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    • List examples of ways you can support children's physical development outdoors.
    • Explore resources that provide information about ways you can engage children in physical activity outdoors.
    • List examples of accommodations you can use to support the physical development of children with special learning needs.




    Outdoor environments are natural settings for physical activity. In fact, a lot of us may be more likely to associate physical activity with being outdoors. Think about times when you took a walk or a run in your neighborhood, when you walked, hiked, or played games in a park, when you explored a nature trail, or when you spent time gardening or cleaning up your backyard. Those activities probably made you feel good, energized, and even rejuvenated.

    Outdoor Physical Activity in Preschool

    For preschool children, outdoor physical activity is as important as physical activity inside the classroom. As stated in the Healthy Course, all preschool children should have at least two or three opportunities to play outdoors each day, weather permitting (Caring for our Children, 2011). To help children engage in activity and remain active outside, be sure to include a few adult-led games or activities. The total time a preschooler spends outdoors each day should be at least 60 to 90 minutes. To get the most health benefits, preschool children do not need to be engaged in vigorous physical activities for the entire duration of outdoor time. Children can benefit from short or moderate bursts of activity as these short bursts add up over the course of the day.

    Safety First!

    As a preschool teacher, your utmost priority is the safety of children in your care. Make sure you familiarize yourself with your program’s safety and security policies. Consider the following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help ensure that children are safe outdoors. You may recall some of these from the Preschool Safety Course.

    • Follow your program’s policies about inspecting play areas to make sure they are safe. Debris, rocks, water, and other hazards should be removed from play areas.
    • Inspect any toys or equipment you use for outdoor play to ensure they are in good condition. Also, make sure you know how to clean and sanitize the equipment properly.
    • Be aware of weather conditions and be ready to move children indoors or to a safe area in case of bad weather.
    • Encourage children to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after activities. You should offer fluid breaks to children every 30 to 45 minutes, or more frequently during warmer weather.
    • Follow your program requirements about sunscreen and insect repellent.
    • Make sure children are appropriately dressed for the weather and activities. Communicate with families about any particular dress preferences you may have (e.g., loose-fitting clothing, sneakers). It may be a good idea to remind families that young children often get dirty while playing!
    • Have well-stocked first-aid kits available at all times and follow your program’s policies about using them.
    • Be aware of your classroom’s or program’s emergency action plan and make sure that staff members working with you are aware of their roles in an emergency situation.

    Supporting The Physical Development of All Preschoolers Outdoors

    Consider the following scenario:

    Shayla, a child with cerebral palsy, joins your classroom. Shayla uses a wheelchair and can move around in her wheelchair by herself. When you found out that she was joining your classroom, you learned the following facts in Figure-1 about cerebral palsy.

    During outdoor play, children in your classroom like throwing and catching rubber balls. Shayla has a hard time grasping the balls.

    What are some adaptations you can use to ensure Shayla's participation in this fun activity with her peers? You may consider the following:

    • Use balls of different sizes and textures.
    • If Shayla has a hard time catching, try using deflated balls.
    • Have a peer nearby to pick up the ball if it falls onto the ground where Shayla cannot reach it.


    • Children with cerebral palsy have difficulties with movement and posture.
    • Some children with cerebral palsy may have related conditions such as intellectual disabilities; difficulties with vision, hearing, or speech; or seizures.
    • Children with cerebral palsy may have increased muscle tone (stiff muscles), decreased muscle tone, or a combination of both, and as a result, their movements can be difficult.

    In the Explore section of this lesson you will have an opportunity to think about and respond to additional scenarios like the one above. The Kids Included Together (KIT) program can be a valuable resource for ideas. You can also consider Building Blocks and Kara’s Kit. These resources from the Council for Exceptional Children Division for Early Childhood provide practical, real-world ways to help children succeed in their environments.


    What does outdoor physical activity look like in preschool? What can you do to support preschool children’s physical development outdoors? There are many answers to these questions. Take a look at these videos to learn more and to see examples.

    Outdoor Environments and Experiences

    Watch this video to learn about the significance of outdoor physical activity.


    Try some of these ideas when engaging children in outdoor physical activities. Remember that the outdoors can provide numerous opportunities for you to watch children play and gather information about their development.

    • Provide a variety of fun activities, such as riding tricycles, playing tag, scavenger hunt games, balancing games, changing direction games, obstacle course, follow the leader, dancing, freeze tag, or parachute games.
    • Encourage children to work together to create their own games and activities.
    • Include sensory experiences for children and consider bringing some of the examples that were shared in Lesson Three (Supporting Physical Development: Indoor Environments and Experiences) outside your classroom. Encourage children to explore nature around them, the different colors, textures, or shapes of things they see outside.
    • Model enjoyment for physical activity outdoors by joining children in play, running, dancing, games, or other activities.

    Having Fun Outdoors!

    Watch teachers be active participants in fun outdoor activities.



    In the Learn section of this lesson you were introduced to a scenario about Shayla, a child with cerebral palsy, who joins your classroom. Read these additional scenarios in this section. Use your knowledge from this lesson to propose solutions or adaptations in response to each situation. Then, compare your answers to the suggested responses.



    Use the resources in this section to learn more about fun ways you can engage children in physical activity outdoors. The first handout from Head Start Body Start provides ideas for outdoor experiences. The second handout shares information about starting a community garden. As you read this information think about what you can do to support the physical growth and development of children in your classroom and program. 


    AdaptationsChanges to instruction provided to a child based on his or her needs
    Cerebral palsyA group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture; Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood, and the CDC estimates that 1 in 303 children in the U.S. have cerebral palsy




    True or False? Preschool children should be engaged in vigorous physical activity for 60 to 90 minutes per day.


    A child in your preschool classroom has developmental delays. What can you do to support her physical development outdoors?


    You have noticed that a few of your preschool children do not seem to be engaged with the outdoor play equipment. What can you do to make the outdoor environment more appealing?

    References & Resources

    American Academy Of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2011). Caring for Our Children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. (3rd ed.). Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. Retrieved from

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Cerebral Palsy. Retrieved from

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Facts about Cerebral Palsy. Retrieved from

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Go Out and Play! Kit: A resource to help early educators monitor development through play. Retrieved from

    Dodge, D. T., Colker, L. J., & Heroman, C. (2002). The Creative Curriculum for Preschool (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies.

    Head Start Center for Inclusion. Retrieved from

    Head Start National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. (2013). Adaptations for Individual Children: Adaptations for Children with Disabilities.

    Lynch, S. & Simpson, C. (2004). Sensory processing: Meeting individual needs using the seven senses. Young Exceptional Children, 7(4): 2-9.

    The National Association for Sport and Physical Education. (2009). Active Start: A statement of physical activity guidelines for children from birth to age 5. (2nd ed.). Retrieved from

    Trawick-Smith, J. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

    Turnbull, R., Turnbull, A., Shank, M., & Smith, S.J. (2004). Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today’s Schools. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.