Helen has written extensively on the outdoor teaching and learning environment.
Some of her publications are below. For a full lists go to this link:
Taking the First Steps Outside Under threes learning and developing in the natural environment
Bilton, Bento and Dias
Abindgon: Routledge 2017
Can one be too young to play outside? This unique and compelling book charts the experiences of a group of under-three-year-olds as they explore their natural outdoor environment, followed by caring and attentive adults. It deconstructs the myths that underestimate under threes and celebrates the importance of connecting children with the natural world and the influence of positive relationships in this early stage of life. Taking the First Steps Outside draws on all aspects of working outdoors, focusing on different steps of the project, main achievements and obstacles, implemented strategies and benefits for the development of young children. Features include:
– Stunning photographs of children exploring the outdoor environment, who are interested,
thoughtful, persistent and successful
– Detailed descriptions of real events, illustrating how the outdoor space can be an
educational context for under threes
– Insight into the role of the adult, as they observe and reflect upon children’s learning
– Advice on choosing the right resources and facilities to create a good outdoor learning
environment for the young child
– Advice about risky play and promoting challenging and positive opportunities in the
– Guidance on how to set up an outdoor project for children under three.
Written to support all teachers, students, practitioners and managers working with the under threes, this essential guide will help you to build confidence, knowledge and gain the ability to co-explore outdoors with children.
“The authors’ genuine love of the outdoors and passion for enriching the learning environment by allowing children freedom to explore the natural world is communicated throughout this book, and is what makes this such a fantastic resource. It is, arguably, essential reading for all of us who play a part in supporting the learning and development of the under threes on a daily basis”. Review for TACTYC https://tactyc.org.uk/books-reviews/ by Helen Reeve.
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Bilton, Bento and Dias
Abindgon: Routledge 2017
“An excellent bet!”
“A very interesting and inspiring book that shows the benefits of the outdoors as an environment for meaningful learning. Combining a more theoretical part with real experiences, reading is very pleasurable and solid”.
“A very interesting book”.
“This book is extremely interesting for early childhood teachers to understand the importance/benefits of playing outside, in natural environments. It is an excellent tool for early childhood teachers to get inspired in their outdoor practices. I loved the book and recommend it”.
“A book very didactic and interesting”.
“I have read this book and I think it is a very didactic. With the book we learn a lot about the importance of playing outsider and about different activities that can be developed”.
Exploring Outdoors Ages 3–11 A guide for schools
Helen Bilton and Anne Crook
Abindgon: Routledge 2016
The essential guide on how to encourage children’s learning and support their development through year-round outdoor exploration. It follows one school Chilton Primary School through an entire academic year, capturing the challenges, discoveries and joys of children and adults co-exploring outdoors together. This unique book covers all aspects of outdoor practice from setting up and maintaining an outdoor site to the support and effective communication needed to create a safe and happy environment. Features include step by step guide to setting up an outdoor site; advice on how to observe and record the learning; real case studies of children exploring from early years to the end of KS2; over 100 photographs, practical tips and ideas and eReources.
‘The great thing about this book is the way it follows a primary school throughout a whole year of outdoor exploration – it’s a far cry from the idea that the outdoors is only for fine weather. This essential guide shows how to encourage children’s learning and support their development through year-round outdoor exploration; the really importance message that comes across is how much everyone involved enjoys the activities, children and adults.’ – Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch
Outdoor learning in the early years: management and innovation. 3rd edition
Abingdon: Routledge. 2010
A complete guide to creating effective outdoor environments for young children’s learning. This book covers every aspect of working outdoors in the early years and fully explains the importance of outdoor play to children’s development.
‘This third edition of Outdoor Learning in the Early Years reaffirms the fundamental tenets that outdoor learning needs to be well-organised and managed in line with what we know about the best practices of teaching and learning; but it also extends our understanding of what best practice actually consists of … [This book] provides such a wealth of ideas that no-one could resist going outside and examining the children’s outdoor area with a critical eye! I recommend this book to all engaged in working and living with young children – parents, carers and teachers.‘ – Gifted Education International
‘Helen Bilton’s much needed and excellent book has filled a gap in the literature about outdoor play. I would recommend it as essential reading for all who work with children in the early years or make decisions about the appropriateness of settings’. – Early Education
‘Helen Bilton’s enthusiasm for her subject is evident throughout this book and it is obvious that not only is she a source of inspiration for present and future practitioners in this field, but much of her book is based on solid practical experience.’ – E-scape
‘This book is “a must read book” for any practitioners in early years education.’ –Customer Review
Playing Outside Activities, ideas and inspirations for the early years
Abingdon: Routledge. 2014
Playing Outside provides clear and detailed guidance on all aspects of outdoor play. Including over 100 full colour photographs, it practically demonstrates how you can create an environment outdoors that facilitates long-term projects for children that support their learning and development. This new edition has been fully updated with new images, case studies and ideas for resources.
‘This book by Helen is utterly readable and well researched. Playing Outside has had international impact’. Prue Walsh, Play Environment Consulting, Queensland, Australia
‘For practical activities and inspiration for your outdoor area covering all aspects of learning, get this book – it is just brilliant. The first edition was popular, and this fully revised and updated second edition has everything a practitioner could need to take learning into outdoor environments, whether you are an experienced outdoor convert, a young practitioner starting out on a career, or a student looking forward to their first placement.‘ – Martine Horvath, Early Years Educator Magazine
‘This book was incredibly informative. Fantastic examples & resources to set up engaging outdoor learning environments for young learners, whether for pre-school or Prep and older.’
Learning outdoors: improving the quality of young children’s play outdoors.
Bilton, H. (Ed), James, K., Marsh, J., Wilson, A. & Woonton, M.
London: David Fulton Publishers 2005
It is now officially acknowledged that outdoor play is extremely important for young children’s development and that a few old bikes and a climbing frame just will not do. This book shows how to develop an outdoor learning environment properly for young children and how adult supporters should behave in this space.This book offers examples of good outdoor practice in a range of early years settings. Both practical and theoretical aspects of learning outdoors are covered, tracking a shared enthusiasm for outdoor play amongst practitioners, children and parents.The book shows how the authors set about solving common problems encountered in the outdoor area, and, using photographs, plans and written observations, the book shows how stimulating outdoor learning environments can be created.
‘Great to read about other setting’s experiences. This book helped me to sort out my outdoor area and get things really working well for the children. I used lots of the ideas to help staff understand why it was important for children to go outside. We found the ideas for cheap resources brilliant’.
The type and frequency of interactions that occur between staff and children outside in Early Years Foundation Stage settings during a fixed playtime period when there are tricycles available.
European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 20 (3). pp. 403-421. ISSN 1752-1807 doi: 10.1080/1350293X.2012.704763
This study reports on an investigation into adult and child interactions observed in the outdoor play environment in four Local Authority early years foundation stage settings in England. In this instance the common two features across the settings were the presence of tricycles and a timetabled outdoor play period. In total, across the four schools, there were 204 children.
The study aimed to gain an understanding of the nature of the dialogues between staff and children, that is, the types of exchange that occurred when either the child approached an adult or the adult approached a child. The most frequent type of utterance was also analysed.
The study concludes that adults in these settings spoke more than children and the greatest type of utterance was that of the adult about domestic matters. When the child initiated the conversation there were more extended child utterances than domestic utterances. This may suggest that children wish to be involved in conversations of depth and meaning and that staff need to become aware of how to develop this conversational language with children.
The aims of early years outdoor education in England: a conceptual and empirical investigation
International Journal of Education and Social Science, 1 (3). pp. 38-50. ISSN 2410-5171
This paper explores the place of aims in the early years foundation stage outdoor environment in England. Through examining the writing of academics, various themes are identified, and constructed into possible aims. These themes/aims are compared to an empirical study of early years teachers’ attitudes. Data was collected by questionnaire from schools within the University of Reading partnership. There was general agreement between experts and teachers as to the aims. While some respondents were able to explain what the aims of outdoor activity were, a significant number were unable to identify aims; further, a significant number did not distinguish between approach/practice and aims. A lack of understanding and agreement as to what the aims are may indicate teachers are unsure about the purpose of outdoor education for young children. A result of this study is to agree and make explicit the aims for outdoor education in the early years.
What is outside? The early years foundation stage in England: outdoor facilities, organisation and staff attitudes.
American Journal of Educational Research , 2 (10). pp. 942-949. ISSN 2327-6126 doi: 10.12691/education-2-10-14.
The purpose of this paper is to report on the facilities available, organisation of, and staff attitudes to early years outdoor education from schools within the south east of England, focusing on provision for children aged three to five. One component of the successful education of the child involves providing an ‘environment for learning’, including the facilities, layout and routines. This paper presents findings concerning the type and variety of facilities available outside; the various styles of organisation of the space; staff attitudes about: their roles, their aims for the environment, children’s behaviour and learning, and perceived drawbacks to practice. This paper draws on empirical data collected from schools within the University of Reading partnership. The findings suggest that although all early years settings must adhere to the statutory framework there are a range of facilities available, and there are a number of ways this environment is organised. Further there appears to be uncertainty about the adult role outside and the aims for activities. The conclusions drawn indicate that staff do not appear to be linking their aims for outdoor education to the facilities provided or to their actions outside. This means there is not a clear link between what staff provide outside and the declared ambitions for learning. This study is important as all educators need to be certain about their aims for education to ensure best outcomes for children. The implications of these findings for early years teachers are that they need to be able to articulate their aims for outdoor education and to provide the correct facilities to achieve these aims. Finally this study was undertaken to raise debate, posit questions and to ascertain the parameters for further research about the early years outdoor environment.
The nursery class garden ‐‐ problems associated with working in the outdoor environment and their possible solutions
Early Child Development and Care Vol. 93 , Iss. 1, 1993
All nurseries have a space outside the classroom, whether it be called the garden, outdoor area, playground or yard. A newly established nursery will be expected to provide a fenced area next the classroom. Nursery gardens may vary in size and layout. Some have tarmac, some grass, some have both. Some have a big fence, others a low one. Toys and equipment will be provided to use in this area. Early years practitioners view the garden as central to children’s learning. But actually how are these gardens different and does this affect the work within the area? What actually has to be considered when setting up the garden area? What do the staff perceive as its function and the problems associated with using this environment? Are these problems surmountable? This paper sets out to explore these issues, focusing on three nursery classes in Berkshire. The conclusions drawn, suggest that there are many practical issues which have to be addressed for a nursery environment to be effective. That at the planning and design stage much more consideration needs to be given to the garden; that actually having the garden available throughout a session will alleviate many of the problems raised; and that the teacher attitude to and appreciation of the garden, is crucial to its success.
The nursery class garden: designing and building an outdoor environment for young children.
Early Years, 14(2), 34-7, 1994
This paper charts the creation of a new early years outdoor area attached to a rural infant school and shares the problems and issues around build, design and layout, which are found to be typical for any space. These include parental access, the weather, the layout, zones for learning and the presence of fixed equipment. The paper concludes that careful consideration should be given at the design and siting stage of an outdoor area so that problems are not created which are unrectifiable at a later stage.
Under fives in compulsory schooling, 1908 and 1988. How far have we come?
Early Child Development and Care Vol. 91 , Iss. 1,1993
Since the Education Act of 1870 it has been compulsory for children to start attending school after their fifth birthday. However, there have always been children below the age of five in lesser and greater numbers attending school. This paper examines the conditions for under fives in school, both at the beginning of the century and in 1988 and compares the findings and recommendations of Government Reports. Significant is the similarity of conditions, findings and recommendations from 1908 and 1988 and a consensus as to the needs of children aged three and four. At both times nursery education is put forward as the most appropriate form of education for under fives. Given this consensus of opinion it is suggested that compulsory nursery education for four year olds is necessary.
Morning and afternoon sessions in the nursery, do they have equal status? With particular reference to storytime
International Journal of Early Years Education Vol. 2 , Iss. 2,1994
The majority of state nursery education in the United Kingdom is part‐time. Although there are exceptions this usually means that children attend either in the morning or afternoon. The format of the afternoon session can often resemble the morning session, offering similar activities. This paper sets out to examine the comparative quality of experience for children attending part‐time nursery at different times of the day. It looks particularly at storytime, when the whole group of children is brought together to share a story. The findings suggest the two sessions are not of equal value to the children, that children may not be performing as well in the afternoon and that the traditional group storytime may not be as effective for the afternoon children. This type of storytime may need to be adapted/changed to match the needs of the particular group of children, taking into consideration performance during the day. Finally, suggestions are given for other ways to ensure children have worthwhile story experiences.