OUTDOOR PLAY IN AUSTRALIA: Why has it become such a challenge to early childhood educators?

Getting children outside to play can pose a real challenge to early childhood educators within Australia. International readers may be wide-eyed and stumbling over their words questioning, ‘What?! … Why?!’ at this early point in the discussion. Yes, it is true that we do have a magnificent climate all year ’round, but that in itself is the problem I believe. Climatic extremes are not the everyday experience of the average Australian, and this lack of experience has unfortunately led most Australians to determine that our incredibly mild Winters represent bad weather. In Australia, Winter temperatures rarely fall below zero degrees celsius and snow doesn’t even enter the equation for the cities dotting the coastlines where the bulk of our population resides. It really is a relative to scenario that is almost too ridiculous for words. By way of comparison, if educators in Scandinavian countries were restricted by the same weather prejudices that drive thinking here in Australia, Scandinavian children would never see the light of day!


“… forest and nature-centered schools are not unheard of around the world, in Scandinavia they positively abound. According to the Danish Forest and Nature Agency, over ten percent of Danish preschools are nestled in forests or other natural settings. While these 500 or so schools differ in terms of surroundings, they all place the natural world squarely at the center of early childhood development.”

Early Nature Lessons in Denmark’s Forest Preschools.

As an advocate for the importance of outdoor play in the lives of children, I have had to arm myself for battle in order to secure what I know to be in the best interests of the children.  In the process, I have had to battle with fellow educators and parents alike.  It is all about changing an entrenched mindset fuelled by a misguided cultural construct regarding what represents bad weather. How have I armed myself to wage this battle? With facts! I have armed myself with research evidence and set myself on the path of re-educating the masses with a dogged determination and a don’t back down attitude! I am prepared to be unpopular (and it is usually only temporary) to do what I know to be right for the children within my care.

IMG_4624 - Copy

The following is a brief excerpt from a flier that I provide to all parents at our service as we head into the cooler months.


Winter Wet Weather Play

The weather is gradually changing as we move through Autumn and on into Winter.  We love to encourage the children to observe the changes that are happening in their environment as they play and engage with nature.  Our approach is reflected in this quote:

“There is no such thing as bad weather, just different types of weather”  ~ John Ruskin 

*(Or perhaps, There is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices!)

“There is something primal and deeply important about being outside.  It doesn’t make any difference to the child whether it is hot or cold, windy or rainy, the outdoors beckons too them.” ~ Bev Bos.

So just keep in mind that we will be venturing outside every-day and appropriate clothing is essential.  Preschool is certainly not the place to worry about being ‘fashionable’. Make sure your children have layers of clothing which will help them self-regulate according to changing conditions.  Warm waterproof jackets are ideal in winter to protect the children against the ‘wind-chill’.  A raincoat is not a great choice as they do tend to be stiff and awkward, thus restricting movement.  We have sets of waterproof pants and jackets at preschool which the children must wear during Winter if they wish to play with water.  We suggest that ‘gumboots’ are a great investment for outdoor play.

It is important to note that we are bound by the National Quality Framework, and it is regard as a hallmark of quality, to provide children with access to the outdoor environment at all times.

Quote (page 86) Guide to the National Quality Standard  ( “Wherever possible, children need opportunities to be outdoors as much as indoors. This can be achieved with well-designed integrated indoor and outdoor environments that are available at the same time”.

IMG_4634 - Copy

Through discussions held with staff and parents who were reluctant to allow children access to the outdoors during Winter, these are some of the concerns that were raised:

  • The personal comfort of the staff, children and parents on duty
  • Perceived health concerns for the children
  • Possible challenges for staff in ensuring that the children are adequately dressed
  • Concerns about parent opinion if educators allow children outside in wet/cold weather conditions 


And here are the responses I provided to staff through a Memorandum:

  • Staff, children and parents on duty should come to preschool prepared for time outdoors. For early childhood educators, working outdoors is, without question, a requirement of our job. Being prepared may include bringing adequate warm clothing: jackets, gloves, beanies, boots and a wet weather coat.

IMG_4640 - Copy

  • Children become ill due to a virus or bacterial infection, not from weather conditions. Children are much more likely to become ill in warm, overcrowded indoor environments where viruses and bacteria are able to readily multiply and can freely circulate through the heating system.

IMG_4643 - Copy

  • There are many aspects of an educators job that are challenging. In Summer, we have to ensure that children wear a hat and apply sunblock. In Winter we have to ensure that the children are appropriately attired for wet weather. There is no escaping the repetitive nature of reminding children of these requirements. That is our job. We now have 25 wet weather jackets and pants for this purpose.  Furthermore, it is important to note that we should never deny children their right to outdoor play because we find it challenging. It is our job to manage children’s access to outdoor play.

IMG_4689 - Copy

  • There are many examples in the ECE field where it is our responsibility to educate the parents attending our service as well as the children. As ECE professionals, we are meant to advocate for the rights of children and ensure that we place what is in their best interests above what parents may desire for their children. Through no fault of their own, it is fair to say that parents are often misguided when it comes to knowing what is in the best interests of their children. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of false advice floating around in the parenting sphere. We all know that many of our parents would possibly love to see a more ‘academic’ curriculum in our preschool, and yet we do not teach the children within our care how to read and write. Why? Because as ECE professionals, we know that we are not mandated to under the NEYLF (or VEYLF) and that it is not in the children’s best interests to do so. Outdoor play should be viewed in the same light.  Current research is informing us that children now, more than at any other time in history, are disconnected from the natural environment. Furthermore, the research indicates that this is/will have far-reaching implications for children’s learning and development. I will ensure that I provide staff with some reading regarding these research findings.

IMG_4696 - Copy

 I urge all educators in Australia to get on board and wage this battle.  I know that our workload is heavy already and some challenges seem insurmountable, but on so many levels, this battle is worthy of your energy, for the sake of our children.

15 examples of the great learning that can take place in the outdoor environment:

I hope you enjoy the journey! 🙂


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments on: "OUTDOOR PLAY IN AUSTRALIA: Why has it become such a challenge to early childhood educators?" (17)

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you Karen!
    We are so blessed in Australia to have such a mild winter -I struggle to comprehend why ECE workers continue to ‘keep’ children inside!!
    I am so tired of hearing “But the parents don’t want them to go outside.” It is our job to educate the parents about what is best for the children in our service and our job to take the children outside in all weather.
    A great post, and one I will be sharing with my colleagues at work tomorrow!

  2. Theresa English said:

    Wow, I didn’t know this about Australia. I thought from the websites I follow that you were all so forward thinking. Coming from Canada I can’t imagine what we would do if not outside in all weather! Half of our year is spent in snow or rain and cold, well you can imagine. We only miss a few times a year outside and that is when it is thunder and lightening or if during the winter months the windchill factor is very high other then that…..we are all out enjoying the outdoors.
    I love what you wrote for the parents, well done and …..get outside and enjoy.

  3. Thank you thank you thank you so much for this post. I have recently been so frustrated by these misconceptions about the limits of outdoor play. Especially regarding water play during winter.

    I was trained 10 years ago and I distinctly remember one of my favourite teachers saying “Water play should be available EVERY DAY.” At first I baulked, thinking “What? Even in winter?” And then I thought about it. And I listened. And I thought some more, and it made so much sense.

    Why are we still battling these concepts? Why hasn’t this knowledge become common yet? Sometimes it leaves me feeling defeated. Thank you for being an advocate.

    • It can wear you down can’t it Sarah? I share your frustration and that is what lead me to write this post. I am glad it was helpful to you to hear from a ‘like-minded’ soul. 🙂

  4. What a fantastic post…I couldn’t agree more. I get so sad when I am asked why I have my kids outside in Winter…why wouldn’t I? The air is crisp, the clothes are warm and the imaginations are working still. Thank you for the messages you continue to share about the beauty of outside play!

    • It’s all about changing that entrenched mindset Jode. I always respond with something positive like, Oh, Why not? The rain is delightful!’ That usually stops people in their tracks. Most of them probably think I have ‘lost my marbles’, but I can live with that! 🙂

  5. This is so good, Karen. Just what is needed. So great that you provide a flyer. At play group we always went outside in Winter and the parents did appreciate that the kids loved it and all the benefits it brings. Can I please feature a small part of this post and photo and link (of course) on EPA this week?

  6. Joy McGonigal said:

    Hi Karen,
    I have two big words for you – THANK-YOU!!!!! Amazing!!! It’s good to know we’re not alone trying to convince parents that it’s not the weather that causes illnesses!!! Great letter to parents, thanks for sharing and being an advocate for our great outdoors!!

  7. The world seems to have forgotten how important it is to run and climb and dig and get wet and get sweaty and build and swing… But it is changing – and sites like this help enormously. We have nurseries in England – our children spend over 70% of their day outside – they build with real bricks and timber – sleep when they are tired – eat their meals (and cook some) and the oldest is four years old.

    We believe in open ended play and let the big people steer and encourage – not limit. Two years ago the staff team in one nursery would hide from the rain – in a recent storm they got dressed up and played in the storm – it was great (and we have video to prove it) and the children who sleep in the day sleep outside under cover – so the children who don’t can continue to play….

    Well done and keep promoting free outside play….

    • Yes Tom, you are right. We are on a journey of change, and all of us at different points along the path. I am certainly inspired by the example set for us by our European colleagues. 🙂

  8. Wish I could give my daughters preschool teacher this. They are getting an hour a day every other day outside. It is not enough, and while we are compensating by doing as much as possible outside at home, I feel for all the other children.

    • That is a very sad situation. 🙁

    • Oh Jess, I understand your concerns and they are definitely warranted. Perhaps you could organise a time to sit down and have a 1:1 chat with the preschool teacher. Collaboration with parents is an important element of any preschool program. In Australian, it is regulated under the new ‘National Quality Framework,’ and associated legislation. You have every right to constructively voice your concerns. 🙂

  9. Great article and amazing collection of information. It’s such a shame that there are so many barriers in the way to getting kids more healthy play/learning time outdoors. I really hope the tide shifts toward a greater understanding of the importance of getting kids outside. Thanks for linking up to the Outdoor Play Party…great to see you again.

  10. I must be fortunate? I work in a country preschool in Australia and we spend more than half of our five hour session outdoors running, climbing, jumping and imagining. Parents value outdoor play as we do and a fabulous councillor provided funds for gumboots for all of the children who use the centre. Rain, hail or shine, we are outdoors in the appropriate clothing. We do go through our spare clothes collection quickly on some days.

Leave a comment for: "OUTDOOR PLAY IN AUSTRALIA: Why has it become such a challenge to early childhood educators?"

Tag Cloud