Something awesome is happening at my school right now. The parent fundraising committee is raising money for an outdoor classroom!! They hope to have enough money for benches, picnic tables, and even a learning gazebo! I’m so excited about this addition to our school, and I absolutely LOVE combining enriching learning ideas with the outdoors.
I want to spread that joy, so this fun shakeup has inspired me to share some of my favorite ideas that can help you easily move outdoors, even if you don’t have a perfect designated outdoor learning space (yet).
There are tons of benefits to getting out in nature whenever we can— and I hope you’ll use some of these ideas, or that they will spark some new creative ways to customize outdoor learning to your class!
The Benefits of Outdoor Learning
Fresh air makes a world of difference. I immediately feel calmer when I go outside in nature. And the fact is, the outdoors give an amazing mental health boost to both students and teachers alike.
During the height of the pandemic, many schools turned to the outdoors to stay safe. It was a great move that goes far beyond getting creative with social distancing! Experts have found that, for kids, being outdoors actually increases focus and self-regulation— meaning not only do students FEEL better, but they have fewer behavior problems and more positive social interactions.
You may already know the statistics about how important recess and outdoor free time is for child development and problem-solving skills, but did you know that we can build some lifelong beneficial academic skills through enriching outdoor experiences? There are lots of great ways to hit those learning targets outside with your students.
Bringing in Outdoor Learning Activities Across the Curriculum
Being outdoors increases children’s attachment to their environment. This is great news across the board. Students can build prior knowledge and explore their world through science concepts, unleash the creative writing process by letting nature become their inspiration, and even recognize real-world geography and landform concepts. You can also integrate walking field trips to share outdoor experiences across the curriculum, and find nature apps to help kids identify, learn about, and protect local plants and wildlife. With a little out-of-the-box thinking, your outdoor learning options are practically limitless.
Take Your Students Outside On the Fly
Our school is making a big investment in an outdoor learning space, but we all know teachers are used to doing more with less! So if you are enjoying the nice weather and just itching to get outside, feel free to keep it simple!
- 5 -gallon buckets or milk crates to carry supplies AND flip over for individual seating.
- Sidewalk chalk for writing and art experiences
- Clipboards to take the place of table tops
- Use nature itself to take the lead in sensory, scientific, and mathematic learning
There are a ton of things you’re likely already doing in your classroom right now that can easily be done outside like:
- Classroom Meetings and Social Games
- Partner Work
- Scavenger Hunts
- Sensory and Dramatic Play
- Science Stations
- Art Activities
- Writing, Math, and Science Journals
- Gallery Walks
- Music Education
- Gathering and Grouping Activities
And so much more!
Teaching Outside with Your Local Climate in Mind
When it comes to outdoor learning, you may need to do a little planning ahead to make sure students are prepared for the weather. In a perfect world, every day would be mild with a good deal of sunshine and shade. But that’s probably not realistic for where you live. If you’re bringing kids out in the heat, have a plan for hydration, and familiarize yourself with what your options are for shade. Look for natural opportunities like mature trees and the walls of structures. You can also create temporary shade using things like umbrellas, canopies, and tents.
For wet and/or cold weather, it’s all about the clothing. Not all children have access to appropriate outerwear, so you may need to look into creative ways to ensure everybody can stay reasonably warm and dry.
To Make the Most of Outdoor Learning, Preparation is Key
Whether you’re preparing students for weather, or setting up routines and structures for your outdoor learning time, you’ll want to frontload your students with what to expect from this learning experience, and set your own expectations for how to make the most of your time outdoors. This ensures that down the road, even if you decide to head outside on the fly, you and your students are well-equipped to make the most of it!
Not sure where to start? I’ve got a few fun activities that are easy to bring outdoors. Just grab your clipboards and go!
Inspire your students by getting them writing in nature with these