This essential resource is designed to help busy early years practitioners to support the mental health of young children through outdoor play.
Promoting social and emotional wellbeing in childhood has never been more important, and outdoor play is a crucial tool to build resilience, develop healthy relationships, and boost self-esteem. Using relatable case studies that demonstrate achievable change, the book is full of practical advice and strategies for exploring nature in both natural and man-made landscapes, and includes guidance on how to co-create inviting play spheres with children.
Each chapter provides:
- Adaptable and cost-effective activities designed to help children feel more confident and connected to the world around them.
- Case studies and reflective opportunities to prompt practitioners to consider and develop their own practice.
- An accessible and engaging format with links to theorists, risk assessment, and individual schemas.
Outdoor play allows young children to explore who they are and what they can do. It supports them as they learn to think critically, take risks, and form a true sense of belonging with their peers and with the wider community. This is an indispensable resource for practising and trainee early years practitioners, Reception teachers, and childminders as they facilitate outdoor play in their early years setting.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Sonia Mainstone-Cotton
Chapter 1: Green is Good
Chapter 2: Beneficial Spaces
Chapter 3: The Wellbeing Laboratory
Chapter 4: Dare to Play
Chapter 5: Relationships Matter
Chapter 6: Honesty and Love
Chapter 7: End notes
Sarah Watkins is a Reception teacher and Forest School leader who is passionate about the positive impact of outdoor play on children’s wellbeing. Sarah’s memories of an outdoor, play-filled childhood inform her teaching ethos, and, as Head of School, Sarah knew the location of all the best hiding places, as it was the primary school she attended as a child! Before teaching, Sarah worked as an Arts Officer, and also managed projects for a national media charity, giving a platform to unheard voices. Sarah is a Specialist Leader in Education and university tutor who regularly speaks at educational events.
Sarah has given teachers, parents, all of us a practical but heartfelt guide to nature connection. This is her gift to this and the next generation of children and families.
Richard Louv, author of 'Last Child in the Woods' and 'Vitamin N.'
The most brilliant, easy to read and engaging book on outdoor learning and play I have ever read. Packed full of rich anecdotes and solid research, it is indispensable guide for educators everywhere.
Mike Fairclough, author of ‘Wild Thing’ and Headmaster of West Rise Junior School, winner of the TES School of The Year
A must-read. This remarkable book is an essential read for anyone who values outdoor play and well-being. It is packed full of practical, accessible ideas and strategies underpinned by the latest research. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and reflecting on how to support nature connectedness in our settings. Outdoor Play for Healthy Little Minds reminds us that ‘the best classroom and the richest cupboard are roofed only by the sky.’
Anthony Hadfield, ex-headteacher and founder of Head into the Wild
This book is lovingly filled with the joy of play. Packed full of useful suggestions, examples of practice and insightful comments from the children themselves, this is a wonderful book. Sarah combines her deep knowledge of children and their capacity to learn with a clear rationale of the ways in which play builds cognitive understanding, emotional & physical development and social connection. I recommend this book highly for all those who seek to understand children further and celebrate the wonders of childhood.
Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive at The Chartered College of teaching and Honorary Fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge
This wonderful book shows how play develops skills that lead to balanced, resilient people. Parents, teachers and all of us who work with children will find valuable ways to look at the world through fresh eyes.
Dr Simon Lennane, GP and Mental Health GP Lead, Herefordshire CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group)
This is a delightful and very special gem of a book! Warm, personal, thought-provoking, extensively researched and jam packed with brilliant & practical ideas for outdoor learning and play. I have admired Sarah’s knowledge, wisdom and expertise for a long time and in this book Sarah gives us the know-how and confidence to optimise our school grounds and approach to play to develop imagination, creativity, well-being, language skills, resilience, and promote co-existence, equity and inclusion. I have learned a lot, this is a must read guide for any early years practitioner and primary school leaders. I will be buying several copies for my school!
Rae Snape, Headteacher and National Leader of Education
What a jewel; this book is filled to bursting with stunning photographs of real examples of outdoor play and learning in action to inform and inspire, with ‘time to reflect’ opportunities throughout to support ongoing practitioner CPD - something which is essential. Sarah demonstrates that valuable outdoor play and learning opportunities are everywhere and can be achieved easily, for all our children, by thinking creatively, listening to and following children’s interests, using simple resources and by tapping into what Mother Nature gives us. Definitely on the reading list for my Early Years Educator trainees to support outdoor play, knowledge and practice.
Helin Taylor-Greenfield, Early Years Lecturer (FE), NNEB, Pearson and LBWF Teaching Award Winner
Sarah Watkins has written one of the most important pedagogy books in a generation. The case for play is stronger now than ever before and understanding its purpose is essential to any catch-up process after the Covid-19 interruptions. Play is the universal language of childhood and the richer the environment, the richer the opportunities are for self-expression, challenge and wellbeing amongst our youngest learners. How a child plays, or doesn’t, tells us so much about their needs, their inner world and their state of mind. Sarah skilfully and organically uses the child’s own voice to illustrate the most important factors in designing and using play environments for all educators to provide children with opportunities to develop language, resilience, relationships and wellbeing. This wonderful book should be a daily reference in all our learning settings.
Dr Sharie Coombes, author, ex-headteacher and Neuropsychotherapist
I love this book on outdoor play, one of several in the Little Minds Matter series. It's an easy-to-read book for educators to read, reflect on and use to inspire their day-to-day outdoor practice with children. The photographs of Sarah’s setting are truly remarkable and add an authentic feel to the book. I especially like the inclusion of children’s voices; it's extremely important that we pay attention to children regarding their play and learning. Well done Sarah for writing this much-needed book for Early Years educators.
Laura Henry-Allain MBE, Award-winning global writer, speaker and consultant
There are people who contribute to the world of Early Years education without any actual experience within the setting. This book is the antidote to that tiresome commentary. Sarah Watkins has provided the hard-working and committed teacher with a fantastic guide to the awesome power of learning outside, building connections with nature, engaging in joint productive activities with children and the importance of relationships and wellbeing. This isn’t just another teacher handbook, it’s a handbook for the professional soul.
Hywel Roberts, author of ‘Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally,’ teacher and storyteller
It's not often that you come across a book that explores the importance of dragons, mud pies, puddles, magic and a laboratory of loose parts to the healthy development of children – this insightful book, richly embroidered with fascinating case studies and reflections is a must-buy for teachers, children nurses, parents and anyone wanting to understand about the power of play in building resilience, confidence and a sense of belonging in our children.
Tony Warne, Chair of Stockport NHS Foundation Trust
I have been very fortunate during the last decade to work with and visit many different educational settings in the U.K. and internationally. Every time, without exception, I am blown away by the skill, expertise and proactive creative approaches that Early Years educators demonstrate every day. In this exciting new publication, Sarah harnesses her own considerable expertise along with the voices of young people themselves in a unique and exciting approach to the importance of play and well-being. Punctuated with reflection tasks and photos of children ‘in action’, this book really brings to life some of the magical learning I have been so fortunate to witness and continually learn. I imagine that this text will be invaluable to both new practitioners and also incredibly useful for experienced colleagues in equal measure, as Sarah draws the reader through a magical world with examples from across many different settings. Perhaps the highlight for me, the final word from Jack (which you will, of course, need to read for yourself...). This book is highly recommended and will, I am certain, prove to be a really invaluable addition to some of the most skilful educator’s libraries and professional development materials around the world.
Gareth D Morewood, Educational Advisor & previous Secondary SENCo
As adults we must strive to nurture children's curiosity and playfulness and encourage independence. This book is a powerful reminder of our responsibility to take every opportunity to inspire children to learn more about the world in which they live, no matter their age. Highly recommended!
Nic Millington, CEO, Rural Media
This book is practical and accessible for primary practitioners to reflect on how they create the spaces, culture, and relationships for effective and authentic play. Each chapter is signposted by the values and the wellbeing themes it is exploring and encourages the reader to take time to reflect on their school’s policy and practices, accompanied by signposting reading for both children and adults. The appendix has helpful documents including a play policy.
Hannah Wilson, Leadership Development Consultant, Coach and Trainer
Children need & love to play, explore and have adventures outside. This book embraces the benefits of exposing children to daring play & appropriate risk that is so helpful in addressing anxiety & fearful situations. It also highlights strategies to enable a healthy balance between safety and independence, as well as developing perseverance and resilience. This book provides the perfect framework to create a culture of care and wellbeing through play at school
Pattrick Ottley O Connor, Executive Headteacher
This book helps adults understand how they can create environments and resources for children to explore play through relationships and curiosity. It also makes some important points on playing alongside children and how fundamental play is for all families and communities. An interesting read with many good ideas.
Mike Armiger, Education and Mental Health Advisor
There has never been a more important time to foster the wellbeing of children and Sarah's fantastic book shows you how to do that through the important business of play. I love the mix of theory, research and practical ideas, all brought to life with the voices and perspectives of children. Sarah is an experienced teacher and her wisdom shines through each page - this is a must read for any Early Years practitioner and primary school teacher.
Adrian Bethune, Teachhappy