Relationships, Wellbeing and the Outdoors

Project author:

Project summary:

A practitioner inquiry which investigates the impact experiences outdoors has on children’s relationships with their peers and educators and how this supports children’s overall wellbeing at ELC.

Children jumping in puddles


This project looks at how experiences outdoors can support children’s overall wellbeing within the ELC. It will explore how the outdoors supports children to develop meaningful relationships with their peers and educators and the impact this therefore has on their daily life at ELC.

This study takes into account the principles of ‘Relationships matter ’and ‘Knowledgeable, nurturing educators’. It also explores the UNCRC.
This study is important as children are spending increased hours at ELC, as educators we must be ensuring we are getting it right for each individual child and providing opportunities that support all children to thrive.

My purpose of undertaking this inquiry was to learn the impact that outdoor experiences have on children’s relationships and how this effects their overall wellbeing. This work will support the team to continue to be knowledgeable, nurturing educators.


The setting has 80 children who all attend 6 hours per day. Through observation it was identified that an increasing number of children were requiring adult intervention to settle into the ELC environment after the initial drop off transition. In addition to this some children were becoming ‘lost’ after different transitions throughout the day. E.g. Lunch, Snack.
When the study started the children were welcomed into the ELC at 8:45am, outdoors was then opened around 9:15am. Throughout the day children had open access to outdoors until 2:20pm when outdoors would close in order to prepare for families coming to collect their children. In addition to this some days children were offered the opportunity to participate in outings within the local environment.
Educators had observed a calmer atmosphere created indoors and outdoors when the outside area was available for children. Some educators had also highlighted that the children who were requiring the support after different transitions seemed happier outdoors, they commented on how their personalities emerged whilst out in the garden area or within the local environment.

I personally see the outdoors as an integral part of early years. I believe this should be something which is available to children at all times of their day with no barriers, such as coming indoors in order to have snack or lunch. Currently we do not have a provision available for this to be supported outdoors.

The methods I choose to use for this practitioner inquiry were participatory methods which could be recorded through observation of children with a focus on relationships, interactions, and experiences in the spaces.

To support recording children’s level of well-being I choose to draw on Ferre Laevers emotional well-being scale to support.  This is a process I and other practitioners in the setting were familiar in using and it helped us have a consistent approach to support analysis along with the quality observations.

The method used to enable educators to participant was through focused interviews.


I chose to ask families’ permission using a slip, children have the option to opt out at any time verbally.
I also obtained permission using a slip from the Head teacher and educators within the ELC to be involved within the study.
All participants are able to withdraw at any time throughout.

Findings from this study will be available to all involved after the study has taken place.

Although everything during the study is anonymous if anything was disclosed which involved child abuse or neglect. Local authority guidance would be followed at this point.

Dr Lynn J. McNair OBE & Carol Cerdan – Nurturing Self-Regulation “Each individual is unique, [and] has the power to express himself in his distinctive way... Each person, each child has a particular gift which will become visible if circumstances are right and freedom for expression... is given.” Liebschner 1992: 36


A meeting was held with educators to decide on which children would benefit most from participating in smaller group experiences outdoors. We looked at children’s wellbeing within the ELC environment using the Leuven Scale and used this to inform us of which children to involve in the study, along with rich observations gathered of children. From this we chose 5 children from the setting. All outdoor sessions were held out with the ELC environment but within school grounds.
From the beginning it became apparent that one child had a quieter disposition than the other children, within the ELC environment this child was quiet and preferred solitary play. When an educator would invite the child to join conversations, both in a group and one to one, they would remain quiet and choose to not participate.

Each session involved myself an educator and the 5 children chosen participating in an experience out with the ELC grounds. These ranged from visiting a garden space to spend time caring for plants and planting as well as walks in the environment, litter picking and den building. We followed the lead of the children each session to decide on the experiences carried out.

On the initial session three of the five children displayed high levels of wellbeing with 2 showing lower levels. The child being discussed showed lower levels however mirrored play from the other children. They chose not to participate in any conversations.
As we moved through the sessions it became evident that all of the children’s wellbeing began to improve both on the sessions and within the ELC grounds.
The 5 children involved in the sessions began to interact with one another within the ELC grounds which supported these children through the daily transitions they had previously required adult support with. From developing the relationships on the sessions keyworkers observed a child, who normally struggled with settling after drop off, after a cuddle with their keyworker happily took the hand of another child, who also attended the sessions, to participate in a STEM experience outdoors.
Observations also highlighted that the 5 children involved were seeking out myself and the other Educator involved in the sessions over other educators, showing the developing relationships between everyone involved on the outings.

The greatest finding from the study was shown through the child who initially had the quietest disposition. Previously the only information known about this child was the information passed over from their family. Whilst in the school grounds, creating a den on a rainy day, this child shared experiences around camping with their grandfather. They excitedly spoke about how much they loved spending a few days camping with family but “we’ve never had a fire, I like doing that here at nursery”. This was the first time that child has shared their interests with an educator since starting their ELC journey.

One educator, when asked why they felt that we were able to find out more about children when out of the ELC grounds, said “I just feel like being away from the ELC and out in nature just takes the pressure off. I feel more relaxed and open when outdoors, I think that is the same for a lot of children. Some children need to be outdoors to fully express themselves and build relationships with their educators and peers”.


Overall this study has shown that smaller groups support building relationships and therefore improves individuals daily experiences whilst at ELC.
As educators we have gained valuable knowledge around the benefits of having these experiences outdoors but also allowed us to reflect on how we can ensure these experiences are available to all children.

This study has been extremely interesting to undertake as an educator and has allowed me to reflect on my personal journey within early years.
We now need to move forward and look at how, as a team, we can develop our ELC environment and routines to support those children who need smaller groups but also extended periods of time outdoors.

Research implications

This practitioner inquiry has been carried out by Emma who is a Principal Early Years Officer (PEYO) within a large local authority nursery setting attached to a school. My role as lead supported Emma with the process through several meetings and visits to the setting.

The inquiry was identified initially through observation of children who naturally gravitated to outdoors or when supported by nurturing educators showed a greater preference to be outdoors. It aimed to investigates the impact experiences outdoors has on children’s relationships with their peers and educators and how this supports children’s overall wellbeing at Early Learning and Childcare (ELC).

At certain points of the day, in particular the transition from home to nursery an increase in children communicating they were unsettled was observed by practitioners however, the same children seemed to be more settled and engaged when outdoors. At welcoming time this nursery did not open the outside doors until children were all dropped off, which raised discussions to provoke whole team thoughts around this practice.

The inquiry looked at observation of children’s reactions and responses in the outdoor environment to identify if the environment can support children’s overall wellbeing within the ELC. In addition, it explored observations of interactions to understand how the outdoor space supports children with a focus on relationships with their peers and educators to deter the impact of the outdoor space on each child’s daily lived experience at ELC.

It also raised the Froebelian principle of enabling educators to ‘Value childhood in its own right’ and ‘Autonomous learners and discussions around not allowing routines to become rigid and think of other ways to explore and be reflexive to what children are non-verbally articulating.

Along with taking into account the principle of ‘Relationships matter’ where these are of central importance in a child’s life (Froebel Trust, npn). In addition, the opportunity to reflect upon the Froebelian principle ‘Knowledgeable, nurturing educators’ where Froebelians facilitate and guide rather than instruct therefore raised opportunities to discuss the environment at certain times of the day were not free flow and there was an expectation from adults at certain times. Whilst exploring UNCRC (1989) this provoked conversations around children rights and in particular Article 12 was drawn upon which states, “every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This principle recognises children and young people as actors in their own lives and applies at all times throughout a child’s life.”

When reflecting on Froebel he reminds us “Let us learn from our Children. Let us attend to the knowledge which their lives gently urge upon us and listen to the quiet demands of their hearts. Let us live for our children, then will their lives bring us joy and peace and we shall ourselves begin to grow in wisdom” (Froebel. 1885:92).

Practitioner enquiry

This practitioner inquiry shows when opportunities are given to truly value childhood, we start to focus more on what each child is communicating and be reflective to what they are expressing and reactive in relation to how changes can be made to truly value each child.

It is evident from the observations that the environment is calmer and flows better when there is a free flow opportunity for children through the nursery session and in this inquiry there seemed to be preference for some children to have quieter spaces with less people.

In addition, the findings showed when adults spend time with the children and opportunities to be in nature or community offsite experiences this is welcomed by both the children and educators and the engagement within these experiences are beneficial.

Leadership learning

This practitioner inquiry has enabled myself to see how a community of ELC have used this experience to question the norm whilst observing children and  using Froebelian principles to guide and reflect on experiences, spaces and interations.

It is important as educators to be reflective and within our current Scottish context to draw upon Practitioner Guidance RtA (2020) and UNCRC (1989) to where policy and guidance supports along with connecting to the Froebelian Principles to fully understand the underpinning reflection and fusion of theory, guidance, and practice.

As lead of this project, it has been very welcoming to see that children’s observations inform educators and that the team are exploring change and developing new ways of creating spaces and practice which is informed through reflective practice whilst responding to individual children’s observations. This supports relationships where educators attune to each individual child.

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Ashleigh Leyden
    Ashleigh Leyden
    28 May 2023 at 10:19 am

    Really interesting project Emma. It was so nice to see the impact outdoors has on the wellbeing of your children and hearing them become more happy and settled.

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  2. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    30 May 2023 at 8:00 pm

    Well done Emma, it was good to see how you used findings to support the study.
    Loved the positive impact this has had: e.g., when opportunities were given in quieter calm spaces outdoors the findings were showing there was a remarkable improvement in each child’s wellbeing.
    Some questions it would raise for me is: How can free flow opportunities be available throughout the whole nursery session?
    In what ways do children have the autonomy to decide when they go offsite, garden or indoors at ELC?
    Is there equal autonomy or do the adults decide?
    It has been lovely to see how this practitioner inquiry has developed and I know it has provoked other interests particularly around the unhurried slow pedagogical approaches and I am interested to see how this continues to unravel to enable positive impacts for children in practice.

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  3. Chelsey McClurg
    Chelsey McClurg
    31 May 2023 at 5:37 pm

    What a great read!
    It’s so important to reflect on the outdoor environment for
    Children and how experiences can be offered in an unhurried way.

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  4. Ashleigh Gunn
    Ashleigh Gunn
    12 Jun 2023 at 7:18 pm

    What a fantastic read! Having an outdoor environment where children are free to express themself fully is so important. I love that through your observations it was clear children became more comfortable and were able to share experiences through conversations, as well as building strong relationships.

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  5. Kellie-Anne Fairbairn
    Kellie-Anne Fairbairn
    13 Jun 2023 at 7:08 am

    Enjoyed reading your project and it was very interesting. I wholeheartedly agree with the benefits of children having free access to outdoor provision and the positive effects on their emotional wellbeing.

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  6. Hazel Devlin
    Hazel Devlin
    13 Jun 2023 at 10:25 am

    Well done, I enjoyed reading your project. Nature and outdoors are so important to all our mental health and children always benefit getting out of the classroom environment. I loved how you got the children involved and allowed them to take the lead and set the pace. Thankyou for sharing.

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  7. Caroline Burke
    Caroline Burke
    27 Mar 2024 at 7:34 pm

    What a great project. It I so nice to see the value placed in outdoors that is continuous and allows the children to spend their entire day at nursery outdoors. It is good to hear that you noticed such an impact on their relationships with both adults and peers. I hope you continue to see the positive effects this has on your setting. Well done.

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