Outdoor play all year round 

Nurture your nursery children’s curiosity and learn through nature with some top tips from early years adviser Sue Asquith.  

As the seasons change there are lots of learning possibilities outdoors. Plus, it's great for our health and well-being. Risky play is shown to benefit children’s emotional well-being too. 

Read books

There are lots of books you could share with your children about (or in!) the great outdoors. You could read Stick Man, Leaf Man, Pumpkin Soup, or a whole range of other non-fiction books to explore the seasons. Props are great for storytelling too - a stick from the Stick Man story can be anything to a child: a wand, a spoon to mix a potion OR they could even make their own stick men.

Use books to introduce and explore animals too such as squirrels and hedgehogs. You could learn about the animals that will start to hibernate for winter or nocturnal animals. You could learn about the insects that your children will see more of in spring and summer too such as bees.

Child at Portico Fledglings painting leavesExplore leaves

Collect leaves with your children to explore their natural beauty: 

  • Talk about the different colours
  • Compare different sizes - challenge them to find the smallest one
  • Explore veins and stems (you could use magnifying lenses to see these in more detail)
  • Get creative - try leaf printing with paint or wax crayon rubbings.

Children may be interested in which trees the leaves came from, so you could explore this too. The Woodland Trust has a free app to identify leaves which could help you. 

You could start to explore bigger words with the pre-school aged children such as ‘photosynthesis’, explain that this is how plants and trees make the food they need to live and grow. Children might be interested to learn that trees and plants are important as they make oxygen too. 

Gower Day Nursery children going for a walkGo for a walk

One of the simplest ways to explore nature is to go for a walk.

Out on a walk or whilst playing outdoors you can take time with the children to point out the trees, clouds and birds chirping.

Talking about the weather and model words - sunshine, rain, cloudy, bright, warm, cold, frosty. Point out shadows, rainbows, any bugs or animals and of course, spend some time in your wellies jumping in puddles!

Think about the science behind splashing in puddles. The force of the water, water displacement, cause and effect, how water evaporates as it dries and of course splashing can be lots of fun!

Cliffe House Nursery display for AutumnGo on a natural treasure hunt

Scavenger hunts are always popular with children. Collect acorns, pine cones, conkers and leaves. See our outdoor treasure hunt stories guide here from forest school leader Tricia Pillay.

Remember to risk assess and supervise accordingly.

Challenge the children to find (or photograph) certain items. If they take photos of the things they see, you can build in some ICT and make displays or photo-books.

Once you have a collection of natural items there are endless opportunities for learning through open-ended transient art:

  • Make a crown or collage
  • Mark-make in clay or play dough
  • Making shakers
  • Have a go at pine cone rolling - whose pine cone will roll the furthest down a small slope?  Why not dip pine cones in paint and roll them around on paper to make patterns? 

These activities also provide more opportunities to extend children’s vocabulary, describing spikey conker cases and shiny shells or the texture of pine cones. You can explore mathematical development too with counting, ordering and sequencing. 

Stepping Stones WorsleyHarvest food

Do you have a nursery vegetable plot? It's a great learning experience to plant and watch vegetables grow and then use them in your cooking with the children. See our top tips here.

You could collect apples and pears with the children, go pumpkin picking or pick blackberries in your local park. Back at nursery you could make an apple crumble, blackberry pie or pumpkin soup! 

Or you can visit your local shop together and buy some fruit and vegetables to explore instead.

There are lots of opportunities to learn about how food grows and for new words to be introduced in these activities. 

Work with parents

Remember to talk to parents about what you are learning and why. 

Perhaps you could challenge them to collect some leaves and treasures with their children if you can’t get out of your setting to do this. You could invite parents in who grow vegetables or ask for their help in making your own vegetable plot.

More ideas

NDNA has a whole host of support on outdoor play, risky play, and creativity in early years resources:

The Woodland Trust has a whole host of ideas for schools and groups, including nurseries as part of 'Nature Detectives' too hereThere is also a '50 things to do before you are five' app to download, check your local council's website. The National Trust also has some ideas in their 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4. 

See all NDNA support here   

Early Childhood Consultant Sue Asquith logoEarly Childhood Consultant Sue Asquith

This blog post was written by early childhood consultant Sue Asquith.

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With thanks to Gower Day Nursery, Portico Fledglings, Stepping Stones Worsley Nursery and Cliffe House Nursery for their photos.