Learning Environments

Supporting Outdoor Play and Exploration for Infants and Toddlers


a girl playing outside in sandHead Start and Early Head Start programs have long recognized the importance of safe, appropriate outdoor play experiences and spaces for young children. The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) address outdoor learning experiences and environments (45 CFR §1302.31(c)–(d)), licensing and square footage (45 CFR §1302.21(d)(2)), and safety practices (45 CFR §1302.47(b)(1)–(2) and (4)(E)). The HSPPS also address developmental and learning opportunities for infants and toddlers that could easily happen outside to take advantage of the unique qualities the outdoors offers (45 CFR §§1302.31(b)(1) and (e)(4) and 1302.35(c)(1)–(4) and (e)(2)).

This technical assistance paper explores the benefits of outdoor time for infants and toddlers in center-based, family child care, and home-based programs. It also provides Early Head Start (EHS) and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) program leaders suggestions for creating outdoor play spaces, safety considerations, and strategies and policies that support this important part of quality infant and toddler programming.

Last Updated: December 16, 2019