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Outdoor play and learning

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Outdoor play areaWe live in a culture where children play outside less than they used to, although research points heavily towards the benefits of being outdoors with some risk and challenge in childhood. A child’s contact and involvement with nature and the physical activity involved with this is invaluable. Outdoors there is space for children to be noisy, to be physically energetic and explore their surroundings, to be creative, imaginative and messy.

We aim to increase opportunities for children and young people to be outside more, whether this is in a public play space, by improving a nursery or school’s outdoor environment or equipping staff with ideas and confidence to use the space they already have.

Wiltshire Council does this by having a team of childcare officers to support nurseries, childminders and communities. Of this team there are four lead people who have prime responsibility for outdor play in the north, south, east and west of the county and promote a balanced approach to play, in line with the Health and Safety Executive’s statement.

Outdoor play is also recognised in the changes to the Department of Education's Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage which says "providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis’’.

Supporting outdoor play in Wiltshire

We produce a forest and outdoor play network newsletter and welcome contributions from practioners to share good practice.

Forest School

Forest school

Forest School is not a fixed place or a particular type of school. Forest School is an approach to play and learning embracing all that nature has to offer. The idea is for small groups of children to visit woodland on a regular basis. There they play and learn supported by qualified, innovative staff that will encourage their interest in the world around them and, with praise and achievable tasks, increase the child’s confidence and therefore self esteem.

Wiltshire Council has been part funding Forest School training across the county for over three years. Staff from schools, the Youth Service, nurseries and childminders have benefitted from this and now take the children that they work with outside with more confidence and knowledge.

We are currently building a directory of outside education providers, if you would like to be added to this or find out where your nearest Forest School is please contact play@wiltshire.gov.uk.

Along with Woodland Learning we run outside seasonal taster sessions for staff and volunteers from any childcare setting and signpost towards further qualification training. To date we have trained 90 practitioners to Forest School Level 1 and 3 and over 300 practitioners have attended the Taster Sessions. Contact Bright Horizons for details of current courses.

Outdoor play projects

When schools or nurseries want to improve their outdoor play environments we feel one of the best ways is to see what other people are up to and swap ideas. Where there has been a demand locally, Childcare Officers and Early Years Advisory Teachers have formed support clusters for settings and primary schools keen to improve.

There are currently outdoor play projects running in north and east Wiltshire. You can email play@wiltshire.gov.uk for more information or if you would like support to set up a play project in your area.

Outdoor play project case studies 20.0mb Outdoor play project case studies

Early Years settings and schools

We offer advice, support and training to all settings and childminders in developing and getting better use of their outdoor play space. We are able to suggest low cost ideas which will maximise the space that you have. Contact play@wiltshire.gov.uk for details.

OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning)Outdoor play project

Running as a pilot for South Gloucester County Council, we have worked with four primary schools across the county, helping them to re-evaluate their free playtime and re-design their playgrounds.

Read the Play England evaluation of the project: PDFSupporting School Improvement Through Play Supporting School Improvement Through Play 439kb

We are currently subsidising this project for Wiltshire primary schools and are able to take on four projects this year. Please contact play@wiltshire.gov.uk if you are interested.

Community play

We are able to support groups who want to fundraise and improve their public play space. We can signpost towards funding and share information on previous community projects across the county.

Previously we worked with government funding called Playbuilder to deliver community play spaces across the county. With the £1.2 million grant we helped design and build 22 new public play spaces and the video below explains more about the project.

Other groups

Forest and Outdoor Network

This can be accessed via the Learning Outside the Classroom website. This group is for anyone working outside and has a diverse membership from independent bushcraft specialists, orienteering leaders, pre-school practitioners and secondary teachers to woodland party providers. Meetings are quarterly and held at member’s settings around the county.

Play Partner parties

These parties enable children aged 5-16 years who have disabilities and are socially isolated, to meet, befriend and play with other children. Parties are held at different play venues throughout Wiltshire. Children with additional needs are invited to attend these parties with their families. The parties are hosted by “Play Partner Young Helpers.” A typical Play Partner Helper is a sensible, caring, teenager aged 13-17 years, from a mainstream school. If you are interested in attending a party or becoming a young helper please contact play@wiltshire.gov.uk for more information.

Wiltshire Outdoor Learning Team (WOLT)

This dynamic organisation delivers outdoor learning activities across Wiltshire to schools, colleges, youth groups and adults. They have a vast experience in working with a wide range of ages and abilities, and specialise in working with young people with challenging behaviour. They run Forest School sessions collaboratively with the Primary Behaviour Support team; Education Other Than At School (EOTAS). Visit the WOLT website for more information and to find out about forthcoming courses.

Meet the play team!

If you would like us to visit a setting or community to offer advice, support or training in developing the outdoor space, then please contact us using the following details

Ella Coghin - Outdoor play team

Ella Coghlan - East Wiltshire

Telephone: 07920 234 094


  • Play lead in the east of Wiltshire.
  • Advanced Forest School leader, trained with Woodland Learning (Archimedes) in 2012
  • OPAL Associate – delivering a whole school approach to outdoor play and learning
  • Playbuilder – two year government funded project to deliver accessible community play spaces across the county
  • Background of Children’s Centres and pre-school children with SEN

Nathan Silk - Outdoor play team

Nathan Silk - South Wiltshire

Telephone: 07917 067283


  • Play lead for south Wiltshire
  • Advanced Forest School leader, trained with Bridgwater College in 2011

Jean Carter - Outdoor play team

Jean Carter - West Wiltshire

Telephone: 01747 861915


  • Play lead covering west Wiltshire
  • Advanced Forest School leader, trained with Bridgwater College in 2011

Last updated: 12 August 2014



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