Climbing frame play at Tiny Toes Hertford

Outdoor and Risky Play

March 28, 2019 10:03 am Published by


Outdoor play on obstacle course at Tiny Toes Hertford Day Nursery and Pre-school

Outdoor play on an obstacle course created with the help of the children at Tiny Toes Hertford Day Nursery and Pre-school

Should children be outside engaging in risky play?

There’s been a lot of talk in the media and within the childcare sector in recent years about the decline in time children spend outdoors and participating in risky-play, and how this decline has a negative impact on childhood development and wellbeing.

According to Play England, an estimated 21% of children play outside today compared to 71% of their parents when they were the same age. Almost 64% (of children) today play outside less than once a week. So is this having an impact on children?

Children spend less time outside

Nowadays children spend more time inside, using modern technology such as tablets and computer consoles, and watching television, or doing indoor after-school clubs. They can spend twice as long playing on tablets and computers as they do outside. There has also been a move towards putting children in more organised groups activities and clubs, rather than enjoying free-play or spontaneous outdoor play. 

Child using technology

A documentary on the BBC has shown how little time children spend outside playing compared to their parents or grandparents. It looked into how children benefit from and need #WildTime to help with growth, development and a sense of wellbeing. You can find out more about this documentary and the project that has developed as a result of this. Find out more on this at this site – – it also has a link to the documentary if you wish to watch it.  

“The benefits may seem obvious, but in reality, many children don’t get to be outdoors in a natural environment in any regular or meaningful way. And that’s even more common among kids from deprived areas.” – Lucy Hellier, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust learning project manager.

At Tiny Toes Hertford, we intentionally limit the access to technology for our children. We don’t offer any screen time, but if children wish to take pictures with the tablets we use for observations and learning journals we do allow them to do this under supervision. We do invite children to play with authentic items such as computers, keyboards, old mobile phones during imaginative play, but these items aren’t operational or connected online in any way.

         Technology provocation at Tiny Toes Hertord

Rather than tying children to technology during the day, we ensure that the children in our care get opportunities to play outside and to take part in closely supervised risk-taking activities. We give the children support and instruction whilst allowing them to use their own problem-solving skills to try things out – in our view, that’s how you learn.

Why do they spend less time outdoors?

 A  combination of factors seem to have led to the decline in time spent outside by children:

  • Some parents fear allowing children outside to play unsupervised before they are in their early teens.
  • Fear of strangers and children being ‘out of sight’.
  • Traffic and accidents deter parents from allowing their children to play outside alone or with friends.
  • Lack of access to the outdoors and green spaces
  • Time – our lives are getting busier and more scheduled, which makes finding time to spend outside more difficult.

There has also been a loss of a community feel, especially in urban areas, so people don’t always know their neighbours. We seem to live in a time where we obsess about health and safety and this obsession with providing safe play without any risks is severely limiting children’s freedom – not to mention the lack of outdoor activities and the increase in more sedentary pastimes that have lead to issues with obesity in childhood.

At a staff development day, last summer, we looked at the importance of keeping children active and how having access to outside play offers endless opportunities for keeping children active and fit. We looked at using music – rhythm, rhyme and repetition – to keep children engaged with physical activities and games to promote more movement. The training showed how easily we can incorporate physical movement into our activities indoor and out to ensure children are being active at regular intervals.

So what is outdoor and risky play?

Outdoor play is pretty self-explanatory and is any type of play in an outdoor environment from back gardens, to playgrounds, to free play in woodlands or other natural environments.

Some of the supervised risky play activities offered to children at Tiny Toes Hertford

Risky play is pivotal in childhood development as it’s a crucial life skill children need to help them develop confidence, self-esteem, and problem-solving skills. Risky play is play that has an exciting and thrilling element to it that also increases the risk of injury. It’s playing that gives children an opportunity to be challenged to use their problem-solving skills, to develop teamwork and cooperation, to test limits and to explore boundaries and learn about managing risk.

This type of play includes activities such as;

  • Sliding down a slide
  • Climbing a tree or playing on a jungle gym
  • Jumping from a small height
  • Hanging upside down from climbing apparatus
  • Balancing on an obstacle course or wall

All of these activities can all be seen as carrying an element of risk.

At a staff development day in April 2018, we learnt about the importance of outdoor and risky play and how we can implement this within the nursery setting. We’ve taken steps to provide the children with access to the outdoors either on regular walks to town and local green spaces, or access to our all-weather garden. We’ve purchased new equipment such as a climbing frame to allow children to practise their gross motor skills and test their limits. We also include large wooden construction materials, wooden planks and tyres and other intelligent resources to allow children to create obstacle courses in the garden.  [An intelligent resource is defined by the Curiosity Approach as ‘objects that children can use in multiple different ways, exploring different possibilities, to express their imagination.’]

We updated and revamped our garden last summer with new artificial-grass and beautiful new natural wood furniture and fixtures, we also removed the plastic larger toys and furniture, to bring our outdoor space into line with the Curiosity Approach. The refreshed outdoor space is now more inviting for imaginative and creative play, and risky play opportunities are readily available to all the children.  The children have really embraced the new layout and natural feel and enjoy spending time in the garden in all weathers.

Outdoor obstacle course at Tiny Toes Hertford


Why is outdoor and risky play so important?

Playing outdoors and active play is essential to children’s wellbeing and development. It’s great for promoting a child’s development across all 7 areas of learning (Communication and language, Physical Development, Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts and Design) in different ways from learning indoors. Some children also learn more successfully in an outdoor environment, especially those children who are kinesthetic learners (physical and active learners). 

         Climbing frame play at Tiny Toes Hertford Climbing frame at Tiny Toes Hertford

If you want to ask us more about the benefits of risky play, and how we provide activities that allow the children in our care to engage with these types of play please get in touch. If you are looking for a Nursery place in Hertford and would like to come in for a visit Tiny Toes Hertford,  please give us a call 01992 589 020 or email

                    Water play in the garden at Tiny Toes Hertford 







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