Outdoor Play Schools :: Ready, Set, Play (Outside)!

Before I became a mother, I could have spent the rest of my life indoors. I’m not adventurous, I don’t crave fresh air, I don’t like getting dirty, none of it!

Then came my son Alexander. He’s 20 months old and absolutely thrives being outdoors and running around. So, going outside and playing outdoors has been something I’m trying to actually enjoy. I will say that while I don’t like the dirt, I do love seeing my son’s face light up as he discovers new things in nature. The first time he saw an ant and a roly poly, he watched them with such intent and curiosity, it really made me take a second look at the bugs.

One day, I got serious and vowed to take him outside to play every chance I could. Yet, even when applying a considerable amount of effort to go outside and play, I was presented with a few challenges — traffic, weather, pollen, pollution, etc. all factor into the question I ask myself daily, “Will we go outside to play today?”

For me, I am very structured, and I like to connect with other parents, so just walking out my front door to play lacked something. That’s when I discovered various “get outside and play” initiatives. The first group I discovered was Free Forest School (FFS).

Get Outside and Play Initiatives Near You

Free Forest School

free forest school

Mission: “We envision a generation of bold explorers with meaningful connections to self, community, and the natural world.”

The connection piece is so important. We learn so much about ourselves and our community through nature. It is also important to note this group is heavily child led. We follow the children and only interrupt when a situation becomes dangerous.

Who it’s for: Any and all caregivers and children from babies to tweens. If you’re looking for the most freedom and least structured style of play, then this is the group for you!

What to bring:

  • Sign the waiver on their website.
  • Pack a snack to share (they ask that you don’t bring items that contain nuts) and water!
  • Wear nature and weather-appropriate clothing.
  • Sunscreen and/or bug repellant.

What to expect: You will meet with your group at a nature preserve, park, or trail. Everyone converses while the children play for a bit, waiting for everyone to arrive. Once started, the FFS leader of your group will read a little poem or outline of what to be on the lookout for — watch out for poison ivy and snakes! You start the small trek to where you will set your stuff down and let the kids be kids and play. The children play for various amounts of time. It’s important to not interrupt their play as serious mind and body development are taking place.

After a period of time, parents begin offering their children snacks and water. Sometimes your FFS leader may use this time to engage the kids in singing or reading a book. Other times your leader may simply sit back and listen to the children engaging with their parents/caregivers. After snacks some children may go back to play while others are worn out and nap time is calling. FFS is incredible and it’s free!

Wild + Free

children walking on muddy path

Mission: “Our desire is to give our children a quality education but also to preserve the adventure, freedom, and wonder of childhood.”

Yes, preserving the freedom and wonder of childhood often seems to be a task I find myself trying to foster for my son on the daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

Who it’s for: Their primary focus is for children and their mothers. The group has a lot of emphasis on homeschooling, although not all the children are homeschooled.

What to bring:

  • Pack a snack to share (they ask you don’t bring items that contain nuts) and water!
  • Wear nature and weather-appropriate clothing.
  • Sunscreen and/or bug repellant.
  • Depending on your class, you may be asked to bring craft items, construction paper, glue, crayons, etc.

What to expect: This group does not require a waiver; however, it does require you to attend events (not all of them, but active participation is necessary) and join their group. Wild + Free draws from various teachings: Waldorf, Montessori, and Charlotte Mason, just to name a few. The experience is similar to FFS as far as gathering, a short hike, and enjoying snack or lunch together. They offer crafts and projects for the children to do. The structure is minimal and focused on being child led.


Mission: “Tinkergarten is on a mission to elevate childhood. We’re growing a technology-enabled network of leaders that bring families together in a natural place in their community for classes where kids learn through play.”

Learning through play is so important. Children use play to develop various skills. The Tinkergarten mission aligns with how I’m trying to raise my son.

Who it’s for: 18 months to eight years old and caregivers. The good thing about this class is that you are charged per child, so if grandparents or someone other than the child’s primary caregiver wants to tag along, then that’s perfectly okay.

What to bring:

  • Pack a lunch (again, no nuts) and water. Lots of water, as this class tends to run longer but is well worth it!
  • Wear nature and weather-appropriate clothing.
  • Sunscreen and/or bug repellant.

What to expect: These are paid classes ($20 a class at 10 classes a season, for a total of $200). I had a really hard time justifying $200 to play outside, but Tinkergarten offers a more structured environment. Think of it as an outdoor classroom. Your instructor will be experienced working with children and will often have teaching experience.

You and your child will start the class with free time. Once everyone arrives, we sit in a circle and sing a little song to introduce ourselves. Then it’s onto a short hike through the woods/park. Your child will receive a small bucket and magnify glass to explore and collect things along the way. Following the hike, we come back to our circle and share in a little project or craft. Generally, the project or craft involves dirt, so don’t be surprised if you or your child get dirty! We then wash up and enjoy a snack/lunch together.

The structure of Tinkergarten also involves a theme. The theme of our current session is empathy. My son absolutely loves his Tinkergarten class and looks forward to seeing his teacher, Teacher Gina, every single week.

I will say I am so glad I heard about these “get outside and play” initiatives. They have been so good for my son and incredibly beneficial for me, too. What has your experience been like with getting your kids outdoors? Do you know of any play outside initiatives? Please share with us on Facebook or in the comments!

Read More: The Wisdom of Children and What Adults Can Learn from Them

Lydia Cordova
Lydia is originally from Colorado but moved to Texas as a young child where she grew up. She recently moved to McKinney where she lives with her husband, Jorge and 15 month old son, Alexander. Lydia graduated from UNT with a BBA in Finance and worked as a Financial Analyst for a telecommunications company prior to having her son. She now stays home with her son and enjoys all the new challenges that come with motherhood. Lydia currently volunteers on a marketing committee for the Free Forest School organization. An organization she and her son both enjoy. She loves their message— get out and play! When Lydia has a free moment you can find her either passionately writing, involved in her photography or at her local Barre class.