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Muddy Faces

Books on outdoor play

As well as a suggested booklist, this page has some in-depth recommendations from author & Early Years expert Annie Woods - scroll down to see them.

We'd love your recommendations and book reviews - send them to share@muddyfaces.co.uk and we'll add the best here.

Outdoor Hub

Outdoor play books - available from Muddy Faces shop

Exercising Muscles and Minds - Marjorie Ouvry

£15.99 exVAT

Full of good practice case studies, with lots of ideas for activities, equipment and resources, this is a comprehensive guide to planning for learning outside throughout the year, focusing on outdoor play with three to five-year-olds (2003).


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Learning and Playing Outdoors - Terry Gould

£18.99 exVAT

How to create an inspiring outdoor environment; packed full of full colour photographs it will provide both down to earth advice and inspiration.


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Playing and Learning Outdoors - Jan White

£22.99 exVAT

Get the very best from outdoor playing and learning for children from ages three to five years. Develop rich and stimulating outdoor play provision in Early Years settings. Achievable advice and support, based on approaches which are appropriate and effective for young children’s all-round well-being and development (2013).


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Teacher Tom's First Book - Tom Hobson

£19.99 exVAT

This book encapsulates, in stories from the classroom, what makes Teacher Tom’s democratic play-based curriculum such a powerful way for young children to learn life’s most important lessons (2017).

Teacher Tom's Second Book is also available now! (2020)


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Other outdoor play book recommendations

Annie Woods book recommendations

Annie Woods, editor of Child-Initiated Play and Learning (see below), was an early years lecturer at Nottingham Trent University with a particular interest in outdoor play environments and children’s fascination with natural elements.

Annie let us know about the work her team has done to collate observational research and edited chapters detailing well being and involvement, inclusive outdoor spaces and effective learning opportunities.

“Over the last six years or so, staff at Nottingham Trent University and practitioners working alongside them have collated observational research and edited chapters detailing well being and involvement, inclusive outdoor spaces and effective learning opportunities. I have noted the most pertinent chapters but readers would find much resonance with the complete books.
The most recent book ‘Elemental Play’ is a culmination of ideas and research outlining a new theory on natural play.
It would be interesting to add these to your recommendations or ask your readers to review the books for fresh perspectives.”

Child-Initiated Play and Learning, 2017

Shows how a creative approach to learning that allows for spontaneous adventures in play through child-led projects can lead to rich learning experiences that build on children’s own interests. This second edition has been fully updated in light of policy and curriculum changes and features new material to help practitioners make informed decisions around digital technology and how children engage with it.

Including scenarios and provocative questions for reflective practice, this book looks at planning and considers the possibilities that should be encouraged when playing alongside young children. Drawing on practice from Reggio Emilia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and in settings in the UK, the book covers all aspects of planning including:

Child Initiated Play & Learning book cover
  • how to enable and empower children to lead projects;
  • organisation of indoor and outdoor materials and space;
  • inclusive practice and contemporary research;
  • learning through managing risks and adventurous play;
  • working with parents and carers;
  • challenging teams to explore what they actually believe about possibilities of play.

In a busy setting it can be difficult to adopt a flexible, creative approach to planning that embraces the unexpected rather than relying on templates or existing schemes of work. This book will give readers the confidence to adopt a flexible approach to planning that will better meet the needs of the children in their care.

The authors are experienced lecturers, practitioners, advisors and managers. Working with students, visiting placements, training teachers and early years professionals, they provide a sense of real purpose in their optimistic writing and enjoyment in the themes made explicit throughout this book.

SEE: Chapter 4. Exploiting outdoor possibilities for all children. Woods and Hall.
Inclusive practice and outdoor spaces challenge and develop practitioner confidence.

The characteristics of effective learning, 2014

Playing and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically – underpin young children’s learning and development and are central to the revised Early Years Foundation Stage. Practitioners need to be confident of planning, observing and assessing characteristics of effective learners and understand how they support children’s learning and development.

The book explores what the characteristics of effective learning look like and how practitioners can create opportunities for children to express them. It considers the ways in which they connect with children’s natural explorations, play, enjoyement and the environments created by adults. Throughout the focus is on building on children’s own interests as practitioners plan for, observe and assess playing and exploring, active learning and creativity and critical thinking.

Including encounters from authentic settings and provocative questions for reflective practice, the book covers:

Characteristics Of Effective Learning Book Cover
  • children’s well-being and motivations
  • creating effective learning possibilities for all children
  • engaging children’s interests
  • the role of the adult and environment
  • sustained shared thinking

This timely new text aims to help practitioners and students develop their understanding of the characteristics of effective learning and show them how they can support young children in become effective and motivated learner.

SEE: Chapter 4. Children’s engaging interests. Woods, A.
Explores how children engage in loose play, using observations of children.

Elemental Play & Outdoor Learning, 2016

Providing a fresh approach to examining development in the early years, this book draws together well-established ideas and theories based on outdoor play experiences and connects them to spiritual development in children.

Elemental Play and Outdoor Learning considers socio-cultural perspectives, guided participation and mediated learning alongside playfulness as it looks at young children’s developing interest in the people around them, the environment they experience and the ideas and objects that involve them. Including rich encounters with young children and adults, chapters cover:

Book cover: Elemental Play & Outdoor Learning, with 4 photos of children playing outdoors
  • elemental play as an approach to observe and support children’s holistic development;
  • the role of people in developing effective exploratory and social skills;
  • using the concept of elemental play to consider the spiritual system as an aspect of child development;
  • imaginative play with raw, natural materials and how prepared environments can encourage children’s natural exploration;
  • an exploration of well-established constructs of play and how elemental play can be integrated or re-conceptualised with the other theories.

Exploring current thinking about natural experiences, interest in forest school activity and fresh insight into dynamic ecological concepts, this book will be essential reading for practitioners and students on undergraduate and postgraduate early years and childhood studies courses.

Examining Levels of Involvement in the Early Years, 2016

Studies the theory and rationale behind using young children’s levels of involvement as a tool for enhancing their experiential learning in diverse settings by exploring values, beliefs, ideology, resourcefulness and environmental contexts.

Drawing on Laevers’ process-oriented Self-evaluation Instrument for Care Settings and the Leuven Involvement Scale for Young Children, this book examines the theoretical constructs that underpin the development of these instruments as well as the practical implications of how and why practitioners may use the scales in their settings. More importantly, it looks at children’s deep level learning capabilities and reflects on the engaging possibilities this presents.

Using encounters with children and adults from a range of settings, it covers:

Examining Levels Of Involvement Book Cover
  • connecting levels of involvement with local, national, international and theoretical approaches;
  • embracing levels of involvement;
  • involving the environment;
  • levels of outdoor involvement;
  • engaging with adult involvement;
  • nurturing involvement through observation, assessment and planning.

Including contributions from experts in the field, this book will be essential reading for students, trainee early years practitioners and all those wanting to continue their professional learning.

SEE: Chapter 4: Levels of outdoor involvement. McMeeking et al.
Practitioner research evaluates the impact of outdoor experiences on children’s levels of involvement in forest school type activities.

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