Reading Books Outdoors

26 September 2010 · 10 comments

in Literacy Outdoors, Play Resources

Like many other teachers, I love and appreciate children’s books. Whenever I walk into a bookshop, the children’s section is a “must visit” with or without my son in tow.

Children will happily explore books outside. You can have a special den or tepee for reading, or just have them scattered throughout the play area and see what happens!
One of the first things I did when I took the plunge and became a freelance consultant was to set up listmanias on Amazon with books that I felt were natural springboards into outdoor play and learning. Over the years, the lists have changed, grown and been adapted. I have a lot of fun playing with them!

When I run outdoor literacy courses, I set aside time to use books as a basis for outdoor work. In the past I’ve found them to be a great inspiration for creative outdoor activity – either structured or unstructured both for children of all ages and myself. Most early years staff will talk enthusiastically about We’re going on a bear hunt” and some of the ideas participants have told me about have been incredibly creative and hugely enjoyable.

Imagine going on a bear hunt and finding yourself at this cave!
The opportunity to hear, join in and listen to books outside is just as enjoyable as indoors.  If children are not used to being read to outside, then start slowly with a pair or small group and gradually increase the numbers.

I love this combo – books and sand!
Have lots of cushions, blankets and comfy mats to sit on, especially in cooler weather. Dens and shelters provide protection from the weather. Torches and lanterns add fun, interest and atmosphere when used with the right book.

Waterproof tarp, fleece blankets, insulating mats and sleeping bags all make cold weather reading a cosy event
Outdoor book bags can be created which can save time collating resources. These can be for use at your school or centre. However with a little bit of adapting, outdoor book bags add interest to the standard ones issued at transition times to children and their parent.

Choosing Books to Read Outside

Neil Griffiths, the founder of Storysack, recommends using the following criteria for selecting a book:

  • A strong story line
  • Quality illustrations
  • Can be read aloud with ease
  • A content and interest level appropriate to young children
  • Children’s favourites
  • Recommended by parents
  • Selected by staff as quality picture books
  • Recommended by a local bookshop

Props to Accompany Books

Any resources used outside will get worn more quickly. Cheap and cheerful resources are strongly recommended rather than beautiful matching games, etc. Consider providing:

  • Puppets and soft toys that are machine washable
  • Laminated photos, poems, backdrops and information sheets
  • Games that are derived from natural materials such as sticks, stones, shells, etc.
  • Resources with a clear local link, e.g. local wildlife soft toys
  • Waterproof or plastic playmats
  • Open ended resources such as a piece of material which can be used in many different ways
  • A plastic sleeve or jacket for your book
  • Different books lend themselves to different outdoor activities. Some are naturally cross-curricular and can result in children initiating a range of activities. Others may only have a link in one or two different areas. The advantage of a book-based activity are that children get repeated exposure to the storyline, characters, setting and ideas. This helps reinforce many pre-reading skills.

This Swedish outdoor nursery has developed many stories using a washing line and laminated pictures. Look at the children’s level of engagement!
What are your experiences of reading outdoors with children? I thought it was interesting that Gareth Malone in his Extraordinary School for Boys series chose to take children outside to read and be read to. At the overnight camp, parents took turns to read a ghost story aloud to the children. It’s a cheap, simple step to learning outdoors.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Debi September 26, 2010 at 22:11

I love to read outside with my kids, but the dreamy surroundings you’ve shown here put my little yard to shame! 🙂 Seriously though, this is an easy way for parents to get kids outside & connected to nature on busy school days.


Teacher Tom September 27, 2010 at 01:09

Juliet, I am ashamed to admit this, but it has never occurred to me to take the books outdoors. We are now going to take our books outdoors. It makes me wonder about all the other obvious things that are invisible to me! =)


jenny September 27, 2010 at 10:39

We love to plop a picnic rug and a basket of books somewhere in the shade – it is the perfect space for kids to take time out and slow down outside. And can I say that the cave is perfect – I’ve never thought of actually making a cave for the bear hunt story but now it is up there in my head for future reference.


Mandy September 28, 2010 at 14:47

I don’t know a child that doesn’t like reading or listening to stories outside! The Gruffalo, Stick Man, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and the Charlie and Lola “I’m just not keen on spiders” are all top favourites with the under 5s in Aberdeenshire! I think the attraction is the balance of doing something familiar within an unusal setting. And making it cosy (in Aberdeenshire anyway)is just lovely.

Hot chocolate also goes down well too!


homeage September 29, 2010 at 21:37

I don’t think we have ever done any reading outside! Oh, dear!!

Once we have some space to sit outside and enjoy I will be deifinitely moving some of our reading outside 🙂


Christie - Childhood 101 October 4, 2010 at 13:48

What a fantastic reminder and an inspiring assortment of ideas.

Thank you for linking up to We Play.


MaryAnne October 4, 2010 at 22:48

I love the tarp setup for cold weather! I have such fond memories of my mother reading to us outside, but haven’t done it much this summer even though I did a lot last year. Thanks for the reminder!


Jackie H. October 5, 2010 at 11:48

I love the props. We’ve read books outside before but never with props! How fun! We just checked out “We’re going on a leaf hunt.” I think I’m going to set up a reading area to finish up in after we go on our leaf hunt. thanks for sharing!


keda October 11, 2010 at 02:03

Does it count if I read *my* books outside and the kids see me while they race around me on their tricycles? Seriously, Sydney, Australia has the perfect climate for reading outdoors and we do it sometimes, but not yet with props!


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