If there’s one thing that gets my goat on a regular basis, it’s seeing all the kids playing outside and all the adults staanding together in a huddle chatting. Because, guaranteed, the only interaction that will occur between adult and child will be to yell across the playground “Carl, stop that, Macy doesn’t like you hitting her” or in response to Macy coming up to the adult in tears saying “Carl hit me.” And then having to intervene.

The sign of an excellent pre-school is when you walk in and you can’t find the adults because they are all down at the children’s level.

When a pre-school has a closed door policy (i.e. outdoor play is at a designated time and only then!) then the thinking behind that is that learning only takes place indoors – which is of course complete rubbish. The Scottish Care Inspectorate has issued a fantastic document called "My World Outdoors" which looks at how early years services can provide play and learning wholly or partially outdoors. It's a great read if you haven't come across it before.

The idea that if you open the doors to the outside, you’ll lose all the active ones (often boys) and they won’t learn means you’re completely missing the point on how to connect with boys. And you risk dis-engaging them possibly for their whole time in education.

If you want to engage all children, stop taking them away from what they are interested in to do a ‘special job’ with you – because your definition of special and theirs probably aren’t the same.

If you want to engage all children, you need to create intrigue, encourage their curiosity – engage with what they are interested in, follow their lead, even if this means being a dog, a prisoner or a carrot (3 things I’ve been in the past week!)

Then, you’ll see that Carl wasn’t hitting Macy, he was chopping a carrot, but you’ll be on hand to explain about pretending and to suggest an alternative action. Or if he does go on to hit Macy, you can support Macy to “use your words” to tell Carl to “stop that, I don’t like it.”

Basically, learning happens wherever the child happens to be.

If it’s hot, create a shady area for a book corner, or provide paintbrushes and water and get them mark-making on the climbing frame. Chalk will wash away, paint will wash away – let go of the “shouldn’ts” and “mustn’ts” and let the boys chalk/water paint where they want. You never know, you might have fun yourself.

Oh and the weather – right at the beginning of term send a disclaimer home to parents. “We’re going out whatever the weather, so send in the sunhats and raincoats, sunscreen and wellies. Kids’ clothes will get dirty so send them in old play clothes not pretty party dresses."

When you follow the child’s lead and their interest outdoors:

  1. You can inject language into their play at the level that's right for them
  2. You sustain their attention skills
  3. You promote peer interaction by modelling and suggesting
  4. You become a responsive communicator, rather than a fun prevention officer.

I’d love to know what your outdoor policy is – I turned off comments on my blog due to some inappropriate spamming offering me Russian porn – so comment on my Facebook page and share your experiences.

For a wonderful article on outdoor learning, this appeared in the Guardian in June 2013 – so not new, but wonderful all the same.