How to introduce your class to outdoor learning


During this time of lockdown, lots of us have taken a moment to reflect on our day to day lives & routines. Now with the return to school pulled back into our view, many teachers are thinking ahead to how they want their ‘new normal’ teaching practice to look. Whilst we can’t advise on best practice, as we’re not experts in returning to school during a pandemic, outdoor learning may well be an approach to consider. After all the Scottish Government is eyeing it up as a model for reopening . .

Providing more opportunities for outdoor learning might also be the key for an improved education overall. It’s proven that spending more time outdoors, interacting with nature, benefits both children and teachers in terms of mental health & wellbeing. An area that is going to have a much needed focus in the coming months. Plus being outdoors actually improves children’s ability to learn; it’s proven that spending time in nature increases the function of working memory and reduces inattentiveness. 

If an increase of wellbeing support combined with the potential for accelerated academic learning appeals to you, then read on for our tips to help introduce whole classes to productive outdoor learning.

To support you further we are also offering online training which covers the theory & benefits of outdoor learning in more depth, advises you around safety in your outdoor space, and prepares you for managing changeable weather. All videos come with an interactive handbook and will enable you to become an effective outdoor practitioner. Click the link below to find out more!

Online training

Why introducing your class to the outdoor environment is key to successful outdoor learning

If your aim is to teach effective curriculum-based lessons outdoors, then just like being in the classroom, you must first establish the behaviours conducive to learning. This is especially important if your children only associate the outdoor spaces with lunch and break times.

By taking them outside for a couple of short burst focused activities first, you will send the message that learning time outside is focused and requires their full attention. Once you’ve established this, outdoor learning becomes smooth and flowing. The environment demands activities that are practical and hands-on; a learning style that suits children of all abilities, meaning children will naturally want to engage and learn! Read on for 3 simple games to play with your class outdoors to establish these learning behaviours.

Hide me, find me

For this game you will need to go into your outdoor space first without the class, and hide a series of objects. This game works really well with small world items such as animals and people. Once you’ve brought the class outside, set the children off in pairs in a designated space to explore and find the hidden objects. Explain how many items each pair are to find to give everyone a fair chance to join in. The last few may need a bit of help from other pairs to find their figures and animals as it can be challenging to locate the last few!

This short burst activity could easily be linked into your classroom lesson. You could use the objects as apparatus in a maths lesson. If you’ve used small world figures, link them to a class story. Or if you’re short on objects to hide and it’s a still day, you could hide slips of paper with phonics sounds or anything else linking to your classroom learning. Allowing you to flow effortlessly back into the classroom when you’ve finished your hunt.

Senses game

For this game, have a single object to hide, again this may work well with an animal or human figure. Have one child go to hide the object in your designated outdoor space, whilst the rest of the class covers their eyes. The child who hid the object then gives clues about the hiding space whilst the class listens. The child must imagine they are the hidden object and describe what the object can see, hear, feel, taste & smell whilst in the hidden space.

This is a great game to slip into a descriptive writing lesson. Just be sure to encourage the child not to stare directly at the hidden object whilst describing it’s hiding space (this is harder than it sounds!) Once the child has gone through all of the senses, the rest of the class must use the description to help them locate the object. The child who finds it first goes on to hide it next.

Adaptations of tig

Tig is a brilliant playground game that you can use to adapt to almost any topic of learning. Playing this adapted game outdoors with your class will ensure that they’ve developed the listening skills and understanding required to turn their attention back on you after doing activities which involve lots of movement outdoors. To adapt the game you simply need to replace the three elements: the role of the person who is chasing, what happens when tug and the role of the person who frees them. 

For example, if learning about predators and prey; the chasers become hedgehogs whilst everyone else becomes snails, when tug the snails have to curl up into their shell, to free them a lettuce leaf needs to tempt them back out of their shell. Or for the Great Fire of London; the chasers become the fire, when tug the rest become burning buildings(flailing arms around crying ‘help!’), the fire service free the burning buildings by throwing an imaginary bucket of water on them.

Free guide

If you like the sound of these games and would like to use them to establish outdoor learning behaviours with your own class you can download our free printable guide available here, which includes a bonus boundary game too.

Once you’ve established the right behaviours for learning outdoors, taking lessons outside becomes much easier. These short burst activities can easily be included in classroom lessons, helping you to build trust in your class and helping children understand that the outdoors has more of a purpose than lunch & break time. 

That being said it is important to ensure you have the correct safety measures in place, such as including boundaries for the children and risk assessments before taking up outdoor learning. You can find support for all of this and more in our new online training videos.

Our introductory series is made up of three modules to enable you to get outdoors for curriculum-based outdoor learning. Click the link below to view them and find out more!

Online training

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