Outside & Active: Building Healthy Bodies & Minds

"Children need physical exercise, and lots of it. Not only for general health and fitness, but also for developing various motor skills, social skills and self-confidence."

• They also need plenty of time outside.  Outdoor activity helps them "let off steam", relieve stress and explore a stimulating environment – all of which enhance their wellbeing.

• The importance of outdoor play can't be overstated.

Benefits Of Outside & Active Play

Aside from the above, outside and active play also;

  • encourages healthy risk taking
  • helps children develop a life-long habit of daily exercise
  • raises levels of vitamin D, which has many health benefits (including building strong bones)
  • allows children the chance to make lots of noise and have rough-and-tumble play
  • introduces them to science and nature.

Dramatic Play Outside

The outside environment is fertile ground for dramatic play.

From pretending to be a famous explorer to family play in a tree hut, children can let their imaginations run wild.

Dramatic play is important because it helps develop social and language skills; allows the expression of positive and negative feelings; teaches children to negotiate, take turns and resolve conflict; and helps children make sense of the world.

Ideas For Outside & Active Play

  • Playing on a water slide
  • Chasing bubbles from a bubble machine (for developing spatial awareness)
  • Navigating an obstacle course
  • Throwing balls, Frisbees and hula hoops
  • Going on an adventure (at the centre or outside of it)
  • Having a running race
  • Having a tug of war
  • Swinging, sliding, balancing and climbing
  • Starting a vege garden
  • Going on an insect hunt
  • Drawing on concrete with chalk
  • Dressing up and pretending

Essential Equipment

Playcentre recommends the following as a minimum for early learning centres:

  • Storage (weather-proof box or shed)
  • Items for climbing
  • Item for sliding
  • Item for balancing
  • Items for swinging
  • Items for pushing and pulling
  • Balls (variety of sizes, shapes and weights)
  • Cleated plank
  • Ladder (child size)

The Playcentre basic equipment list


The outdoor environment has plenty of attractions, but to encourage physical activity, you could add these accessories:

  • Netball hoop
  • Ride-ons
  • Moon hopper
  • Hula hoops
  • Cricket set


  • Ensure the safety of children (fencing, pools, poisonous plants etc.), while balancing it with the need for healthy risk taking.
  • Group climbing and balancing equipment together.
  • Look for opportunities to encourage pretend play ("let's pretend the grass is the ocean and we are in a boat").
  • Don't help children to climb, unless they really need it. Just stay nearby.
  • Provide plenty of play equipment that encourages large muscle activity.

Te Whāriki & Outside & Active Play

Outside and active play relates to all Strands of Te Whāriki.

To learn more about Te Whāriki, visit the website.


Work and Play by Gwen Somerset

Our thanks to the Auckland Playcentre Shop for permission to use this article. Great play starts here.