I caught myself peering outside of my classroom window a little too long this past week. There’s nothing quite like being greeted by the sweet signs of spring after a dull and dreary winter. I wanted to be out there, free from the confines of my classroom walls. I knew I wasn’t alone in this sentiment. My students were right there with me. Can you blame us?
This got me thinking back to my most memorable learning experiences as a child. I remember hands-on field trips, planting trees in our schoolyard on Arbor Day, having an egg drop competition off of the roof of the building, creating a diagram (and tasting) the honeysuckle plants in the woods nearby, laying in the grass while drawing cumulus clouds, going on a fall scavenger hunt, etc. The majority of the activities that remain etched in my mind did not take place behind a desk.
With increasing city-wide/state pressures and our growing dependence on technology, these types of authentic learning experiences are becoming more of a rarity in schools. However, this type of learning can be of immeasurable value to students. Not only does it give them the chance to move and learn simultaneously, but it also reduces stress, increases motivation, and taps into their natural curiosity of the world. Plus, it’s just FUN!
Prior to takin’ it outside, here are 3 key guidelines to consider.
1) Outdoor Norms: Students need to understand that outdoor learning does not mean recess. Just as classroom rules/procedures have to be put in place at the beginning of the school year, outdoor norms must be set into motion as well. Facilitate a discussion and/or create a chart outlining the rules that will make outdoor learning successful. Here are some of the outdoor norms we follow in my class:
- We walk.
- We stay together.
- We keep our eyes on learning.
- Nature stays in nature.
- We take care of our tools.
2) Accountability Piece: How will you know that your students grasped the content? Be sure every outdoor activity has some sort of an accountability piece such as a chart, graph, illustration, diagram, graphic organizer, slate activity, etc. This will provide you with helpful assessment data and will make the students feel personally invested and responsible for their learning.
3) Successful Setting: Prior to going outside for a lesson, anticipate what distractions may be present and plan accordingly. Avoid the playground area, P.E. classes, buggy spots, etc. Will students need to sit while working? If so, where can they do so comfortably? Will the lesson work better in a shaded or sunny area? Are students wearing appropriate clothing? Have they used the restroom recently? Thinking about these types of details will minimize distractions and maximize learning time while outside.
There are countless ways to meet the needs of the curriculum while using the outdoor setting. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Do an outdoor read-aloud, using a retelling beach ball or comprehension cube for review.
- Bring book boxes/carpet squares outside and have students independently read or buddy read.
- Allow independent writing time in their writer’s notebooks.
- Pick something to observe in nature and draw/write about it.
- Practice writing letters, sight words, parts of speech, prefixes/suffixes, etc. with sidewalk chalk.
- Write “I Spy” sentences.
- Bring out one chair for outdoor Author’s Chair.
- Practice/perform a readers’ theater skit.
- Create a relay race that incorporates counting.
- Practice math facts/skills with sidewalk chalk.
- Measure/weigh/record items in nature.
- Count by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s while jump roping.
- Draw shapes, patterns, and symmetrical objects observed on a nature walk.
- Create number stories based on the outdoor scenery.
- Graph/chart items in nature.
- Go on a seasonal scavenger hunt.
- Observe a tree through the various seasons.
- Predict weather.
- Observe an animal in its natural habitat.
- Draw a plant diagram.
- Observe items in nature with a magnifying glass.
- Describe items in nature using the five senses.
- Create a list of living vs. non-living things.
- Map the schoolyard or playground.
- Reenact a historical event.
- Go on a treasure hunt while reinforcing cardinal directions.
- Pick up litter while discussing the 3 R’s.
If you have any other ideas to add, please do so below! I’d love to have a few more fresh ideas for my own use. Thanks!