Outdoor Learning Environments
2011 Birth To Three Institute
Kansas I/T and Education Manager
Become knowledgeable of children’s
abilities, linking domains with outdoor
Gain knowledge of Safety
Recommendations for children ages 6
months to 4 years.
Be aware of outdoor environment hazards
to reduce the severity of life & debilitating
Outdoor Time - Reduced
• Emphasis on academic learning has led to changes
in some programs.
• Research indicates that removing outdoor play may
actually undermine intended achievement-oriented
• Play enhances attention, memory, self-regulation,
and overall academic achievement throughout
• (Castelli, et. al., 2007; Pellegrini, & Bohn, 2005).
Research studies have determined that
play contributes to cognitive, perceptual
and language development.
It has been long understood by educators
and developmental scientists that motor
play contributes to healthy physical
Quality Outdoor Learning Space
Quality outdoor environments must
be challenging to promote children
The highest predictor of increased
physical activity level in young
children is the quality of the program
they are enrolled in.
Infant and Toddlers
An important intellectual accomplishment of
the first 2 years of life is learning about cause
As babies develop they differentiate between
actions & consequences and intentionally
make things occur.
Motor play contributes to this thinking.
Infants solve problems by using “tools” to
achieve their goals.
Moving and Thinking
Young children’s motor development is a
powerful predictor of cognitive abilities in
the elementary years (Piek, et. al., 2008).
Movement is tied to processing speed and
Why? Movement facilitates the
development of new connections
(synapses) among brain cells & the overall
organization of the brain.
(Gabbard, 1998; Rakison, & Woodward, 2008).
Selection of Motor Play Equipment
Equipment should be chosen
to carry out specific activities
that meet motor learning goals.
More parts of the brain are activated when
children are moving.
Activates the part that allows the processing of
visual information (visual association cortex).
Develops the ability to accurately interpret
information being received by different senses
at the same time.
Promotes the ability to coordinate the different
regions responsible for sensory-based
Moving & Social-Emotional Development
• Becoming more expressive.
• Learning about others…feelings,
temperament and abilities.
• Beginning making friends.
• Beginning acceptance or rejection by
• Beginning to see conflicts.
• Beginning verbally expressing feelings.
Children with Disabilities
Adults should model motor
behaviors for children.
More complex movements
may require direct guidance
and instruction particularly for
children with disabilities.
Equipment Used by Several Children
development of children
disabilities, and visual
…Rocking boats, swings,
tubes children can crawl
Age of Children
Younger children require more
attentive supervision and
assistance on how to use
Children’s brains are
focused on emerging
or refining motor skills
May not be focused on
safety (running in front
of a swing) .
Balance…going up is
easier than coming
Public Playground Risk Management
Very few states have regulations that are
Goal is to reduce life-threatening and
Identify non-compliant or damaged
Show good intent to the public.
General Playground Considerations
Toddlers 6 months to 24 months
Preschoolers 24 months to 5 years
School Agers 5 years to12 years
NO hope of having injury-free play areas!
Knowledge & application improve safety!
Playground Injury Overview
More than 220,000 US, children 2 to 12 years
are injured annually
76% occur on Public Playgrounds
45% on school sites
10% in commercial daycare
31% on park sites
24% on Residential Playgrounds
79% of Injuries are FALLS
68% to surface
10% to other parts of the equipment
1% to unknown reasons
11% of injuries are Caused by Impact
8% Impact with stationary equipment
3% Impact with moving equipment
10% Miscellaneous causes
Causes of Death & Debilitating Injuries
Cause of death in order;
1. Entanglement (clothing, strings or
2. Falls to hard underlying surfaces.
3. Head and neck entrapment in
4. Impact by tipped or loose
equipment, or moving swings.
Priority 1 Hazard
Safety Goal -
Reduce the number &
severity of life threatening
& debilitating injuries.
Risks and Hazards
Risk is a challenge that involves a choice
by the user
Hazard is something unknown, hidden,
unforeseen, or unexpected
Children are not expected to be aware
That is Our Job!!!
Factors for Injuries
Improper use of equipment and poor
supervision - 44% of injuries
Poor maintenance of surfaces or
Inappropriate designs -71%
Equipment installation issues – 6%
Site planning issues
Playground Supervisors Must
Understand the basics of playground
Be aware not all equipment is
appropriate for children of all ages.
Realize younger children require more
Know what the posted signage at the
entrances of the playground says.
General Playground Considerations
Separate areas should be provided for all
ages of children.
Playgrounds for different age groups
should be visible from younger children's
Site Selection Considerations
Lakes – ponds - streams
Cliffs - drop-offs - contaminated areas
Site well drained - no standing water
Sun Exposure and Shading
Locate in shaded areas or provide man-made
Provide warning labels about potential burn
For Any Age…
Swinging Gates or Doors
Multiple Occupancy Swings
Swinging Exercise Rings
Under 2 years
No higher than 32” from the ground.
Stepped Platforms –
Maximum height between platforms
If space between platforms is less
than 7”, infill should be used to
reduce the space to < 3”
Access to Equipment
Easiest to most difficult egress
1. Ramps/Slope < 1 to 8; Width 19”
2. Straight stairways – Slope ≤ 35 degrees
3. Step ladders – used with 15 months and
Guardrails and Barriers
Guardrails Not recommended for
Barriers must be a minimum of 24” high
Used on all elevated walking surfaces
above 18”, however do not apply if the
barrier would interfere with the intended
use of the equipment such as climbing
Fall height of layered platforms should be
7” or less
Playground Surfacing Considerations
Approximation of the
maximum fall height from
which a life-threatening head
injury would not be expected
Surfaces (Unitary or Loose Fill)
Materials should not be used over hard surfaces.
Rubber Matting Grass
Shredded Wood Products Water
Refer to manufacturer for equipment requirements.
Play Equipment “Use Zone”
Area beneath and immediately adjacent to
a play structure.
Must meet criteria for;
Critical Height in relation to the fall height of the
Placement under and around play equipment.
Use zone must have an accessible route of travel
Labels and Signs
What is Wrong with this Playground?
To and F