How important is outdoor play to the early years??!

This letter went all over the #loveoutdoorplay and #playoutdoors community yesterday morning as the brilliant Sue Palmer made the case for children’s need to play in her usual inimitable style on the BBC’s Today programme. It was at about 8:30am if you want to listen again.

SIR – We welcome the Government’s attempts to simplify the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, for children from birth to the age of five, but there is widespread concern about the direction of the current revision.

There is a need to consider the central place of imaginative, spontaneous play, and of young children’s physical development in the curriculum.

We must also look at the “schoolification” of early childhood, with its over-assessment and excessive monitoring. Controversial “early learning goals” are putting premature emphasis on cognitive learning.

Parents are under undue pressure to prepare children for formal schooling, according to a system too inflexible to cater for the highly diverse developmental needs of young children. Many feel disquiet about commercial influences and the statutory imposition of inappropriate computer experience on young children.

There should be ways to pursue equality without imposing an indiscriminate compulsory framework upon all children, irrespective of their needs.

Today we are launching Early Childhood Action, with the support of around 50 major figures and organisations, to form a coalition of those in the early years sector. We will be drafting an alternative curriculum document to build on the positive aspects of the Early Years Foundation Stage, while addressing its key shortcomings.

Dr Richard House
University of Roehampton
Philip Pullman
Sue Palmer
Baroness Greenfield
University of Oxford
Kim Simpson
Montessori teacher and counsellor/coach
Grethe Hooper Hansen
Ex-president, Society for Effective Affective Learning
Dr Jayne Osgood
London Metropolitan University
Ed Mayo
Co-author, Consumer Kids
Philip Parkin
General Secretary, Voice
Penelope Leach
Birkbeck College, London
Agnes Nairn
EM-Lyon Business School and co-author, Consumer Kids
Professor Emeritus Janet Moyles
Early Years and Play Consultant
Pie Corbett
Literacy specialist and author
Sue Gerhardt
Dr Aric Sigman
Child health education lecturer
Linda Pound
Early Years Consultant and writer
Dr Maria Robinson
Author, Understanding Behaviour and Development in Early Childhood
Robin Balbernie
Infant mental health specialist
Sally Goddard Blythe
Director, Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, Chester
Dr Andrew Lockett
Early Years Consultant

Do our supporters agree that Love Outdoor Play – and Play England – should be seeking to add our voice to this?

Play England has campaigned on this issue at length, submitting responses on behalf of the sector to all the consultations and meeting with officials, ministers and Dame Tickel. In this we’ve worked with SkillsActive, British Heart Foundation and Playwork Partnerships, and many local after school clubs, adventure playgrounds and holiday schemes, who are getting more and more worried about the lack of time the 0 – 5s are expected to spend just playing.

We expected, along with everyone else, that the EYFS would become more play friendly. Instead it has weakened the already tiny references to free, unstructured play. In turn, this will lead to even fewer early years staff building their skills and confidence in developing physically active playful environments where children are allowed to play without constant interruptions.

What does it look like in practice?

If you want to see what I mean, take a look at Teacher Tom’s blog. Tom reflects on his community nursery practice online just about every day and builds wonderful immersive play into everything.  If anyone knows any UK based similar blogs do let us know!

It is also worth looking at Sandfield Natural Play Centre in Knowsley, Merseyside, which won last year’s NDNA Nursery of the Year award, where children use real tools and climb trees and are outside all year round. Their local schools report their children are consistently ‘school ready’, not because they are forced to write all day but because they are confident and articulate and know who they are. They have played. Outside. You can read a bit more about their philosophy of natural play over at Jan White’s blog.

Promoting physically active play

Ingrid, our early years and health lead who is also just starting her Early Years Profession Status training, ran an ‘Active Play’ training session yesterday with a group of health professionals, teachers and early years staff in Tyneside. They were telling her about the increasing numbers of obese children they are seeing and how they will use what they’ve learned – and their access to their local adventure playground at Shiremoor – to increase free play outdoors. They just needed that bit of a confidence boost.

Lots of play associations and playwork training providers  (lots listed under our supporters tab, more welcomed!) offer similar workshops, but many schools and children’s centres may not have considered whether their staff have the skills to look after outdoor environments and promote physically active play all year round. Why will they invest in this area if it’s not even in the curriculum?

Its great to see the media interest in the Guardian and most of all in the Telegraph, but will this be enough to ensure that young children have the freedom to play outside regularly?

Taking action

So, what could Love Outdoor Play do to make sure everyone in Early Years gets to show how they love outdoor play too?

4 Responses to “How important is outdoor play to the early years??!”
  1. Isobel says:

    You can definitely see your expertise in the article you
    write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers
    like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    Always go after your heart.

  2. I work in an Outdoor Preschool in Devon, we spend at least 3 of our 5 hours outside every day, often the entire session is spent outdoors in our surrounding woodland. We have managed so far to resist Ofsted’s desire for computers etc as we have no electricity! Our children play all day, generally without instruction, it is true free play and we have no place in it. It is wonderful to watch and visitors are always impressed with the children’s communication, social skills and independance.

  3. Cath Prisk says:

    Hi Sue, thanks so much for posting and we are now talking to Open Eye about the wider campaigns. Exciting times! Cath

  4. Sue Palmer says:

    Thanks very much for your kind comments on my Today interview. If anyone would like to support Early Childhood Action — the group I was talking about — please visit And please pass on the website address to your contact list. There’s been huge interest in the movement, with many prominent people signing up (Jonathon Porrit yesterday!) and we seriously think this is an opportunity to change government thinking. Very best wishes, Sue Palmer

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