Natural learning area

What do we mean by a natural learning area?

A child walks into a wooded area

A natural learning area is a wild and natural space where learners are free to explore and play with found items from nature. This will help them to reconnect with and learn about the natural world.

There is a lot of information about the benefits of natural play. Here are a couple of studies showcasing the natural playground at Merrylee Primary School in Glasgow which has been going strong for over ten years and is a fine example of a good natural playground.

Natural Play: Making A Difference to Children’s Learning and Wellbeing by the Forestry Commission Scotland

What does a natural learning area look like? 

Lots of trees (woodland) if possible – look at The Woodland Trust’s website who give away lots of free trees for you to start planting.

Give the children the chance to plant a tree

Plants, grass, meadow planting – a place that doesn’t need to be maintained but a place nature can thrive. Keep the weeds, encourage the pollinators introduce safe spaces for wildlife to thrive and create your own wildlife reserve in your school grounds.

Activity areas you can add to your natural learning area

Campfire area

A campfire circle is a great addition to the natural play area. It is a place to gather, to socialise, to tell stories or sing songs.

Taking the learning a step further, you can create a fire in the centre of the campfire circle and do lessons in cooking or boiling a kettle outdoors. There are great advantages of providing children with supervised experience of fire; teaching them how to respect it and behave around it in a safe environment rather than them having their first experience with fire on their own without the knowledge of how to act safely. 

Teachers wanting to teach these outdoor skills on a campfire should contact our Outdoor Learning Team for training and advice.

Den building

A woodland provides a perfect environment for imaginary play.

By providing some loose parts such as ropes and tarpaulin for supervised play or a lesson children and young adults can create their very own wilderness camp. Where they will learn skills through play.

These activities are a great way to engage in play and challenges with loose parts for secondary school learners as well.

Mud kitchen and messy play

Having a space in your playground where children are allowed to dig and play freely in the mud has many benefits in addition to being lots of fun. Playing with mud helps children to explore their natural world, be creative and improve their fine motor skills. Mud play is also inclusive as it allows children to play at their own level.

Mud play is being introduced to all of our nursery playgrounds. We think there is benefit to carry this through to primary school and secondary school where it can be paired up with the curriculum and used as a playful teaching aid.

Combining mud with water and a variety of natural found items can create endless opportunities to learn through play. Creating a mud kitchen is cheap and simple, you can get some donated kitchenware: cups, plates, pots and utensils.

Think about how you might get water to the mud, buckets, watering cans etc. 

If you’re interested in a water pump, hose or water butt, these are great additions but also need a little extra care to avoid legionella bacteria forming in standing water. You will need to be added to the Council’s regular checks. Hose pipes attached to outdoor water taps require a non-return valve to prevent any contamination going into the building’s water supply. for more information on both these please contact

Details of how to create a natural learning area and more examples to come.

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