Teachers often find that class time spent outdoors can be a benefit to students and an aid to authentic learning. The fresh air, the change of scenery and the space to spread out is worth the extra effort of taking a group of kids out of the building. Students can be inspired for a language arts project, have the room to envision spatial concepts or later recall a scientific theory with greater ease.
Mindy Adkins, a 5th grade teacher from Upper Arlington City Schools in Columbus, Ohio takes her students outside often. The class completes computational problems using sidewalk chalk and looks for examples of geometric patterns and shapes. Adkins also has students pace out the approximate distance between planets to visualize the size of our solar system.
Before you take your class outside, here are some important tips to remember:
Find good spots around the school campus ahead of time for various activities. Science observation could take place under trees while math exploration might work best on the open areas of the playground. Determine if noise or activity would be a distraction for inside classes with windows.
Prepare the curriculum
Taryn Fuller, a 5th grade teacher at the rural Jonathan Alder School District, takes her students outside the second or third day of a topic she’s already explicitly taught them so they can go outside to experience it first hand.
Set clear ground rules
Students need to know what behavior is acceptable – and unacceptable — for outside learning. Use a trip outdoors as a reward for good behavior inside.
Make sure everyone has used the restroom before heading outside, and encourage students ahead of time to bring a water bottle along to avoid unnecessary trips inside. Check the weather forecast before planning outdoor learning. And bring extra pencils or other materials, as these have a way of disappearing when students are on the move.
Use local resources
The outdoors provides an instant lab for working on science or math problems. Consider a field trip to a local nature park to learn about biology, and see if the naturalist can lead a class. Parents are also a great resource to help with outdoor learning.
Don’t limit yourself
Outdoor learning can focus on more subjects than science or math. Hold reading groups outside, and have students read silently, or read aloud together. Students can individually make observations and later write poetry or a fictional story about things they’ve seen.
If you have any hesitation about taking the class outside, just remind yourself of this: thanks to the lure of computers and video games, kids just don’t get outside the way they used to, says the National Education Association. Taking your students outside helps them connect with nature – while unplugging their minds from technology.