Literacy and Outdoor Play


I have a friend who is a primary school teacher in a fairly typical inner city school. In fact, she is not just a teacher, but also head of literacy, despite only having been a teacher for three years. She is passionate about engaging kids with books and that just shines through when you talk to her.

A few months ago, we were chatting about the importance of reading to kids. She told me about reading the Gruffalo with one of her classes. She hadn’t got past the first page when one of the kids interrupted. To ask why it was dark in the forest. None of the other kids could work it out either.

Why? Because these are kids who have never played in a wood.

They don’t know that trees block out light to make forests dark. They have no personal experience to fit these stories into.

I don’t think anyone would deny that learning to read is important. But my friend’s experience shows that outdoor play is a key part of fostering a love of books. Kids need to experience the physical world in order to let the imaginative world of literature take shape. To learn that trees cast shadows. To learn that grass swashes and mud squelches (especially when hunting bears).

It works the other way too. Books can provide a framework for creative outdoor play. Tom and I have hunted bears (well…ok… multicoloured plastic crabs) on the Walthamstow Marshes and enjoyed windy day play with Carol Thompson’s Wind

Experiencing firsthand the wonders of nature is integral to encouraging literacy in kids. And vice versa. Plus, who can argue with a love of books and a love of nature as worthy things to nurture in our kids?


Windy Day Play

The rain may have cleared, but Sunday was still pretty grey. When we went to the park in the morning, the wind was blowing so strongly that it actually knocked Tom over a couple of times.

Clearly there was nothing to do but to embrace the wind and turn it into our play theme for the day. Whilst Tom napped, I scoured the house for some suitable equipment. I gathered together some ribbons, a light silky scarf, some bubble mix we got given as a favour at a recent friend’s wedding, and Wind by Carol Thompson, a book we were given free at Tom’s one year review (I love it. Mr Techno…doesn’t). I attached one of the ribbons to a kitchen spoon with some sticky tape, with the idea that this might make it easier for Tom to hold.


When he woke, we headed out to find a suitably exposed spot on the Marshes (and a fairly quiet one – the fewer people who witness me dancing around with ribbons the better!)

We quickly discovered two flaws with the plan: 1) Tom is still too little to be able to hold the ribbons high enough for the wind to blow them, and 2) Trying to take photos whilst simultaneously waving ribbons in the wind is damn near impossible. After a bit of tickling Tom with the ribbons, we gave up with them and attached them to the buggy instead, where they blew around merrily every time a gust caught them up.



The scarf was more successful. Tom loves the parachute game that is sometimes played at toddler groups, so this was a good variation to do with just the two of us. He giggled happily as the scarf flew out in the wind and came down to settle over his head.

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The big success of the day was the bubbles. Tom loves them when we play at home, but the wind sent bubbles speeding off in all directions, making him whoop with excitement. Sadly he hasn’t quite worked out how to blow them himself yet, but it is only a matter of time.


Tom then found the book in the bottom of the buggy, so we settled down in the grass for a read, the wind providing fitting accompaniment to the sound effects in the book. We tossed handfuls of leaves into the air as we read, illustrating the ‘rustling’ and ‘snatching’.



Mixed success with the materials, but I can see us repeating this again on windy days. The ribbons may have to wait until he’s a bit older though!

Do you have any top tips for windy day activities for our next adventure?

Monkey and Mouse


We’re going on a…crab hunt?

The book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, was one of my family’s favourites growing up. We had the CD, which we used to play in the car on long journeys, and even as adults my siblings and I will recite parts of it.

I love it as a parent as well. It has a great rhythm for reading out loud, is a good length, and best of all, it introduces lots of different environments, complete with sound effects.

So when Tom woke up unnecessarily early from his afternoon nap on Saturday, I decided to make use of our extra time and take him on a bear hunt*.

We set off with Tom on the buggy, teddy in tow for hunting.


Unfortunately, Tom had other ideas, preferring to ‘hunt’ a plastic crab rattle he had found in the bottom of the buggy. So our bear hunt turned into a crab hunt.


We hunted crabs in the long, wavy grass.


And by a deep, cold river (ok, so we didn’t go in. It’s October!)



Lack of rain meant no mud could be found, so we had to settle for some dirt at the foot of this tree.


But we did discover a big, dark forest.



It’s a little early in the year for snowstorms, and the closest thing we could find to a cave was the underpass under Lee Bridge Road. No way was I letting Tom out of the buggy there! All in all though, we had a great time, put the book into a real life context, and explored areas I wouldn’t usually head for. And of course we read the book when we got home.

*Although I had thought of doing this before, I also spotted this fantastic post on things to do outdoors in the autumn, which helped to inspire me:

Life Unexpected