Varying Perspectives on Design Features for Effective Outdoor Play Spaces

The physical outdoor play space is vital for bringing intrigue to children’s play. Early learning teachers:

  • Invest a significant amount of time planning the space, organizing resources, and supporting children in connecting with the peers and materials within the space.
  • Recognize when resources/materials are not correct and if the outdoor play space is not carefully and intentionally planned, limited types of play occur.

Most provincial and territorial governments provide minimal space guidelines for early learning programs. These are minimum guidelines. Advocates of quality outdoor play spaces suggest that the outdoor play spaces guidelines be increased so that children have sufficient space and opportunities to experience a variety of play experiences including, but not limited to, blocks, science, math, literacy, physical play, and dramatic play.

There are varying perspectives on design features for effective outdoor play spaces. The best designs are derived from early learning teachers and children thinking about what they want in the space, how the space will and can be used and the features that are inherent in the space.  Ideally, the space will allow children to have places where they can do many things. Look at the photos below. What are your first impressions of the spaces?

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course9-lesson3-photo4 course9-lesson3-photo5

Now look at the types of experiences in the graphic below and then determine what and how outdoor play spaces can accommodate these types of experiences.


Think about outdoor play spaces that you have observed, then reflect on the questions below.  What are your perspectives on these questions?

How does the outdoor play space support children’s options for diversity in their play?
What play considerations are used to guide your practice during the outdoor play programming?
What role do children have in planning the outdoor play space?
How do the children access the various outdoor experience centres? Do they have specific time for each centre or are they able to stay at one centre until they have determined they have an interest in another area?  
How does the outdoor play space support or detract from positive play engagement?
How does the outdoor play space support children in experiencing competency in their play?
How does the outdoor play space support and engage children in their space?
How does the outdoor play space accommodate inclusive play practices?

Adapted from Dietze & Kashin (2012).

As you examine each of the perspectives presented, what resonates with you in relation to your philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children? Record your ideas in the Comments box below.


  1. Angela George

    One of my first questions when our playground was being built and then being approved by our licensing, i was curious about whether it would be approved for inclusivity and my manager said it was approved so she said that that must mean that it was good enough for special needs children but after reading through all this material we have wood chips and different levels in the playground and need to step up to get into the longhouse so there are some things that need some work. we put up shelters in our yard cause it was so hot this summer and children were plaaying with them and could have pinched hands or fingeers ; but pinched fingers compared to heat stroke or severe sunburn we chose pinched fingers and it only happened once. This has been an amazing section and very help ful for my practice

  2. Christine Norman

    What resonates with me is offering the children the many different “curriculum” areas outside. We love to do art, circle, sensory play, block play, etc. outside. The children especially love when these activities can be done outside as well. Having a little circle time in a tent is amazing. I think ensuring the length of time the children get to explore and engage in these actives is very important. Children need long uninteupted periods of outdoor free play.

  3. Cindy Spencer

    What resonated with me is how much we are lacking in our play space when using the assessment tool. And also how to incorporate more traditional cultural activities into our play space.

  4. Michelle Davis

    Paramount is inclusivity. The space needs to be not just accessible but inclusive to all. But including children and families in the creation of their space is such a great idea. They know best what their bodies need, so why aren’t we including them?

  5. Jasmine Park

    what resonates with you in relation to your philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children?

    There are many things resonated with me but I really like the 3 Cs. This new idea brought me ideas what I should consider to provide outdoor play space and experience.

  6. Jennifer Yarmish

    I definitely see inclusive spaces at the top of my priority list as we have learned in the past two years all of the quirks that our ‘inclusive space’ actually has. Spacing between the tables, a ramp to go up and down but a drop off of a cement pad that a walker could potentially go off of. All of these types of scenarios need close attention.
    One thing that frustrates me when taking the children to public parks are climbers that the children have to be lifted up to….there is no way for them to experience competence in that and it becomes frustrating instead of fun.

  7. Nikki Littlechild

    Inclusive spaces resonates with me. On our playground we have 2 structures, one of which only children over the age of 3 can go on, as per licensing regulations, so we are constantly reminding out toddlers they aren’t allowed on it. I also love the idea of having children’s input in designing play spaces, they see things on a whole different level than we do!

  8. Carrie Maclellan 

    The part that resonates the most with me is having the children be part of the planning process. I think it would be so great to see them share their ideas and the joy it would bring when their plans come to fruition.

  9. Rachael Ewan

    As you examine each of the perspectives presented, what resonates with you in relation to your philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children? Record your ideas in the Comments box below.
    I had never really considered the groupings of the areas. Wet/Dry- Noisy/Quiet. Incorporating more of the children’s ideas into the space aligns with my ideas of following the child’s lead. I think we do it often in play, but not as often in planning spaces.

  10. Heather Diewert

    As I examine the perspectives presented and this Module, I realize that the missing factor for me is considering inclusivity in a deeper way. It is easy to have a creek, but how does a child in a wheelchair access it? I love natural ground surfaces, yet can a child with developmental difficulties navigate it? Will every child have access to the materials in place?
    Deeper investigation into Outdoor Learning has made me consider all people in a much more considerate way and will now see things with clearer insight.

  11. Katarina Ninkovic

    As I read this Module i am really thinking about how , although great green outdoor space, its not very inclusive. So redesigning and making sure our space supports all children’s is really important to me

  12. Rachelle Gregoire

    The ideas that come out most to me is working on making spaces inclusive. There must be spaces for all children’s interests and skill level.

  13. Heather Brekkaas

    I feel the space really needs to be inclusive. I work with special needs students, and the spaces needs to be safe for them as well as accessible, though I really likes the different areas that the students could play in.

  14. lisa.rodney

    As you examine each of the perspectives presented, what resonates with you in relation to your philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children? These are great questions to have in mind when starting to think about designing an outdoor space for play, but would also be helpful to use throughout the process and even with existing spaces. So much about planning for children is supported by taking the time to get to know families, bringing families and their cultures and the community into the design and watching and observing children and listening to their thoughts on what they want to include in the space. I can’t even imaging a program that did not allow children to experience the space as they choose. They need time to do it and careful support from the adults in their environment to ensure they have time and opportunities to learn and grow with the time and space/place.

  15. Lindsey Cooper

    My perspective on the questions asked is that the outdoor environment needs more consideration and effort. It needs to be an extension of the indoor enviroment. We design indoor spaces to reflect what the children are interested in and create different areas of learning. We need to take the same time to design their outdoor learning space.

  16. Dana Wilson

    So much of this section resonated with me. The assessment tool seems like a good checklist of sorts to keep you on task as to what should be part of an outdoor play space. I also loved the information about the different zones/spaces that should be included. I really like the idea of affinity spaces and circulation patterns. The circulation patterns are so important to allow for flow and for all the other areas to work. I also loved the importance put on being inclusive when it comes to making your space. Really taking into account the needs of the children.

  17. Anna Mary McKenney

    I like the different textures within the spaces. Although the first space looks the worst it does have potential if other materials and loose parts were added. I like that it appears the educators have taken the spaces they have and worked with them to make them more inviting for children to explore.

  18. Krista Ambrose

    I think that our space must be inclusive. I like the different areas and how to set up wet, dry, quiet and noisy areas. I think that every outdoor play space should have these areas. I feel the discoveries the children would create so much excitement and curiousity!

  19. Jody Anderson

    How does the outdoor play space support children’s options for diversity in their play? This resonates with me becuase not all children have similar play styles some are more rambunctous and need the full body movement and are go go go. Others may be more of a sit back an observe before cautiously exploring. There are so many cultural back grounds and previous play experiences that it is important to remember to design for a diverse group of indiidula likes and dislikes, and desires

    What role do children have in planning the outdoor play space? I think this is very important and is super important to remember. They are the people who the space is being designed for so what do they want? What do they need, how will they be stimulated?

    How do the children access the various outdoor experience centres? Do they have specific time for each centre or are they able to stay at one centre until they have determined they have an interest in another area? This was also important to me becasue if children are not given adequate time to play in a space by limiting their time in a centre they will not gain an indepth understanding of what they were working on. I would not want to have my play or enjoyment interrupted by a time limit, I would be hestiant to really get involved and fully imerse myself in the play if that was the case.

  20. Maria Agustin

    This is a great idea that everyone should be involve the teachers, children and the parents. We will consider the children interests that help them learn more and grow.

  21. Angel Huang

    As you examine each of the perspectives presented, what resonates with you in relation to your philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children? Record your ideas in the Comments box below.

    Everyone should be involve from the children, teachers to parents. Building the play place together and getting to know what the children like and interest will make the place more valuable.
    Also the 7 C’s resonate with me in this part as how they help with creating the outdoor play place.

  22. Amanda Christison

    I would say one of the most important things that resonates with me is that it is inclusive – everyone is involved and has a say in the setup of the outdoor environment. We do this now anyways with children inside, but we seem to be lacking that in our outdoor environment. I would want the children’s and their families involvement and feedback on the outdoor space. I would maybe put up a living wall or documentation board where the parents and children can write their feedback or comment on our outdoor learning stories and adventures. I am very interested to learn more about these 7 C’s everyone is commenting on as I think it will really help improve myself as an educator when planning my outdoor environments. I really like the sense of wonder as well in that all people interacting with the outdoor environment should have that feeling. As an adult we should remember what that is like and that will resonate with the children seeing our mutual excitement for the outdoors. If we plan with purpose, thought and intention we will see such a positive result and will likely lessen – if not extinguish – many “undesirable” behaviours that come from children not being engaged with their environment.

  23. Nicole Robinson

    what resonates with you in relation to your philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children?
    What resonates with me is the amount of change I need to implement in my centre. I need more quiet spaces and more imaginative spaces for my children as well as small spaces for small groups and large space for large groups.

  24. Ruth Novak

    I’m actually in awe of all the new ideas I’m going to have when designing my outdoor play space. I had no idea there were so many considerations (logical) and 7c’s as well. I cannot wait to develop an open area where the children help plan because it’s them who are going to benefit the most from it. I really want to make it inclusive and having parents options really matter to me as well. Having different areas will work great!

  25. Amanda Funk

    There is a lot to consider. They specific group of children, their interests and what already exists naturally in the environment would be considered first then enhanced with what would fit.

  26. Betty-Ann Ryz

    The outdoor space should be a “think outside the box” type of design. Listening to input from children is a good idea, as the space is for them. Strong consideration to create an accessible space and play element, which could encompass raised garden boxes with materials in them.

  27. Tammy

    When I think about outdoor play spaces that I have seen I feel that we have a lot of work to do to make the spaces more for the children and less about rules and the staff convenience. I think the things that I have learned here are very much useful and beneficial to my future work when helping to plan play spaces. I love the child involvement aspect. I believe this will be the key to creating spaces that children thoroughly enjoy spending time in and learning. I personally would like to see more thought go into the spaces that I manage, rather than just plopping down materials and expecting the children to enjoy them when you have not done observations and documentation to support the materials being used.

  28. Amanda N

    I like the idea of thinking about an outdoor space that it’s inclusive for children, educators, and family members. A place that supports positive engagement and that it’s rich for experiencing all competencies.

  29. Jessica Garner

    One thing that resonates with me is the idea of including children in the planning of the outdoor play space. This is something that would be common practice for me with indoor play spaces, yet I have not brought that same practice to outdoor play. I think I personally have not felt a particular sense of ownership of the outdoor play spaces I’ve worked in, so it is also difficult to invite children to participate in that planning.

  30. Shannon Stewart

    Looking at the place spaces and reflecting on the questions, something that surfaces for me is that the play space must reflect those that are in it; the location, the children and families that use it. I see a variety of options pictured above and though they aren’t ideal, children are mighty learners and given the opportunity, the outdoor spaces can meet children’s needs. The last photo of the boy with the stones catches my eye as it proves that someone thought of loose parts!

  31. Mikaela Reyes

    What role do children have in planning the outdoor play space? I think this resonates for me the most as I always consider children’s perspective when I’m planning activities. In terms of outdoor play space, it is vital to observe how they respond to spaces in order for it to be more purposeful for children to play with.

  32. Annette Casey

    I take ideas from child as to what we are doing outdoors. The 7 philosophy’s can help play for greater experiences.

  33. Kimberley Thompson

    What role does children have in planning the play space ? This resonates with me because the children have all the control over their play space , we observe them to.see what they are interested in and base their play space around them .

  34. Lucie Pendergraff

    These questions are all good aspects to consider when creating an outdoor play space. It can be easy to think of so many different things that could be interesting and exciting to children but it really forces further evaluation of the true level of development and engagement children will actually be experiencing through their play in the space.

  35. Nikki Meyer

    The idea of children being Mighty Learners within the outdoor environment resonates with me when I read these perspectives. I feel that children should have many options for materials and experiences based off their interests that support them in taking risks, being deeply engaged in play with peers and educators in spaces that reflect who they are.

  36. Joanne Falk

    When I take the children outside, I ask them what they are going to play with, they tell me and when we go outdoors, I go with them to their said activity and watch what they do. We also have flower planters outside and I asked the children what should we do with them and they said “plant purple flowers”, so we will be planting flowers with the children

  37. Nadira Ramnauth

    The seven Cs are great ideas to work with when providing ideas for children in the outdoor environment. I will surely use this and share it with my other colleagues.

  38. Kathy Barnhart

    I think this is a valuable way to assist educators who are interested and able to redesign their outdoor spaces. These questions would serve them well in planning for the adaptation.

  39. Caroline Driedger

    what resonates with you in relation to your philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children?
    As I have commented before the assessment tool has my attention. The use of this tool helps answer above questions then gets you to reflect. Reflection is a big part of the educators (job) as are observing the children , the space and ourselves.

  40. Erin Lihou

    I would love to find the balance between free and loose play while still sticking to guidelines set out for us through our licensing so that our children can have access to more outdoor play

  41. Janice Duncan

    I was attracted to the assessment tool based on a sense of wonder as it incorporates key elements of nature, the early learning curriculum and the roles of the ECEs and parents. I would like to learn more about this assessment tool.

  42. Kamaldeep Sidhu

    The 3c’ is new to me,but when we take children outside,then I plan and bring different items to make their outdoor more interesting.This week,I took them to the forest.we rap the paper around the trees and they used paint and markers.I try to have different ideas for children to engage with outdoor environment.

  43. Jaclyn Geiger

    I love the idea of areas to play that brought purpose & focus to the set up and design. This incorporates so many learning opportunities. The seven C’s really got me thinking about outdoor play space in a deeper way.

  44. Alphonsine Hategekimana

    What resonates with you about your philosophy, ideals, and aspirations for children?
    The 3 c’s inspires me because it gives the look to what inspires me. The space and environment is attractive to children and adults. There is a choice for children and I can rearrange the grounds according to the children’s needs.

  45. Laura Mcintosh

    What resonated with me throughout this section was the sense of wonder and assessment tool as it makes you reflect on your own space and how it influences learning among the children.

  46. Stephanie Vieira

    what resonates with my relation to my philosophy, ideals and aspirations for children our that there is a lot of things the children can use in those pictures, and play with as well. They can make different things and learn from each section.

  47. Heather Howard

    I found the assessment tool based on a sense of wonder interesting as it keeps that element of conscious exploration evident in all of your design.

  48. Alison Rinas

    The 3 C’s provide a new and interesting way to arrange and consider the outdoor play space. I tend to lean on the 4 elements (time, space, materials, participation) of responsive environments when thinking of designing any play space for children. I am looking at exploring these concepts further.

  49. Lorraine Kok

    What resonated with me was the defined play spaces, I like the fact that the children had several options of play.

  50. Patricia Lynch-Staunton

    The seven principles of universal design resonated with me as it speaks ot my philosophy of all children having access and ability to participate in outdoor play experiences with their peers. I found tolerance of error interesting as it promotes less intrusion by adults. Low physical effort was new to me. It appeals to me in that children and adults have ease of access and use, which translates to more time spent in and investigation of the space, especially if there is perceptible information.

  51. Daniela Rodriguez

    The purpose of play is something that resonates with me. That should be the goal expressed in how outdoor play is designed.

  52. Randi Robertson

    I think the 3 C’s is a really neat idea. I just would like to support and allow the kids in my class to have many options with what they want to do while playing outside.

  53. Anita Morgan

    The 3 Cs are interesting. I use lots of consideration, children should have access to areas as they choose

  54. Kim Hoey

    Well…… we have our place space… with the fenced in area. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t change the areas within. I can add loose parts, make different areas within the defined space. Many ideas.

  55. Susanne Saunders

    I am a very small daycare. The children have a big role in planning the outdoor play space. I try to to have different ideas ready for the children the to support and engage the children.

  56. Laurie Millions

    I ask the children at my center what they would like to play with when we go outside. I then plan and bring out different items that I feel would help their developmental stages. Some examples are: The children wanted to build a house, I brought out, tarps, ropes, boards, tires for the children to manipulate the way they wanted.

  57. Taylor Aichelberger

    So much from this section really resonated with me, but particularly I loved the idea of affinity zones as a space for children to go for a specific purpose in their play. I think this would be a wonderful idea in supporting students with outdoor play opportunities in the early childhood setting.

  58. Jessica Popp

    The 3 c’s is new to me, that was an interesting consideration for outdoor play. In my field of practice, I have used many assessment tools, the assessment tool provided, which inspires an environment with a sense of wonder is interests to me and I want to know more to supporting in reflecting and assessing each outdoor play environment.