How Outdoor Play Helps EYFS Children Prepare for School

Primary school is a big step up from nursery, with an increasingly structured day and greater emphasis on academic learning. While schools go out of their way to make the transition as easy as possible, many children will find it a challenge. Outdoor play has an important role in getting children ready for primary school and in this post, we’ll explain why.

What do children need to be ready for school?

Often referred to as ‘school readiness’, by the time children reach the age of five, they are expected to have acquired the essential skills and knowledge needed to start school. They should be comfortable leaving their parents, understand language, be able to listen to and follow instructions, be able to articulate thoughts, feelings and needs, interact appropriately with other pupils and staff, focus on tasks, take responsibility for their actions and understand how to share things.

These are important because, once they reach school, they’ll be expected to follow school rules, behave in a responsible manner and actively participate in learning activities. While still in an EYFS setting, outdoor play can help children acquire these skills as it gives them opportunities to communicate, collaborate, cooperate and share. This will help them to be more socially, emotionally and intellectually developed prior to beginning school, something which research has shown to improve the chances of academic success across their entire educational journey.


Barriers to school readiness

There are several barriers that can prevent children from being fully prepared for primary school.  For most, these are a lack of social, emotional and physical skills. Socially, some children struggle to develop relationships with their peers and don’t know how to be polite or play and learn appropriately. Other children may find it difficult to control their emotions or recognise and understand the feelings of others. This may prevent them from being able to focus on tasks, deal with challenging situations or even participate in group work. The lack of fitness or physical skills can also cause issues, slowing down learning where coordination and dexterity are required or limiting participation in the physical playground activities that are so important for fostering relationships.

How outdoor play helps

One of the key differences between nursery and primary school is regimentation. While EYFS focuses on learning through play, schools have far more structure, with days divided into lessons and lessons divided into structured activities. They require children to be more organised and follow more rules and instructions. In an EYFS setting, staff can provide opportunities to prepare children for this increased regimentation, for example, by playing games with rules, providing time limits for activities and setting challenges that require children to follow instructions. All of these, of course, can be done in a fun way that is in keeping with the EYFS way of doing things.

Similarly, outdoor play encourages children to interact with others, develop empathy and use good manners. This can be achieved in many ways, such as participating together in sports or games, taking part in roleplay or creative activities, sharing toys and equipment or helping and encouraging each other to complete challenges on Trim Trails or climbing equipment. Developing these skills at this age will mean children are more prepared for the transition to primary school.

At the same time, outdoor play can help overcome the barriers to school readiness. It encourages children to participate in activities together, which, in turn, helps build relationships and fosters the social behaviours, like sharing and turn-taking,  expected in primary school. Playing together also enables children to express their emotions, understand the feelings of others and through this, develop empathy. Providing opportunities for roleplay is particularly helpful for this. Of course, equipment like climbing frames also boosts physical fitness, coordination, stamina and dexterity.


To prepare children for primary school, it’s important to create an outdoor environment where play can be used to help them learn the essential skills they’ll need. The most effective solution is to create play zones specially designed for different activities, such as climbing zones, messy play areas, sensory zones, roleplay and creative play areas, a place for quiet conversation and open spaces to run around in and play traditional schoolyard games. By designing your playground with the right zones and the most suitable equipment to meet the needs of your children, you can more effectively ensure that they’ll be school ready when the time comes. And with the wide range of playground equipment available today, you’ll be able to cater for every child’s needs.

For more information about our wide range of nursery playground equipment, visit our Early Years page.

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