Play Pedagogy Policy

HSCS: 1.25; 1.27; 1.30; 1.31; 1.32; 2.11; 3.13

Willow Den is founded on the belief that playing and learning outdoors is fundamentally beneficial for children’s development, health and wellbeing. We believe that play is an essential part of children being able to figure out the world and we acknowledge the importance of play within Early Years. We incorporate play as a key element of the learning experiences and champion the National Play and Learning Position Statement.

Our Aims

The nursery aims to:

  • Embrace the principles of local and national guidance on outdoor play-based play and learning
  • Celebrate the outdoors as an opportunity for children to develop a lifelong relationship with our planet, nature and the spaces where we live
  • Present play experiences that help children to develop their cognitive, social, emotional and physical capacities
  • Employ a workforce of skillful, reflective practitioners who are clear that their interactions are central and key to successful play pedagogy
  • Practice child-centred play pedagogy that requires us to take the lead from the chidlren
  • Embed a clear rationale and shared understanding of the value of play
  • Strike a balance between purposeful and spontaneous play-based learning keeping the child and their needs at the heart of all we do

Outdoor Play and Learning Spaces

Willow Den’s fully outdoor environments allow us to live and breathe the importance of outdoor play-based learning. We use creative solutions to provide a variety of spaces, including areas of continuous provision and blank canvas spaces. Practitioners observe how the children use and interact with the spaces available and respond to their actions. Through thinking inspired by Reggio Emelia we embrace our outdoor environment as the third teacher. Children learn to acknowledge the seasons, natural light, the impact and joy in managing the land, sharing spaces with wildlife. Children experience the beauty and overcome perceptions of playing and learning outdoors in the Scottish weather.


Children have a choice of experiences that reflect our environment of open-ended possibilities in which they can feel intrinsically motivated to explore and investigate through play. We take a risk benefit approach to adventurous play. Play that involves taking risks offers children opportunities to develop cognitive abilities as they learn to assess, mitigate and manage risk testing their abilities and developing their confidence and self-assurance.

We use research to explain eight categories of risky play: height, speed, dangerous tools, dangerous elements, rough and tumble, getting lost, impact, and vicarious play.

Benefits of risk or adventurous play:

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence
  • Helping to develop social skills and language and communication skills
  • Building confidence in problem solving and motivation for learning, expanding knowledge,
  • Improved physical health including fine and gross motor skills, and,
  • Promoting curiosity, teambuilding, perseverance and resilience [1]

We maintain a safe learning environment by:

  • Hiring competent and qualified staff who are trained and have experience
  • Adopting safe recruitment practices
  • Implementing appropriate operating policies and procedures
  • Mitigating risk through assessment (including dynamic risk assessment)
  • Providing children with managed opportunities to take risks
  • Staff are trained in first aid and water safety awareness (where open water is nearby)

[1] Realising the Ambition, 2020. Adapted from O’Brien, 2009:50)

Free Play

Free play is a natural part of children’s daily experience. Free play in its simplest form can be described as child-initiated play which gives children the freedom to choose what they play with, as well as how and when they do so. We actively promote promote United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child  UNRC. Willow Den is a place where children can feel empowered, safe and confident to speak up about their needs. There are many benefits to free play, not least:

  • It offers opportunities for children to discover their own interests and what they are good at
  • It develops children’s decisions-making skills and independence
  • It allow children the chance to express themselves and to be creative
  • It offers up the chance for children to use their imagination and learn how to entertain themselves
  • Most importantly it allows children to experience a sense of freedom and most importantly, to have fu