CHILDREN will be taught in woodlands, parks and even beaches under an expansion of free nursery care following warnings of a lack of traditional buildings.

The expansion of outdoor kindergarten-style provision is being explored alongside other options - including greater use of childminders.

Under Scottish Government plans the amount of free childcare will nearly double - from 600 hours to 1140 hours by August 2020 to help raise attainment and get parents back to work.

However, public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has already warned of “significant risks” to councils because of a lack of funding, staff and facilities.

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Auditors said: “It is difficult to see how all the challenges can be overcome in the time available. There are major risks around workforce, infrastructure, such as land and buildings, and finance.”

An official evaluation of 14 pilot projects has now identified outdoor learning as a key element of the expansion of free nursery places to all three and four-year-olds - and some vulnerable two-year-olds.

The report states: “Staff and parents were supportive of the expanded offer and reported positive outcomes for children, particularly in relation to outdoor learning.

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“Practitioners had reviewed the structure of the day in response to children attending for longer hours than previously.

“Opportunities were identified for children to spend more time learning outdoors ... at off-site locations such as local beaches, forest areas and in other community locations.”

The report found outdoor learning had allowed the capacity of existing nurseries to be increased at relatively little cost.

Feedback from parents found children were sleeping and eating better than previously and their confidence and knowledge about nature, physical wellbeing had improved.

However, the report also highlighted some concerns over the quality of outdoor learning.

“Providing shelter and warmth in some outdoor settings proved challenging due to local conditions,” it said.

“The inability to provide warmth and shelter affected the quality of children’s experiences, including restricting access to make and enjoy warm food.

“The lack of shelter and warmth outdoors also limited the allocation of outdoor provision to half a day. Some children who attended outdoor provision in the morning found it challenging to transfer to an establishment in the afternoon.”

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Elsewhere, the report highlighted some misunderstandings from parents about the purpose of the roll-out of free nursery hours.

Some families were suspicious the initiative was a way of checking up on their parenting skills while others thought that if they took up the offer it would mean they had to find employment.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "As part of our expansion we are trying out a number of different models and outdoor learning is an important part of that mix.

"We know that outdoor learning has a beneficial effect on children’s physical and mental health and helps them develop essential life skills such as curiosity and confidence."