Make your outdoor area exciting and educational

SPONSORED FEATURE: Millhouse early years specialist Daphne Lansbury and design engineer Graham Smith give advice on planning a fantastic outdoor area to meet children's needs.

Why is the outdoor area so important?


The freedom of playing outdoors is great fun for young children – running, climbing, jumping and exploring –

but it is also critical for their development which is why it’s important to think carefully about what you provide in your outdoor area.


More and more, children are gravitating towards sedentary indoor pursuits due to the growing trend of digital technology, which means less time is being spent outdoors. 

In addition to this, many will also spend lots of daylight hours in childcare, so it is paramount that they are given the opportunity to have quality outdoor experiences during the nursery day.daphne



Playing outside is not all about being physical and developing gross and fine motor skills. In a well planned outdoor area children can access all areas of the curriculum and investigate the natural environment while gaining self-confidence, resilience and problem solving skills. 

What are the key considerations when planning your outdoor area?

Redesigning your outdoor area can be a big investment so you need to think carefully about what your needs are before you start on the project. Aspects to consider include:

  • How much space you have
  • Your budget
  • What ages of children will be accessing the area – ensure resources, such as the height of water stations are accessible and there is the right level of challenge
  • How many children will be using the area at a time
  • What experiences and skills you want the new area to promote
  • What specific equipment you need to buy
  • How you will zone the area, such as separating ride-on toys from more sedentary activities
  • Purchasing resources that compliment the environment, such as natural wood, wherever possible
  • The longevity of resources, such as whether they are robust enough for a busy nursery environment and whether they are made to be used outdoors. Ask if timber is treated and what guarantees are provided with large purchases.


What elements are needed in the outdoor area?

Some children prefer to be outdoors so just because you have provision indoors does not mean that it should not also be replicated outside. Opportunities for play, exploration and learning in an outdoor area can be endless but think about providing:

Heights and climbing this can be a purpose built climbing frame, A-frame structure or even make use of your natural environment and enable children to climb sturdy trees or other structures.

Balance opportunities such as wooden balance beams, stepping stones or planks.

Construction zone with wooden building blocks (check they are suitable for being used outdoors) or ‘real’ bricks and crates.

Mark making area with easels, freestanding chalk boards or clip boards and pens.

Sand and water play with raised sand pits with lids or water walls with guttering and pipes and other opportunities to dig such as a mud patch and watering cans to water the plants.

Mud kitchen with bowls and pans.

Nature exploration with mini beasts hotels, troughs for planting and consideration of a range of plants, such as herbs.

Ride on toys if there is space or consider providing the feeling of speed by whizzing down a slide or rolling down a hill.

Areas to encourage social interaction such as benches or child height tables and ‘busy benches’ or cushions and picnic blankets.


How do you ensure the best use of space?

Flexibility is key. Try to ensure that all products are freestanding so that you can reconfigure the area when needed, such as when you want to create more challenge or follow a specific interest. You can even purchase moveable fence divider panels to zone off different areas depending on who is accessing the area at the time. 

By providing resources that are open-ended, such as avoiding large prescriptive structures like pirate ships, you will ensure that children can get the maximum potential out of it as well as encouraging their imaginations and child-initiated play.


How do you provide risk and challenge?

The outdoor area often provides children with more opportunities to experience risk-taking. Along with providing the space and opportunity to run, jump and climb keeping the outdoor area as natural as possible can bring its own risk and challenge. Rather than investing in expensive safety surfaces, think about allowing children to negotiate on different natural terrain from uneven grass, to mud and slopes. Also consider carefully introducing real tools – scissors to snip herbs, woodworking equipment and wheelbarrows to transport blocks.



Further information

Millhouse has dedicated early years product specialists and design engineers who can provide help and advice with any size of outdoor project. Find out more at: or contact us: 01526 354 404,

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