Outdoor and Nature Dance Play for Early Learning

In Early Learning environments we often think about creating outdoor spaces to do visual art.  It’s visually pleasing for the children and means they can make as much mess as they need to.  However, the outdoors is ideal for dance play as well.

The benefits to children of dancing outdoors are many and include being in the fresh air, breathing in the sight, sounds and smells of nature.  They also encompass Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), as well as health and well being and First Nations learning priorities.

You may be concerned about creating a safe space to dance outdoors but getting children dancing barefoot and in nature is a wonderful experience for teachers and children.

dancing outdoors

Benefits of dancing outdoors

Many children who are reluctant to dance indoors will embrace movement when outside.  It can be a bit messy and is always led by the children’s own curiosity and playfulness.

One of the major benefits of dance play outdoors is that it develops intrinsic interest in what ever the children are exploring.  Through the enjoyment of being barefoot and surrounded by nature children build competencies beyond the obvious physical ones of balance, gross and fine motor skills.

This can include learning how to solve problems, make decisions, exercise self-control, and follow rules.  In addition, they find ways to regulate their emotions and movements in often complex and challenging spaces.

The most obvious benefit is the pure joy they feel with the wind in their hair as they twirl, roll, galop and slide through the natural environment.  Children revel in this open ended and flexible learning space.

Dance Activity: Listening to the world around you

This dance idea supports children to find quietness and stillness which may be confronting for some children. It assists them in finding deep listening skills, mindfulness through the body and being conscious where they are right in the moment.

  • Have the children find a place that they feel says something to them. It could be under a tree, on piece of grass or sand, next to a log or anywhere in the space that feels good.
  • They can choose to sit stand or lie down. Whatever they feel is right for that piece of ground.
  • Talk about the nature sounds and about how that place smells or what it feels like to touch. What is it about that place that you like? Do the sensations you are feeling make you want to move in a certain way?
  • What words describe how you feel, or would you rather do another movement to describe it?

dancing outdoors

Creating the dance space

Before doing this kind of outdoor dance play activity you need to curate the space just as you would indoors.  Set up areas with your outdoor area that allows safe movement but that connects the children with natural objects.

Think about using different surfaces that can challenge their balance like grass (green or dry) or sand.  Moving from one to the other requires different use of proprioception. Try grouping together objects like a group of pine cones, or a pile of fallen leaves.  Why did you choose not to move near the pine cones?

Even large smooth pieces of wood can be interesting for children to move over and around or lean against with different parts of their body.  What does it feel like to rest different parts of your body on that log?

Remember to make mats available to children who may have a different reaction to the natural environment.  You could also have a section that had surfaces that were less challenging to move on.  The movement space needs to be inclusive as well as innovative.

Making peace with nature is a matter of behavioral change, ethics, and values. Reconciliation is already happening in UNESCO sites across the globe, and these new relationships can be shared with the world. For this, we believe in the power of social and human sciences and education.                                       Audrey Azoulay UNESCO Director-General


Supporting First Nations Learning

UNESCO acknowledges the importance of connecting children with nature in their early learning.  As an organisation it recognizes the educational importance of creating links between indigenous and local knowledge and scientific and sustainable development.

By providing creative links to the natural environment, we encourage children to listen to the world around them. They can make their own choices about how they move, not locked into a single cultures view of what movement and dance should be.  It shows that dance is shaped by the natural and cultural landscape of place.

Dancing in the outdoors helps child to become defenders of nature and the natural world. Furthermore, it shows the importance of connecting creativity, nature, and knowledge with First Nations peoples.

outdoor dance play

The Outdoor Education and Development Guide by Forest Holidays suggests some of the many ways of exploring nature through outdoor play with young children.  Engaging with the Arts is an ideal way to connect adventure and play with learning.

Take your children outside when the weather’s fine (or even if it’s not) and enjoy the feeling of connecting with your broader world.  Embrace the benefits of the opportunity to feel yourself move in time with the world.


We don’t need to destroy the world to live in it, we need to take care of it to build a better life together.                         Francisco Huinon, indigenous leader (Brazil)


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