Ground patrol

Written by: Jenni Clarke
2 October 2018

Taking risks is how young children develop strength, balance, co-ordination and body awareness. In part two of this series Jenni Clarke investigates how loose parts placed outdoors can build and challenge skills. For three-years and older.



  • Planks and blocks of wood of varying sizes
  • Ropes, some with carabiner type fixings.
  • Felled tree trunk
  • Tyres
  • Pallets
  • Trees with low level branches
  • Wooden climbing frames
  • Swing frames
  • Fixed wooden posts with metal rings at various heights.
  • A low-level climbing wall
  • Large scramble nets
  • Books and pictures related to these actions
  • Cameras

Balancing: A risk of misjudgement, falling and bruising. The benefits are body awareness, core strength, spatial awareness, concentration and fun.

Jumping: A risk of tumbling, grazes, bruises and tears. The benefits are an understanding of height and width, strengthening leg muscles, learning how to land, balance, decision making and an opportunity to be awed by the momentary feeling of weightlessness.

Climbing: Risk of scrapes and grazes, falling, and getting stuck. The benefits are upper body strength, learning limits, body co-ordination, hand strength, flexibility,
seeing the world from another perspective and a sense
of achievement.

Swinging – risk of bumping, bruising, crashing and falling. The benefits are whole body strength, awareness of others, spatial awareness, co-ordination with others and the opportunity for experiencing that wonderful thrill when they plunge to earth or soar into the sky.

Playing and exploring

  • Children take a risk, engage in new experiences, and learn by trial and error.
  • They test their physical strength and engage in open-ended activities.
  • They seek out challenges naturally as they enjoy the satisfaction of achievement.


Ensure there are plenty of resources children can balance on or along, such as wooden blocks, planks of wood, pieces of rope. Observe how they use the resources and encourage them to persevere with the challenge they set themselves. The planks or rope may be placed directly onto the ground. Talk about their body position and why they think it is easier with their arms stretched out.


Resources such as a set of different sized wooden blocks scattered on the grass, a gravel pathway with brightly coloured paving slabs spaced at uneven intervals or skipping ropes hung at a low level between trees or posts are an opportunity for children to jump. Observe their play and join in, encouraging them to persist when they find it difficult, move the blocks to create different challenges, or develop imaginative games which involve jumping.


Provide plenty of opportunities for the children to climb such as: a wooden climbing frame; trees with low branches; a large felled tree trunk; ladders; a low-level climbing wall or blocks of wood fixed firmly to the bottom of a fence which they can climb along. Observe how they use climbing in their play and encourage them to explore their abilities. Ask them what they can see when they are up high. Provide a camera so they can take pictures from different climbing heights for them to share with others.


Hang some ropes from the top of a swing frame, a low branch or under the climbing frame, making sure the rope does not touch the ground and is securely attached. Observe how the children use them in their play. Sing swinging songs or share rhymes with a strong rhythm as you join in with the swinging. Talk about swings in their gardens or local parks and what they like about it.

Active learning

  • Children persevere with creating walkways and use high levels of energy.
  • They try different approaches.
  • They experience satisfaction in meeting their own imposed goals with great enthusiasm and noise.


Place some wooden blocks or tyres next to the planks. Observe the children’s reactions and ideas. Help them to build higher walkways and support any imaginative play which accompanies the balancing. For example you may need to be a crocodile! Use what if questions to encourage thinking about linking two areas with a balance walk-way, or add some stopwatches for the children to see how long they can balance on one foot on a small block of wood.


Ask open-ended questions about animals that jump. Challenge them to think about what they do with their body when they jump, and how to jump better. Ensure they have access to a camera. Use the photos to create a display of jumping to share with parents and carers. Scribe their comments to add as speech bubbles.


Place a scramble net near the wooden posts or a tree and help them to secure it to the posts, hang it from a low branch, or fix it to the climbing frame. Use open- ended questions to prompt testing the net to make sure it is secure before they begin to climb and support their play.


Fix spray painted tyres to the ropes and a pile of large cushions giving the children choices of how to use the swings. Ensure there is more than one as swinging is often a social activity. Watch the play and encourage them to experiment with ideas. Discuss fears and feelings in an open-ended manner.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children find new ways to jump, land and swing.
  • They test out their ideas
  • Practitioners prompt and support a plan of action as needed.


Place the thick ropes next to the wooden posts and help the children secure them at the heights they wish. A rope to hold on to and a rope to walk along works well, but let them discover this themselves.


Add tape measures and a chalk board to the space where the children are jumping. They may wish to chalk up
their achievements, measure distance or height or challenge themselves.

Discuss what it feels like when they jump off something close to the ground, and something higher. Challenge them to find different ways of landing. Support their exploration of other places to jump from, be confident that young children generally do not wish to hurt themselves and are more likely to understand their limits if there are no anxious adults around them.


Model being a good climber and speak your thoughts aloud when making decisions about stopping or going higher, ensure the children know it is a personal choice and not a competition. Discuss why some people like to climb and others are happier playing on the ground.


Use a pallet to make a group swing, this adds balance and co-operation to the play, as well as more scope for imaginative games and journeys.

Enabling environment

Talk about occupations that involve climbing and create some workers backpacks together with the children, discussing the safety equipment and why it is needed. Hang these near the outside door so they are accessible for role-play. You could also create an equipment area with loose parts such as tyres, bricks and tools to extend this play.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

When balancing, jumping, climbing, and swinging children have the opportunity to meet the PSED objectives: Can express their own feelings such as sad, happy, cross, scared, worried. Responds to the feelings and wishes of others. Aware that some actions can hurt or harm others. When adults support and encourage this type of play children can meet the PD health and self-care objectives: Observes the effects of activity on their bodies. Shows understanding of the need for safety when tackling new challenges and considers and manages some risks. Practises some appropriate safety measures without direct supervision.