One of the main barriers educators identify when taking their lessons outdoors is resourcing. But what we THINK we need for successful outdoor lessons and what we ACTUALLY NEED are two very different resource wish lists! At Alfresco Learning we pride ourselves on offering a simple approach to curriculum based outdoor learning, one which teachers can easily implement and schools don’t need huge budgets for. To help you, we have reflected on our experience over the years of delivering the curriculum outdoors and we are sharing our ultimate list of essential resources, so you can equip your staff with the everyday items they need to take their maths, english, science, or any other area of the curriculum into your outdoor space.
This list comprises the 5 resources that can be used in any curriculum based outdoor lesson. Each lesson may have specific resources to deliver your activities but these resources are the ones we specifically use over and over again. If we were to return to the classroom we would strongly consider having them located in a ‘class box’ in our cupboards, so we are ready to head outside at any given moment!
You probably weren’t expecting this as our number one outdoor teaching resource but hear us out . . . When taking the curriculum outdoors we often use prompts, signs and images to support our children’s learning or to deliver the activity. The quickest, most efficient and eco-friendly way to set these up is to use card or paper inside plastic wallets, then use pegs and clips to attach them to your fences, bushes and trees. If you access our Outdoor Planning you will know exactly the kinds of activities we mean!
Our personal favourite is mini bulldog clips! The reason being that they are strong enough to attach paper resources and hold them tight in breezy weather but they’re not so strong, unlike some of the larger ones, that they would damage branches and leaves when attaching them to trees and bushes.
We don’t know about you, but everywhere we have worked often has a class set of clipboards. But their locations always seem to be spread across the school building, meaning it’s a real chore to gather them together before a lesson!
Having a class set of clipboards, kept together in an accessible place, is invaluable for curriculum based outdoor learning. The best clipboards are just the basic plastic boards with the clip at the top, we find the ones that have a cover can be fiddly for small hands to hold and just plain annoying in the wind!
Anyone who has had us deliver an outdoor workshop in their school will have seen the folding sit mats we use in our sessions. They are great as they enable you to gather and seat your children anywhere, freeing you from always using the same areas of your outdoor space.
There’s a variety of different sit mat options to choose from, at varying prices. Whilst we always advocate keeping resources affordable, if your school is going to invest in a class set of sit mats, this is a resource we suggest fully investing in to get the best quality. Some of the cheaper options won’t last you long and are still quite costly when purchasing a set of 30+.
Foam sit mats are nice and lightweight and easy to wipe clean but are often very tempting to pick at. Meaning their life is often short lived. Quilted sit mats are lovely and comfy, great for sitting on the grass in the summer but probably won’t hold up too well if the ground is damp underneath them. This limits when and where you can actually use them.
Our top recommendation is folding sit mats. Now these are the most expensive option, but they offer durability, easy storage (a class set fits easily into an Ikea laundry bag – see photo), they can be placed on damp surfaces and provide comfort on hard ground. When they need a clean either allow mud to dry and give them a once over with a stiff brush (a great job for little hands to build shoulder and grip strength!) or if they have been put away damp and are starting to whiff they can be put through the washing machine too!
Folding sit mats really are a great resource to have in your cupboard, our set is from Muddy Faces and have seen us through so many outdoor sessions with barely any signs of wear. Having a seated gathering space outdoors makes gathering the children’s attention super easy and being able to transport them gives you the flexibility to move between individual, paired and group work too!
There’s a range of different writing materials that are suitable for use outdoors. Did you know that when combined with card, pencils will write in pretty much any weather type? Having a range of writing options ready to take outdoors will enable your staff to make the most of spontaneous outdoor lessons. We would suggest having a large stock of playground chalk, marker pens, pencils and a few chalk pens for the teachers to use on pebbles and leaves as writing materials to use outdoors. Having the choice enables teachers to change up their activity styles, keeping things active and engaging!
Think of these as your mathematical manipulatives, art materials and touch of nature all rolled into one! Having a natural loose parts collection can help ensure that you have natural loose parts available to you all year round. If you would like to learn more about why we use them and how to build your own collection you can read our previous Natural Loose Parts blog post here.
With these resources you have the foundations you need to take most objectives outside to deliver a hands-on, active, outdoor lesson whilst covering National Curriculum objectives.
However, sometimes you can provide staff or yourself with all of the essential resources you need and still struggle to know exactly what to do with them to deliver high quality outdoor learning. Taking the curriculum outdoors takes experience and practice, so it’s easy to feel as though you’re stuck when delivering learning outdoors or struggle to feel as though you’re effectively covering curriculum objectives. If you feel yourself or your team could benefit from some more support, keep your eyes on our staff training. We are soon reopening the diary for twilight training sessions on Monday 26th April 2021, so you can book us to come and visit your school to provide you with all of the inspiration and empowerment you need to help you get your outdoor learning journey started!