and let children interact with them – can children jump from a triangle to the square, for example?

6. The EYFS Outdoors: Understanding the world ideas

  • Laminate photos of children and their families, perhaps babies and toddlers can select photos of their own family from a small collection to have in the outdoor space.
  • It might be possible for small groups to go for walks in the local community, perhaps to fruit pick or learn more about the local shops, places of worship, road signs and other environmental print. You can take photos of the different types of print you see to make a display or book too!
  • Explore the seasons by planting seeds, growing food in planters or grow bags, and talk children through life cycles and other important natural processes.
  • Provide windmills and bubbles and see how they interact with the changing world outside.
  • Bug hunts or treasure hunts are a great idea – How many natural objects can they find to fit into a small box? Can they find something starting with ‘sssss’?
  • Discuss your shadow – Why does your shadow look small sometimes and longer at others? Is your shadow in front or behind you? Draw around your shadow at different times of the day and see if the children can track the time.

7. The EYFS Outdoors: Expressive Arts and design ideas

  • Create story boxes and story sacks to spark creativity.
  • Create a stage (this could be a chalked or taped off area or made from decking or crates) for children to recreate stories, make up plays or puppet and dance shows.
  • Provide an arts area for children to explore various media – the outdoors brings a hue of natural colours for extra inspiration.
  • Provide clipboards and pencils to inspire children to write and draw plans (Maybe they want to use them in the construction area or you might be planning to create a Bugingham Place or Nectar Café)?

The big ideas

Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

Picture of a Guidance document
UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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