The State of Outdoor Play in Ireland Symposium

Maynooth University

25th May 2019

Our Manifesto of Commitments - Photo Credit: Luke Danniells




Symposium Programme

“It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland”

From the first Democratic Programme as read in Dáil Éireann on the 21st January 2019.

Using the commitment from the first democratic programme for government as a starting point, this symposium will reflect on the early education, care, and rights of Ireland’s youngest citizens in the 100 years since its commitment in the first Democratic Programme. It will then move forward offering a re-imagining of what outdoor play and learning could look like in the next 100 years. The day will culminate in the creation of a manifesto of commitments the delegates choose to make in the area of outdoor play and its provision to the children of the next century. 



08:50 Registration

09:00 Welcome

09:10 Dr. Thomas Walsh, Education Department, Maynooth University

Coming full circle: Tracing key milestones in the early childhood education and care policy provision for young children in Ireland 1919-201.

09:50 Dr. Leah O’Toole, Froebel Department, Maynooth University

A bioecological perspective on children’s rights and outdoor play.

10:30 Carol Duffy, Early Childhood Ireland

Outdoors Irish Style

11:10 Coffee Break and Posters

11:30 Sandrine Guichet & Marie-Claire Chavaroche-Laurent, Centres d’Entrainement aux Méthodes d’Éducation Active (CEMÉA)

International Perspectives - Observations from the Field

12:30 Lunch

13:10 Parallel Presentations:

Current research on outdoor play in Ireland.

14:10 Jackie Burke, University College Dublin, and Christina Duff, Dublin City University

Problem Posing/Provocations: Re-imagining Outdoor Play: What will we commit to?

15:00 Symposium Delegates in small groups

Problem Solving/ Re-imagining: What will we commit to?

15:45 Feedback to larger group to result in:

Manifesto of Commitments to Outdoor Play for Children in Ireland signed by attendees and uploaded and digitally signed by practitioners and stakeholders.

16:15 Closing Remarks


Speaker Biographies:

Dr. Thomas Walsh:

Dr. Thomas Walsh is a lecturer in the Maynooth University Department of Education. He started his professional career as a primary school teacher and worked as a Development Officer at the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education (CECDE) in St. Patrick’s College of Education. While at the CECDE, he published a number of reports on early childhood education and played a central role in the development of Síolta, the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education. Prior to joining Maynooth University in 2014, Thomas worked as an inspector with the Department of Education and Skills. In addition to his work in schools, he contributed extensively to policy work within the Curriculum and Assessment Unit where he had particular responsibility around early childhood education. In Maynooth University, he teachers on a number of courses within the Department of Education including history of education and education policy. His research interests include early childhood education, history of education and education policy. A selection of recent presentations and publications can be found at


Dr. Leah O’Toole:

Dr Leah O’Toole is a Lecturer in Early Childhood Education in the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education in Maynooth University. With an academic background in Psychology, her research interests include extending bioecological theory to incorporate interdisciplinary thinking, and she is the co-author of Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A Guide for Practitioners and Students in Early Years Education, published by Routledge in 2017. Her work challenges neoliberal conceptualisations of early education and care (ECEC), and advocates for high quality ECEC based on relational, holistic and inclusive approaches, for example through the Erasmus+ funded THRIECE (Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education) project. Her doctoral study investigated transitions in early childhood and parental involvement in children’s education, and she subsequently led a team commissioned by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and National Parents’ Council (NPC) to investigate experiences and practices around parental involvement in Ireland. She is the Programme Coordinator of the BA in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning in Maynooth University.


Carol Duffy:

Carol Duffy (MA in Early Years Education) is an Early Childhood Specialist with Early Childhood Ireland. She has worked in the sector for over thirty five years, as an early year’s educator, lecturer, and mentor. She is passionate about young children’s access to nature and outdoor play. Her research presented at many national and international conferences and seminars demonstrates the benefits of play in natural spaces for young children. She is a member of the UK Landscapes for Early Childhood Network. She is the author of Nurture through Nature and co-designer of Garden of Possibilities a children’s play space which was awarded a silver gilt medal at the Bloom in the Park Festival 2010.


Sandrine Guichet:

Sandrine Guichet has been an early childhood educator since 1992. She is currently in charge of infant educators’ training in Nantes at CEMEA Pays de la Loire (France). Her work there also includes a reception area designed for parents and children. She has overseen various structures related to early childhood throughout her career. For 30 years she has been working at CEMÉA, first as a trainer for activity organizers in children's holiday centers, then as a trainer for early childhood professionals. She is an active member in early childhood, mental health and social action research groups.


Marie-Claire Chavaroche-Laurent:

Marie-Claire Chavaroche-Laurent has been an early childhood educator since 1980, then special educator training. For 30 years she has been a trainer at CEMÉA with various groups. She is currently early childhood project manager at the National Association in Paris (France). This position allows her to develop projects for people in various education sectors such as Erasmus mobility candidates. Working under the aegis of the office of the French Prime Minister, she has been representing CEMÉA at the Family and Childhood High Council for the childhood and adolescence Council since December 2016.

*Centres d’Entrainement aux Méthodes d’Education Active sont un mouvement d’éducation nouvelle et une association d’éducation populaire, reconnue d’utilité publique


Dr. Jackie Bourke:

Jackie Bourke is a children’s rights advocate and a researcher with an interest in the lived urban environment. Using a range of creative methods, she works with children and teenagers to explore how they both shape and experience public space. Her research shows that although they sometimes feel unwelcome, the playful presence of children is essential to the life of a city. She lectures in urban geography at the School of Geography, University College Dublin where her current research projects include Communicating teenager’s everyday geographies using arts based methods. She worked with Carlow Visual on The Playground Project and has worked in collaboration with children on the design of outdoor play spaces. She is a member of the Children’s Research Network and a former executive member of OMEP Ireland.


Christina Duff:

Christina Duff is an early childhood physical activity specialist with an interest in child-led active play and the development of fundamental movement skills. She is the current Chair of the Outdoor Play and Participation working group of the Children’s Research Network. Christina holds a BSc in Sport Science and Health and worked for Stretch-n-Grow Ireland before embarking on postgraduate study. She recently completed an MSc by research, working with Early Childhood Ireland and the Irish Hearth Foundation to develop and evaluate the Kids Active programme (an active play and fundamental movement skills resource and training for early years educators). Christina holds a Level 6 award in Childcare and is currently working as a research assistant at Dublin City University.


Parallel Research & Learning Story Presentations:


Room SE010:

Title: Tracing the evolution of Irish children’s play through archived data.

Dr. Ruth Geraghty & Dr. Jane Gray


Title: The Influence of Contextual Factors on Child Development through Play in an Area of Socioeconomic Exclusion and The Role of School Break Time.

Sharon Gleeson


Room SE011:

Title: The ‘Child as Client’: Applying the Design Thinking Process to Inform the Design of an Outdoor Play Space in a Primary School in Ireland.

Dr. Maeve Liston & Anne Marie Morrin


Title: NATURAL FEELINGS: Embodied Cognition and Relational Pedagogy in the Preschool Outdoor Environment - Play and early learning in the outdoors.

Anna Rose Maguire-Codd


Room SE012:

Title: Out Door Play, Rainbowland Childcare’s 30 years Experiential Journey: A Learning Story Celebrating the Past, Engaging in the Present & Planning for the Future.

Angela Walsh


Title: Little Moo Moos Outdoor Playschool: Celebrating the value of Outdoor Play based Learning in the Early Years Sector.

Catherine Dwyer


Title: Uncover the Hidden Treasures of Nature Through Children’s Eyes Spaces for play in the community.

Michaela Omojola


Room SE014:

Title: Towards Quality Outdoor Provision Workshop

Carol Duffy


Parallel Research & Learning Story Presentation Abstracts:

Room SE010:

Title: Tracing the evolution of Irish children’s play through archived data.

Ruth Geraghty, Centre for Effective Services, 9 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2.

Jane Gray, Department of Sociology, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare.


In this paper we trace the long-term shifts in the meanings and experiences of childhood that have accompanied children’s changing roles in Irish families since the foundation of the state, with a focus on how this is manifest in children’s play and leisure time activity.

In the early decades of the Twentieth Century, Ireland was predominantly an agricultural society, and children were expected to contribute to domestic labour on the family farmstead as soon as they were physically able to do so, leaving little recreational time. By the close of the century, Ireland had transitioned away from rural to suburban dwellings, and while there is less expectation for contemporary children to engage in domestic chores, their leisure time is nonetheless highly scheduled, spatially restricted and subject to adult supervision. In this paper we investigate how children have attempted carve out space and time for free play within different social and cultural contexts.

The paper presents the findings of a qualitative, longitudinal analysis of Irish childhoods using three archived datasets in the Irish Qualitative Data Archive. The combined analysis of these three datasets has allowed us to track and compare different generational experiences of childhood over an extended time frame. The three datasets that were used in this analysis are:

• Life Histories and Social Change (LHSC; 2007). This is a collection of 100 in-depth life history interviews with respondents from three birth cohorts: those born between 1916 - 1934; 1945 - 1954, and 1965 – 1974, who were interviews circa 2007. The oldest respondents were born just as the Irish Free State was established, while the youngest respondents were growing up during a period of economic restructuring and modernisation, therefore the collection is a rich resource of primary material on Irish social life during the Twentieth Century.

• Suburban Affiliations (SA; 2004) is a collection of 171 essays entitled 'The Place Where I Live' that were written by children aged 11-13 years who describe living in the new suburban housing developments in Leixlip, Ratoath, Lucan and Mullingar during Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy of the early 2000s. These children struggle to create and retain spaces for free, unsupervised play in the context of encroaching suburban development, and describe a range of perceived dangers to them in their public places.

• Growing Up in Ireland (GUI; 2008) is a collection of 116 in-depth qualitative interviews with nine-year-old children and their parents, who were interviewed circa 2008 as part of the larger, quantitative panel study. In these interviews the children and parents describe their conflicting efforts to protect children from harm while allowing them to ramble freely in their neighbourhood. Both children and their parents reflect on the limited opportunity for unstructured play within a highly scheduled routine of supervised activities.

The paper demonstrates the potential of archived qualitative data for large-scale qualitative analysis to enhance our understanding of societal change over an extended period of reference, and to enrich our understanding of how Irish childhoods have evolved over the past century. 


Room SE010:

Title: The Influence of Contextual Factors on Child Development through Play in an Area of Socioeconomic Exclusion and The Role of School Break Time.

Sharon Gleeson

My research investigated how contextual factors in an area of socioeconomic exclusion affected the play behaviours of the children and influenced opportunities for child development. Data was gathered to document the preferred play activities of 17 children in an area of socioeconomic exclusion. Photographs, drawings and writing were submitted by participants of their preferred play activities outside of school. A loose parts play garden was established in the participants’ school to investigate developmental opportunities facilitated by outdoor free play in a natural environment. Photographs and semi-structured observations were used to gather data on the activities participants engaged in during play sessions. Images, observations and group interviews were combined and analysed to assess how contexts affected play from the participants’ perspectives. Data was analysed to consider the developmental opportunities influenced by contextual factors and the role of school break time. This led to the conclusion that loose parts play in a natural environment supported the development of sensorimotor skills, physical health, problem solving skills, imaginative development, language skills, decision making skills, social skills, emotional self-regulation and the promotion of self-esteem in this area of socio economic exclusion. It may be argued that children’s unmet outdoor play needs in areas of socioeconomic exclusion is a social justice issue. Research suggests that by contextually supporting loose parts play in a natural environment school break time could reach children’s unmet play needs, with school yards transformed into valuable arenas for learning and child development.


Room SE011:

Title: The ‘Child as Client’: Applying the Design Thinking Process to Inform the Design of an Outdoor Play Space in a Primary School in Ireland

Dr. Maeve Liston, Director of Enterprise & Community Engagement, Senior Lecturer in Science Education, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick Email:

Anne Marie Morrin, Lecturer in Visual Arts Education, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick Email:


Play is a process of doing, exploring, discovering, failing and succeeding (Dockett & Fleer, 1999). Play allows children to engage in problem solving through observing how things work, considering possibilities and trying things thereby developing initiative, and investigatory, and problem solving skills (Singer & Singer, 2000). Therefore, both formal and informal play activities contribute to the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of a children (Loebach, 2004). All of the above mentioned skills and experiences are also involved in the scientific and artistic processes of exploration and inquiry carried out by any scientists, artists, engineers or mathematicians. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) education allows children to see an experimental world where everything they encounter can be subject to scientific exploration, extending the children’s innate curiosity and natural urge to explore their immediate environment. Therefore, a school playground is an excellent resource when promoting the development of key life-long STEAM concepts and skills.

Children spend a significant proportion of their time in schools and in the school playground, hence schools are very influential and suitable settings to promote children’s active play (Pellegrini, 2009. In addition to developing children’s physical skills, participation in unstructured active play activities during school breaks can have a major influence on the development of children’s social and cognitive skills, promoting greater development in children’s social and emotional health (Hyndman, Benson, & Telford, 2014; Hyndman, 2015). That being said the type, quality and diversity of children’s play environments directly affect the type, quality and diversity of children’s play (Moore et al., 1992). Interesting and diverse spaces increase the intensity of play and the range of play behaviours; poor and unpleasant play spaces limit behaviour, restricting opportunities for social interaction (Evans, 1997; Moore & Wong, 1997).

This paper provides details of the Design Thinking (DT) phase of a project entitled ‘STEAM-Ed’ that was carried out with pre-service and in-service teachers and children at all class levels in a pilot primary school in Ireland. The project focused on the concept of the child-environment relationships. This involved the ‘Children as Clients’ concept where the children worked on a design brief: ‘How can good design improve the quality of learning in your school?’ focusing on the children’s immediate school environment i.e. Classrooms, ‘in-between’ and play spaces.

The findings highlight the negative effect the physical environment can have on children’s active play and in turn on their learning and social interactions. Feedback on their ideas on how to improve the space showed the need for sociability, and sensory stimulation (Oloumia, Mahdavinejadb, & Namvarradc, 2012; Titman 1994).

This study carried out research with children rather than carrying out research on children (Aziz & Said, 2012). A very strong focus was placed on empathy & story telling (Plattner, 2010). Children’s’ stories and drawings were used to inform the ‘Empathy’, ‘Design’ and ‘Ideation’ phases of the DT process and in turn the design and prototyping of the resulting art installation by contemporary artists and scientists in the children’s outdoor play space.


Room SSE011:

Title: NATURAL FEELINGS: Embodied Cognition and Relational Pedagogy in the Preschool Outdoor Environment - Play and early learning in the outdoors.

Anna Rose Maguire-Codd, PhD candidate,

The aim of this research is to explore how the outdoors shapes pedagogical interactions and relationships in an early years’ care and education (ECCE) setting in rural Ireland. The research is exploring the views of children (3-5 years), their parents and early years’ educators on the use of the outdoors in early childhood educational and care (ECEC). The research brings together embodied cognition/learning and relational pedagogy. In this regard, physicality, relationships, interactions, environment and play are foregrounded in the dynamics of children’s learning and development.

A review of research literature was carried out to investigate children’s opportunities for engagement with outdoor environments in early years’ settings. This informed the themes incorporated in semi structured and focus group interviews which are being carried out with parents/primary caregivers and early years’ educators. Children’s photographs, drawings, conversations and participant observations support data collection.

Improved self-esteem, experiencing success and ownership (Maller, 2009), a sense of fun, fresh air and freedom (Maynard and Waters, 2007), learning how to avoid injury (Little et al., 2011) and engagement in creative and imaginative play (Canning, 2010) were emergent themes in the literature review. However, research findings also indicated erosion of opportunities for children to engage in outdoor experiences, which includes risky play, due to parental concerns about safety (Sandseter, 2014; Maynard and Waters, 2007) and ECCE staff concerns and fears of the regulatory environment in which they operate (Little et al., 2011). Preliminary themes emerging from this research focus on the influence of the outdoor environment, the ‘normalisation’ of the outdoors in the everyday routine of preschool, ‘real’ work, educators’ and children’s confidence, the contribution of the outdoors for ‘school readiness’, collaboration, games and friends and the physicality of outdoor affordances. This demonstrates the significance of a bi-directional discourse on the influence of the outdoor environment on pedagogical relationships and interactions.  


Room SE012

Title: Outdoor Play, Rainbowland Childcare’s 30 years Experiential Journey: A Learning Story Celebrating the Past, Engaging in the Present & Planning for the Future.

Angela Walsh, BA Tutor - NUI Galway – & Pedagogical Leader and Service Management – Rainbowland Childcare, Edenderry, Offaly

Through the lens of child rights, a thirty year experiential journey of early childhood outdoor play at Rainbowland Childcare is considered in the form of a Learning Story. Framed within Bronfenbrenner’s Process-Person-Context-Time variables (Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006), this story celebrates the past, engages with the present and sets out future plans towards continuing on this shared journey of meaningful outdoor play opportunities and experiences between the children and early childhood teachers of Edenderry, country Offaly.

The story begins in 1989, the same year the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the child. That September Rainbowland Childcare opened its doors for the first time to a small group of young children. The Convention marked an international shift in mind set. No longer are children considered void of any intrinsic abilities, as entirely vulnerable and dependent on adult authority. Children are now considered agentic in nature, as holder of rights, valued by society, and as competent and confident learners (Kennan, 2016; James, 2009; Hayes and Bradley, 2009; Stasiulis, 2002).

Article 31 of the Convention includes the child’s right to play. From the beginning Rainbowland valued outdoor play, providing a safe and stimulating environment for children to play indoors and outdoors, but only those families that could afford to attend could benefit. In the Irish context of 2019 early years services realise the child’s right to play through the implementation of Aistear (NCCA, 2009), our early childhood curriculum framework. Aistear is the Irish word for ‘Journey’, a journey of discovery through an emergent, inquiry and play based approach to early learning, an approach that values outdoor play. Now, all children have the right to attend preschool for two years (Pobal, 2018), all children can benefit.

As time passed, and with international recognition of the Bio-ecological Model of Human Development the child is now valued as the nucleus and central focus of the teacher (Hayes, 2013; Hayes et al. 2017). Teachers at Rainbowland are now benefiting from qualifications up to master’s level, alongside extensive experience working within the sector. The workforce currently stands of seventeen, all of whom recognise the child as agentic by nature, and their role in enriching the children’s experiences through effective pedagogical practice that values the proximal process, or as Bronfenbrenner refers to it, ‘engines of development’, recognising the value of supporting positive learning dispositions, and the child needing to be ready, willing and able to engage (McMonagle, 2012; Ministry of Education, 2017; Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006). Rainbowland now employees a pedagogical leader, conducts action research towards continual pursuit of practice centred on child’s well-being and realised through enacting the child’s protection, provision and participation rights.

Rainbowland’s journey is continuing. Last September we opened our new extension, which includes as extensive outdoor play area, a natural space that complements our existing outdoor areas. The marked difference with the new areas is its connection with nature, where loose parts bring the children’s imaginations alive. Where children have the room to grow, connect and thrive.  


Room SE012

Title: Little Moo Moos Outdoor Playschool: Celebrating the value of Outdoor Play based Learning in the Early Years Sector.

Catherine Dwyer, ECEC professional. Playschool owner and Manager, Little Moo Moos Outdoor Playschool. E-mail:

Little Moo- Moos Playschool is located on a working dairy farm in St. Margaret’s, Co. Dublin. Children spend as much time outdoors as possible and the natural environment is employed as each child’s third teacher. At Little Moo Moos we use our environment as our learning equipment. The environment serves many purposes including and not limited to supporting children’s sensory needs, emerged language development, self-regulation as well as laughing fun and friendship. We are of the belief that outdoor activities promote confidence and self-awareness skills whilst offering opportunities to gain independence in daily tasks. We believe in the power of an outdoor curriculum integrated into play-based, emergent and Montessori Curriculum underpinned by the Aistear and Síolta quality programmes.

Children enjoy first-hand experiences every day at Little Moo Moos. We visit the milking parlour, making children aware of ‘where milk comes from’ and what we make from milk linking in with the Healthy Eating. The Secret Garden is a favourite with all the children. They follow the path –and through the gate– where they come upon a little nook, with a giant tractor tire overhung by the ‘tree of life’, with all sorts of wonderful discoveries to be made. The Hay Barn provides an amazing indoor space with plentiful of room for a whole class to develop their gross motor development skills. The large windows are low, and the children enjoy looking out into the fields at the munching cows plodding around. The Byre is a specially designed, purpose-built, safe environment where we put on our wellies and venture across the yard where we can see Daisy being milked – up close, right beside her. There are little beds where the newly-born calves are being cared for – and we can feed them. Farmer Rory’s tractor was constructed following a request from children to ride in Rory’s tractor. The Tractor garden comprises of a life size tractor play structure with real parts allows each child experience ‘a real tractor ride’.

Outdoor play is essential to early childhood development. Children learn social skills by interacting with other children and with objects and natural materials found in the environment. The outdoor environment exposes children to opportunities to explore, question, and develop theories about how things work. Negotiation, emerged language, and cooperation are all skills that develop through an outdoor curriculum. Outdoor play, physical activity and fresh air are important to children’s overall health and wellbeing. Our intention, through our outdoor programme is to enhance gross motor skills, co-ordination, balance and body awareness. We also seek to provide children with opportunities to socialise freely and use imagination and initiative. At Little Moos Moos we provide opportunities for the children to explore, create and inquire. Children, who are introduced to gardening at a young age are also learning how to respect the environment in which we live. Children spend endless hours exploring & thinking whilst engaging in outdoor play. All of the seasons bring new experiences for them and provide a natural concept of time and seasonal change.


Room SE012

Title: Uncover the Hidden Treasures of Nature Through Children’s Eyes Spaces for play in the community.

Michaela Omojola B.A. M.Ed., TU Dublin Blanchardstown / Tyrrelstown Outdoor Explore (TOE)

Discovering the treasures in hidden places such as insects, plants and textures of natural objects, observing changes and diversities encourages play and sense of wonder in a Dublin 15 community. This case study is about an outdoor program for young children of a local preschool service and primary school with the aim of connecting the children to their natural environment. The project arose through the realisation of the lack of outdoor-nature programs for young children in the community.

Insurance policy was acquired from Kidd Insurance. The program started with five children age 3.5-4.2 years, after three weeks, other parents showed interest and that led to an expression of interest forms sent to the local primary school. 80 infants got registered as part of the program out of 150 forms sent out.

The program was re-design to better facilitate and coordinate the required work to accommodate all participants. The original plan was to facilitate outdoor learning of a small cohort of children for about 4 months but the challenge of time availability and adult to child ratio issues forced most participants to attend only one session.

We registered with Fingal County Council initiative “Adopt a Patch” and we participated in the cleaning up of the local park; furthermore, two local retail shops provided healthy snacks, some parents came along to the park with their younger children, the community centre offered us the use of their toilet and shelter during bad weather.

Each day started with collecting children from the classrooms and providing necessary clothing, such as rain gear and wellies. Activities such as looking for insects and plants, nature crafts, jumping in puddles, climbing, rolling down the hills, lying in high grass, observing weather, insects and water life, planting flowers, collecting litter, planning and reflection circle and many more things took place and exposed most of the children to new experiences with the natural environment.

Relevant Aistear and primary school curriculum themes of both schools were integrated into the weekly program. Children were encouraged to reflect on their adventure in the park and share experiences and nature craft with their class at the end of the day. Feedback from children, parents, class teachers and people of the community have demonstrated the positive impact this program has achieved. Many parents reported their children’s interest in the natural environment increased after children attended the TOE group. Some children did express worry or fear of insects, mud, walking a long distance or over uneven ground. Such worries did disappear when the children got in contact with insects, mud or experienced that the walking distance does not seem so long or too difficult when there are many things to see and to explore.

Further development of the project is the new planned community garden on the local allotment site. Nature experience and education about biodiversity, sustainable environment will be provided to connect local children and their family to the natural environment and widen their understanding of how our personal life impacts on the environment and vice versa.


Room SE014:

Workshop: Towards Quality Outdoor Provision

Carol Duffy, Early Childhood Specialist, Early Childhood Ireland.

This workshop will discuss the main issues involved in incorporating rich outdoor play across a range of environments. Models of practice will be presented, and the realities, challenges, and successes of each model will be explored and discussed.


Poster Presentations:

Title: Little Moo Moos Outdoor Playschool: Farmer Rory’s Tractor (Learning Story).

Catherine Dwyer, ECEC professional. Playschool owner and Manager, Little Moo Moos Outdoor Playschool. E-mail:

Little Moo- Moos Playschool is located on a working dairy farm in St. Margaret’s. The playschool utilizes its unique setting and embodies a play- based learning approach. Children spend as much time outdoors as possible. The playschool currently houses a playground, a hay barn and a byre where children can view the cows in the parlour.

Little Moo Moos is located is a rural farming community with a lot of children either coming from farming backgrounds or very interested in the outdoors. Parents often approach the playschool that are themselves from farming backgrounds and have now relocated to Dublin – they are hoping that by coming here their children can experience a little bit of their own childhood experience. The inspiration behind the tractor garden came from the children themselves. Whilst outside during free play the children showed a keen and inquisitive interest in Farmer Rory and what work he was doing. They wanted a go in the ‘big tractor’ and would watch Rory farming in the next field. We began to observe the children imitate Rory and in the sand pit they were pretending to plough the sand with their wheelbarrows.

Rory set about doing so by visiting tractor graveyards near and far with his brother and son. The children were able to see the tractor being prepared at each stage and greatly appreciated the finished result. In the meantime, each week a photo of the construction was sent home to each parent and they were asked with their child to guess what Rory was building. This allowed parents to be involved in the process with their children. The ‘Real Tractor’ was the talk of the playground and we like to think this was an invaluable life lesson for each child too- the value of hard work and teamwork.

Rory liaised with playschool staff to assure the tractor garden area would offer choice and cater all children’s interests with a special consideration for children with additional needs. The ‘Real Tractor’ lives in the Tractor Garden. The Tractor was put together seeking to engage each and every child interest. There are seats in the wheels, they are several hidey pokey places, there is a crawling tunnel between the two front wheels and three slides coming from the back which are is designed to look like a trailer. This is in addition to the ‘cab’ which has a real tractor seat, a dashboard, steering wheel and gearstick. The ‘Cab’ has been adapted with additional seats out the back to allow inclusive play. The clear curtains that children have to walk through to get into the climbing frame are the same curtains that are used in the milking parlour the cows walk through. There is lots of choice, so the tractor garden caters for all children and for children with additional needs we feel the tractor garden provides a natural sensory experience which meets their needs and doesn’t require them to leave their class.


Title: Kildare County Childcare Committees (KCCC) Focus on Outdoor Play 2018.

Fidelma Martin: Development Officer, KCCC,

The authors recent return to Higher Education reignited an interest in the use of outdoor play in early years care and education. Identifying time and space are crucial to all learning experiences and the outdoor provides powerful time and space influences in satisfying children’s desire for free play (Bento and Dias, 2017).

At a time of increased levels of child obesity and mental health issues, outdoor experiences at the most basic level, children’s physical fitness, bone growth, and immune systems benefit from exposure to sunlight, natural elements and fresh air (Dyment and Bell, 2008). Green spaces, freedom, choice, physical and social play all contribute to positive emotional and mental health (Gray, 2011) as well as greater attention levels and well-being (Martensson et al., 2009).

The global Outdoor Classroom Day, Project Dirt, supported by Unilever as part of their Dirt is Good movement, presented an opportunity to highlight the strategies, learning experiences and materials that Kildare Early Years Services use to engage in and develop outdoor play. The objective was to promote the positive impact of outdoor play for children and adults, not just as an “add-on” time, but rather as a normal experience, that is available freely throughout the day.

Kildare County Childcare Committee (KCCC) invited and encouraged 214 early years services in Co. Kildare to celebrate outdoor learning and play by participating in the Outdoor Classroom Day on the 17th May 2018. Many services responded to the call and three services agreed to share their experiences and provide feedback to KCCC.

The KCCC Information Officer, visited two of the services on the day, to participate in, observe the fun and take some inspiring photos. The third service forwarded photos individually and all three services provided their learning feedback to KCCC. KCCC used these photographs and feedback to produce a serious of four articles with video presentations of the children’s experiences through photo galleries for sharing with all early year’s providers in Co. Kildare.

The articles allowed others to read about each service’s experience and discover their passion, ethos and value for outdoor play as essential for children. The project also highlighted the following:

• The size and space available outdoors can be overcome with so many simple and inexpensive innovative practical ideas

• The amount of relevant learning and developmental materials do not diminish the importance of genuine motivating interactions between children and adults and children and children

• It was also apparent that there are no indoors experiences and activities that cannot be replicated outside and the simple but extraordinary impact of nature on children is astounding.

It is hoped that KCCC will continue to support early years services engagement with authentic and everyday outdoor play and will use the annual Outdoor Classroom Day to act as a catalyst for more time outdoors every day for children. This will also provide services with the opportunity to celebrate what they are already doing and inspire other services to help build a movement that gets children outdoors to play and learn every day.


Symposium Organisers:

Angela Rickard:

Angela Rickard is a lecturer in the Department of Education in Maynooth University and Course Leader for the Professional Master of Education (Year 1). Her research concerns initial teacher education, collaborative practice, social justice education. She is currently undertaking doctoral studies in University of Bristol using narrative inquiry to explore LGBTQ experience in Irish schools.

Sinead Matson:

Sinead Matson is a PhD student in the Department of Education in Maynooth University. She has worked as a Montessori pre-school educator and a Montessori primary school principal for eighteen years before undertaking her studies. Sinead also works in the area of early childhood education and care practitioner training. Her research study looks at play and early learning opportunities in an NGO run school in urban India and her research interests are play, early childhood education, children’s rights, and professional practice. Sinead is the founder of Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland (MECPI) with over 6,000 members across Ireland.



19.06.2019 10:26

Margaret Bermingham

A fabulous showcase of the Irish outdoors for young children; a wonderful natural play environment that is readily available. We just need to use it!! I eagerly sign up to this manifesto.

18.06.2019 15:41

Sinéad Early O'Brien

We were very proud and honoured to host the CEMEA delegates when they carried out their research from an Irish perspective. We at Early Days commit to this manifesto

17.06.2019 21:02

Saragh Ward

I commit to this manifesto

17.06.2019 21:01

Saragh Ward

What a fantastic line up of interesting papers and presentations. So sorry I missed it!