Working as one to break down the barriers.

Project author:

Project summary:

A study of the barriers to outdoor play during winter months.

Child with muddy hands


This project looks at the reasons children are less likely to access the outdoor space during winter months when weather is less favourable. It considers key literature and policy combined with observations of children over a period of time and views of children, parents and staff. This enquiry was of great importance due to the overwhelming research that states the benefits to health and wellbeing, physical and cognitive development whilst learning outdoors (Scottish Government, 2018). The purpose of this study was therefore to learn of and alleviate any barriers currently stopping children from maximising their time outdoors.


Having begun embedding a Froebelian ethos into our setting over recent years it was disheartening to notice during the winter months a decline in children wishing to access the outdoor area. After all engagement with nature is very much key to being Froebelian due to the overwhelming benefits to children (Bruce, T, 2021). The setting already operates an open-door policy at all times which allows children free flow throughout the day. The garden is of a decent size and has both concreted and grass area. Unfortunately, due to wear and tear and poor drainage the grass area has become very muddy in parts. The children all have their own outdoor suit and wellies so it would be assumed it would be well utilised. At this point it was evident research should be conducted to find out the route of the barriers to children going outdoors as it would be easy to assume this was solely due to bad weather. Believing myself that there is no such thing as bad weather rather unsuitable clothing/resources. I did however wonder if there were barriers to children’s mindsets around going outdoors in winter. Are these children used to hearing the words “Its too cold, it’s too wet” at home?

The setting is quite large so I decided I would use a variety of research methods to capture a broad range of views. The research was qualitative as I wanted to find out thoughts and opinions (Naughton et al,2010). I planned time observing children during their day, tracking the use of the outdoor space during various weather. I would listen and note comments when outdoor play was discussed. I would also lead chats during group times, games and drawings to establish the children’s views around accessing outdoors. It was then important to speak to parents to gather their views and opinions around children accessing the outdoor space. This would be completed during questionnaires at a Stay and Play session. I also established a Family development Group which would continue on after this particular research project was complete who would discuss outdoor learning as their starting point. The Nursery team would be given an anonymous questionnaire to complete to ensure all stakeholders were included in my research.


Before using any of my selected research methods to gather thoughts, opinions and views I gained permission from parents and children in the form of opting in and out of participation. To ensure the project was inclusive I ensured all stakeholders had an opportunity to participate if they wish with the option to opt out. Consideration to ethics ensured the research project was a true, honest account of all stakeholder’s opinions and views.

“For a deeply meaningful learning experience we need to follow the seasons and understand the way they influence our own rhythms, feelings, thoughts, actions and, more importantly, relationships in the world.” Cree cited in Casey, Richardson and d’Ascoli 2019,

Casey, Ruchardson and D'Ascoli 2019


During the period of observation, it was noticed that children would access the foyer area leading to the Nursery Garden, have a look outside then turn or chat to friends around their decision to stay indoors and go off and play. Some children were observed to ask “do we need our suits” before deciding against going out. However, one group of children mostly made up of boys spent considerable time outdoors regardless of the weather. This group interested me as I also noticed when these children came in for snack, lunch or to use the toilet they became perplexed removing their wellies, trying to kick them off. When an adult suggested using their hands, they were quickly met with resistance. Although the children’s hands were very muddy and dirty, they did not once indoors wish to touch their equally muddy welly boots. This led to speaking to the children during small group times and within the foyer area to determine why they were deciding not to go outdoors. A considerable number of children said it was “too cold” or “too muddy” which was the answers I expected when commencing my enquiry. When I spoke about the suits being available to keep the children warm and clean one child stated, “they are tight with the jacket and thy make my cardigan feel funny”. This provoked me to think if the suits limited the children’s movement outdoors impacting their enjoyment. Speaking to the parent’s later, having time to spend with our newly established family development group was beneficial. Having that time to sit as a group and really discuss one topic gave scope to really thrash out the issues parent’s felt we were facing. Overall, they felt the garden was too muddy and whilst they understood the benefit of mud to children’s development not to mention emotional wellbeing it was agreed some areas of the garden were in need of work to ensure children had more choice around accessing ‘muddy’ areas. Empowered to make the change the group have since arranged a garden tidy up where by all parents are invited to lend a hand, are looking in to drainage and resurfacing solutions and applying for community funds such as Tesco blue tokens. Finally reflecting on the questionnaire sent to all members of the team a theme emerged. They felt weather and parental views influences children’s decisions to go outdoors in all weathers. And secondly the need to wear suits due to the excessively muddy garden to stay clean, warm and dry put the children off


Continuing to move forward and taking all comments and observations of children, staff and parents into account it was established there is now a need to:

  • Look at drainage solutions to allow for the garden to be resurfaced in areas to reduce the muddy areas giving children a greater scope of textures to play on.
  • Research and price lightweight yet wind and weather tight suits to allow children greater movement when wearing them.
  • Rainwater is collected and now accessible near the door for children to rinse down wellies before accessing the building, making removing them more comfortable for the children.
  • Funding applications are being made to support Nursery Garden development.

Although I had in mind what the obvious barriers to outdoor play particularly living in Scotland in winter would be by conducting this research it not only brought to light other barriers children faced but brought the Nursery community together in a new way. The Nursery team continuously strive to improve and are always looking for fresh new ideas to develop to benefit the children however this can be extremely challenging. By fully involving the parents in the project and giving them a lead role and voice, it has truly empowered them to come together and work as one to improve their children’s learning and development. Truly highlighting Froebel’s notion that “the most urgent need in education is that the school should be united with the life of home and family” (Froebel, in Lilley, 1967:156)

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

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. Nikki Smith
    Nikki Smith
    31 May 2023 at 6:57 pm

    Your family development groups sounds like a great opportunity for parents to be involved in the life of the setting and it’s great you have parents supporting the group. Hopefully you find a way to encourage the children to go out in all weathers to ensure they still get outdoor experiences even in the mud as that adds to the fun! Good luck with the next steps in your journey 🙂

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  2. Ruth Johnson
    Ruth Johnson
    31 May 2023 at 10:25 pm

    I LOVED reading this project as some of the barriers to going outdoors really resonated. Our nursery children too, are often reluctant to put on outdoor suits or dungarees. They just want out and don’t want the hassle of popping on a suit! I thought the way you engaged and empowered parents was inspiring and it sounds like you had very positive results. The way you set up and spent time with your Family Development group was wonderful because it was genuine and obviously interested in finding a solution. I’d love to be a parent at your nursery! Your outdoor area sounds like its going from strength to strength.

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  3. Tracey Aitken
    Tracey Aitken
    24 Mar 2024 at 11:03 am

    Wonderful to read that your research has benefited the nursery holistically. Your findings are the outcomes for positive changes that will become embedded in your centres practice, congratulations and I wish your Family Development group continued success.

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