Outdoor play and learning – ideas, info and lots of links

When writing our January Early Years Teaching News, I tweeted a survey to ask if practitioners and leaders would like information about ICT or outside play. Sixty-nine percent voted for outside play and when seeing this, Kathryn Solly, Early Education Associate, outdoors expert, consultant and author, offered to help write something for us.

Outdoor play: pedagogic page and blog

With Kathryn’s expertise, we have gathered many resources for supporting your outside play. You can also read her guest blog Outside in all weathers.

Useful books

These books have been read or written by Kathryn. Here are her reviews

Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovesky

This is a coffee table book for hoarders and lovers of loose parts. It is packed full of delicious photos which provide provocations for specific collections  such as trays of sea glass or boxes of hangers. Whilst the photos may feel staged to some, the inspiration they provide is super. Care has been taken to provide a mix of natural and man-made items featured indoors and out. The text provides a good rationale for the use of loose parts in early childhood and links this to child development as well as schemas and curriculum areas with examples from children’s play. The authors’ backgrounds and early childhood education and creative arts shines through in this book.

The Little Book of Free and Found by Julie Mountain

This is a short, sweet read filled with good advice about using loose parts outside. There’s advice on safety checks, looking for further ideas on the internet and a range of practical activities which clearly emphasise that outdoor play does not need to involve spending lots of money. Rather, children’s play is often deeper and more satisfying when basic free and found resources are used. I think it’s a great complement to the “Loose Parts” book above and vice versa.

I Love Forest School by Martin Pace

I really enjoy hearing about practitioners and children’s experiences outside. I Love Forest School is the author’s perspective on the introduction and development of the Forest School approach at his award-winning nursery. Within the 64 A4 pages there are lots of colour photos of Reflections Nursery and how Forest School has become embedded into the life of the setting. Examples of observing, recording, assessing and planning child-led experiences are given. I think this is a worthwhile read for any practitioner and especially those considering whether to introduce Forest School into their own routines and ethos. This is my favourite Forest School book to-date.

Risk, Challenge and Adventure in the Early Years by Kathryn Solly

Kathryn Solly, the former head teacher of Chelsea Open Air Nursery has written a helpful book which has a very up-to-date perspective on outdoor play. It has relevant and wonderful quotes from Susan Isaacs, who founded the nursery and demonstrates that good play principles stand the test of time. In particular I liked the frequent references to the value of woodworking and use of tools as a normal part of outdoor practice. Kathyrn provides excellent evidence that risk, challenge and adventure is an entitlement for all children all year round and this need not be dependent on having Forest School training.

Outdoor Play for 1-3 Year Olds by Isabel Hopwood-Stephens

If you are a parent or outdoor professional or early years practitioner who is thinking of starting up an outdoor toddler group then this book is for you. However, it has lots of practical advice and guidance which is relevant for anyone considering setting up as a freelance provider and offering activities for older children as well. The book is accessible and helpful as Isabel advocates “All you need to start with is a yard with a patch of grass, some cheap resources and some enthusiastic play workers.

Children’s book list

  • Anthony, J. (1997) The Dandelion Seed Dawn Publications. 1-883220-67-X 
  • Baylor.B. (1974) Everybody needs a Rock. New York: Atheneum, ISBN 978-0-13899-2 
  • Berger, C. (2008) The Little Yellow Leaf: 978-0-06-145223-9 
  • Brown, P. (2009) The Curious Garden: Little, Brown and Company, 978-0-316-01547-9 
  • Bowers. J. (2014) Little Tree. Dorking: The Templar Company ISBN 978-1-84877-883-2 
  • Ehlert. L. (2005) Leaf Man. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., ISBN 978-0-152-05304-8 
  • Faulks, B & Cort, B (2016) Watch Out for Muddy Puddles. 978-1-4088-6719-8 
  • Farquharson. P. (2011) The Green Line. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, ISBN 978-1-84780-259-0 
  • French. V. (2009) Yucky Worms. London: Walker Books, ISBN 978-1-4063-2808-0 
  • Hanson. F. (2014) The Wonder. Dorking: The Templar Company ISBN 978-1-78370-114-8 
  • Hegley. J. (2011) Stanley’s Stick. London: Hodder Children’s Books, ISBN 978-0-340-98819-0 
  • Hughes, E. (2015) The Little Gardener: Flying Eye Books, 978-1-909263-43-7 
  • Hughes, E. (2013) Wild: Flying Eye Books: 978-1-909263-08-6 
  • King, P. (1993) Apple Green and Runner Bean. 0-7445-4733-4 
  • Lionni. L. (1961) On My Beach There Are Many Pebbles. New York: HarperCollins, ISBN978-0-13284-2 
  • Metzger. M. (2005) We’re Going On A Leaf Hunt. New York: Scholastic Inc., ISBN 978-0-429-87377-2 
  • Ray. M.L. (2001) Mud. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., ISBN 978-0-152-02461-1 
  • Theobalds. P. (1990) The Teddy Bears’ Great Expedition. London: Blackie and Son Ltd., ISBN 978-0-21692-993-8 
  • Verde. S. (2013) The Museum. New York: Abrams Books for Young People, ISBN 978-1-4197-0594-6 
  • Winslow. M. (1989) Mud Pies and Other Recipes. New York: The New York Review of Books ISBN 978-1-59017-368-8

Books for adults about outdoor play, risk, challenge and adventure

Outdoor Play

  • Bilton, H. (2002) Outdoor Play in the Early Years. London: David Fulton Ltd. 
  • Danks, F. and Schofield, J. (2005) Nature’s Playground. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd.
  • Danks, F. and Schofield, J. (2012) The Stick Book. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd. 
  • Danks, F. and Schofield, J. (2013) The Wild Weather Book. Frances Lincoln Ltd: China.
  • Danks, F. and Schofield, J. (2014) The Wild City Book. Frances Lincoln Ltd: China.
  • Danks, F. and Schofield, J. (2015) The Beach Book. China: Frances Lincoln Ltd.
  • Guldberg, H. (2009) Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear. Abingdon: Routledge. 
  • Holland, C. (2009) I Love My World- Mentoring Play in Nature, For Our Sustainable Future. Otterton: Wholeland Press. 
  • Hewitt, J. and Cross, C. (2016) Den Building. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing. 
  • Stone, M.K. and Barlow, Z. (2005) Ecological Literacy. San Francisco: University of California Press.
  • Watts, A. (2011) Every Nursery Needs a Garden. Abingdon: David Fulton Books. 
  • White, J. (2008) Playing and Learning Outdoors. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Wilson Smith, A. (2008) Nature’s Playthings. Ludlow: Merlin Unwin Books.

Nature, Risk, Adventure and Challenge

  • Ball, D. (2001) Playgrounds, Risks, Benefits and Choices.  Health and Safety Executive  HMSO. 
  • Ball, D., Gill, T., and Spiegal, B. (2008) Managing Risk in Play Provision. Implementation Guide. London: DCSF.
  • Beck, U. (1993) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage Publications.
  • Cornell, J.B. (1984) Sharing Nature with Children. Watford: Exley Publication
  • Csikszentmihayli, M. (1997). Finding Flow. New York: Basic Books.
  • De Benedet, A. and Cohen, L. (2010) The Art of Roughhousing. Philadelphia: Quirk Books.
  • Furedi, F (1997) Culture of Fear. London: Continuum 
  • Gill, T. (2007) No fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society. London Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
  • Hopwood-Stephens, I. (2015) Outdoor Play for 1-3 Year Olds. Abingdon: Rouledge.
  • Kraul, W. (1984) Earth, Water, Fire and Air- Playful Explorations in the Four Elements. Stuttgart: Floris Books.
  • Louv, R. (2005) Last Child in the Woods. North Carolina: Algonquin Books.
  • Louv, R. (2016) Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life. North Carolina: Algonquin Books.
  • Lyng, S. (2005) Edgework: The Sociology of Risk taking. Abingdon: Routledge
  • Solly, K. (2015) Risk, Challenge and Adventure in the Early Years. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Thom, B., Sales, R, and Pearce, J. (2007) Growing Up with Risk.  Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Tovey, H. (2007) Playing Outdoors, Spaces and Places, Risk and Challenge. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Other books to support your practice

Useful journal articles

Further information

The following information is taken from our Early Years Teaching News, January 2019 edition.

Useful blogs

Links supporting outside play and learning

Useful websites for outside learning

Page created February 2019, updated July 2019 by Cathy Gunning 

Further reading

Loose parts play

Here are some links to resources to support your play. Loose parts play tookit is such a rich and comprehensive free publication from Inspiring Scotland to

Read More »

Grab and Go Kits

Some of the childminders involved in the Outdoors and Active project thought that a kit of easy to carry, low cost resources could encourage children

Read More »

Become a member

For more articles and professional learning

Find out more

Browse Early Education publications