Outdoor: Key 9 – A clear vision of your outdoor space and a roadmap to get there

Having a clear vision and knowing how to get there is the final piece of the puzzle of great outdoor design, says Professor Jan White

This final key in the series, which brings everything else together, is about having a clear outdoors policy for your kids that details the why, what and how of where you want to go together.


A good outdoor policy:

  • is a shared understanding and approach to outdoor play, shaped by the views and aspirations of children, families and staff
  • outlines your position, purpose, vision and plans for developing the offer and practice outside
  • clarifies details of agreed procedures in the operation and management of outdoor games
  • provides induction and ongoing support to all staff.


Without being clear and articulate about why you’re developing your outdoor offering, what you’re aiming for, and how you plan to do it, it’s difficult to gain support from others involved and make effective and sustained progress. . Conversely, putting time and effort into the process of developing an outdoor policy has a lot of value on its own, while generating a strong call to action that everyone wants to rally around.

When change takes place, it’s really important that everyone understands the rationale behind what you’re trying to do. It is essential that the values ​​underlying these changes are shared by all parties involved. Building belief in the importance of being outdoors, believing that learning happens well outdoors, and committing to increasing the time and quality of experiences children can access in the outdoor environment is a gradual, long-term process that requires wide-ranging support, ongoing energy, and lots of small steps to success.

Working on a cohesive and clearly expressed vision can engender a strong sense of purpose and direction, as well as establishing a clear pedagogical foundation for learning through outdoor play. This work will pay off! Building commitment to quality outdoor living will stimulate enthusiasm and a desire to take action on behalf of all your children. Personally, I love the “think big” mantra; take small steps; never give up’.


At the heart of a successful and satisfying outdoor offering is a shared, values-based understanding and approach to outdoor play. It reflects your beliefs about the need for children to be outdoors and why learning should be offered outdoors as well as indoors, as well as the nature of the experiences you want children to have the low. Values ​​come from within, growing from the beliefs we hold.

Our values ​​matter: they guide our practice, giving us the starting points for deliberating on what to do and making decisions on how to respond or act. Through careful observation, reflection, questioning and debate, practitioners can gradually agree and articulate their shared values. These then become the collective basis for making judgments and decisions.

A dedicated Outdoors Policy clarifies your purpose, vision and values ​​for outdoor learning, links to your overall development plan, and helps shape the approach and management of outdoor play. A roadmap provided by an outdoor policy can help you know how you want to get there – and, with determined and empowering leadership, you’re more likely to get there. Such a framework can then be used to record details of agreed procedures and practices in the operation and management of outdoor learning and play that are firmly based on your logic, values ​​and goals, giving everyone a clear point of reference for decision-making.

Review and evaluation are, of course, essential to maintaining high quality in outdoor provision, adult roles and the effectiveness of children’s experiences. This needs to be done through a variety of means so that practitioners keep checking to see if things are working well and looking for ways to continually improve. Creating Space to Grow (see below) offers many ideas for including children’s views and perspectives in these assessments.


Points to Consider, Discuss and Evaluate

  • How is your institution’s vision and approach to outdoor learning developed and promoted? What DPC or support could you access to help you do this as a team?
  • Is your vision and approach to outdoor play and learning shaped by the views and aspirations of children, families and all staff?
  • How are your posture, your logic, your objectives and your action plans articulated to facilitate the agreement and to advance the actions of development of the offer and the practice of the outdoors?

To discover and read

  • Reasons to be outdoors; Value the outdoors; Putting Values ​​into Practice – three booklets by Jan White and Liz Edwards: https://muddyfaces.co.uk/shop/books-identification/author/jan-white
  • ‘Provision for Learning Outdoors: the why, the what and the how of play outdoors within early childhood education’ by Jan White and Sue Stokoe in Achieving Excellence in the Early Years: A guide for headteachers (Early Education, 2015).
  • Creating Space to Grow: Developing Your Outdoor Enabling Environment by Gail Ryder-Richardson (2nd ed. Routledge, 2014).

Things to do

  • Think as a team and with parents about what is important to be outdoors for your children and family, and how you would like your outdoor environment to feel. Don’t forget that staff also need it to work well for them too.
  • Also think about the kinds of experiences you want your children to have through your outdoor offering: write down what you all want your children to be able to do, feel, experience and share together. These two discussions will help shape and articulate your goal for your outdoor disposition, and therefore guide decisions about planning, adult roles, and any physical development you do in the future.
  • Take your children to a new and greener environment, preferably with their parents, and watch what they do there. Discuss with parents and staff what they think children most want to do. Observing your children in action in a rich outdoor environment will give clear messages about their perspectives, providing very useful clues about what is missing and what needs to be developed in your own outdoor environment.

Long-term training that helps you know where you want to go and how to get there

The Outdoor Practice Certificate was designed to enable practitioners to provide effective outdoor learning experiences for children in the early years, every day, all year round. This new qualification (Open College Network, Level 3) takes place as a mixture of experiential and “deep dive” discussion sessions one day a month for a whole year, followed by concrete changes in your own environment, with observation, reflection and assessment of these developments.

Through an extended hybrid approach of training and small-scale action research, it aims to embed long-term, transformational practice that supports the continued development of the institution/school and staff team long after the lesson. Course participant Abbi Cooper, Reception/Grade 1 teacher at Bradfield Dungworth Primary School in Sheffield, is delighted with how far she’s come in the short time and feels the experiential sessions give her “time to really think:” a child would feel and think. It values ​​the child-centered approach as well as the triple focus on Why?, What? and how? She says, “By giving us the theory, research and evidence behind it, it’s easier to connect with people who might not understand early childhood development and focus more on the program.

Looking back, she feels that before starting the course, the school’s planning for the outdoor environment was usually an afterthought. But six months into the program, the deep and ongoing experience – along with the requirement to practice something from every training day at his school – has “turned his team’s approach upside down. “Now we get much more out of what the massive, free resource of being on the outside has to offer.” The outdoors is so rich: for example, there is always math available. We’ve turned the way we work upside down and now let’s bring that inside and keep it inside. It was awesome, I loved it.

Professor Jan White is the author of several books on outdoor provision and practice and co-director of the specialist training company Outdoors Thinking

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