Teaching Strategies to Bring Students Outside
By Gwyneth Manser and Anna Murphy, Rubicon International
Whether it is the chance to soak up some much-needed Vitamin D from the sun, offer squirmy students a chance to move outside the classroom, or the desire to take your unit to the next level, bringing class outside is something students and teachers alike can enjoy and revel in together. And, opportunities for outdoor classroom activities abound across subject areas.
Where’s Waldo Wilderness?
Journeying outdoors does not require long, expensive field trips; instead, you can do activities such as leading a twenty-minute walk on school grounds or in a local neighborhood whether in the city, suburbs, or country!
Outdoor instruction can include learning activities and assessments or serve as a focal point for overarching essential questions or enduring understandings. Whether larger or small, incorporating outdoors instruction is a way to engage students in curriculum by adding innovation, creativity, and fun to learning. At the same time, teachers can appreciate the opportunity to step outside the classroom and interact with students in new environments.
Taking students out of their normal environment forces them to adapt. By bringing students outside to do an activity, you open up the door (literally and figuratively) for new conversations and interactions. In this blog, we will break down the reasons WHY you should bring class outside and HOW you can do it for any curricular area. Grab your compass and your trail boots because we’re about to go on an adventure!
Four Reasons to Bring Students Outside
1. POSITIVE ENVIRONMENTAL ATTITUDES
Outdoor instruction can improve student’s attitudes towards the environment. While having a positive attitude about the environment may not seem important, environmental literacy is a key skill for 21st century learners. A love and respect for the environment can also foster a wide variety of careers, in fields as diverse as geography, education, and science.
Looking for ways to connect outdoor instruction to the standards? Many states have their own environmental literacy standards, and resources like the The Cloud Institute’s Education for Sustainability Standards and Performance Indicators are also a great way to teach students about the importance of the environment.
Try this: If you have lots of extra space, planting a school or classroom garden can be an invaluable activity to teaching students about a wide range of topics. From geometry and storytelling to teaching about nutrition, crop rotation, and plant families, the possibilities are endless.
2. CONFIDENCE BUILDING
Going outside and having students explore their environment—whether it’s in the city or the country—can be a powerful way to build their self-confidence. Some students that struggle in the classroom may be more confident in the more hands-on setting of the outdoors.
For girls, outdoor instruction can be an especially powerful way to improve self-confidence, body image, and self-knowledge.
Try this: Have students go on a blindfolded sensory discovery walk outside. This activity will teach them about trust, their senses, and their local environment.
3. IMPROVED HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Getting kids moving outside is a great way to improve their health and wellness. Even a mere fifteen minutes outside can boost student’s Vitamin D levels, and being active outdoors can help students get fit while learning to make physical activity a part of their daily routine.
Try this: Tie your outdoor unit directly to health! Have students go outside and get moving in order to learn about anatomy, health, and wellness. Even if the lesson plan isn’t directly tied to outdoor instruction, giving students more space to move around and explore the ways their bodies work can be a great way to engage them with the lesson in a new and exciting way.
4. DECREASED STRESS
Ecopychology studies the relationship between humans and the natural world, and many studies have found that being in nature (and even just looking at nature!) can help reduce stress, promote healing, and improve mental health. This is just one reason why outdoor activities such as hiking and biking are so helpful for reducing stress.
Try this: Being outside can be a good stress release for both older and younger students. Looking to get students to relax while also teaching them something? Bridge art and science by taking students outside to draw a natural object of their choosing. Not only is this activity educational and relaxing; it’s also a great way to talk about scale, stippling, and other hallmarks of scientific drawings.
Learn from and connect with fellow educators about the innovative teaching strategies they are using in their classroom.
Outdoor Activities for Different Subjects
English Language Arts
At the end of a unit on poetry or literature, set aside a class period to host a descriptive writing session in a park or other green space. Wander outside with students with pen and notebook in hand. Encourage students to use their five senses to shape a composition, and foster a discussion on the importance of nature in literature. Feel free to prompt students with a theme, or let the ideas flow freely!
A game of predator-prey tag is educational and memorable for younger children, and can also spark new friendships and conversations. You can make the game more educational by having students use animals they see in their everyday lives. For older students, it can be enlightening to bring an ecology or biology lesson closer to home. Working together in groups, have students go outside and find an organism (such as a pigeon or butterfly) for which they can construct a complex food web. Then, have them compare food-webs to find connections between their different organisms.
One way to incorporate outdoor instruction into the math classroom is by having students gather sticks and other natural items in order to teach a unit on angles, symmetry, or shapes. Instruct students to represent different angle types or polygons, or to use sticks to illustrate reflective or rotational symmetry. Allowing students participate in these kinds of activities offers them a tangible, hands-on way to experience math.
Go to a local park and introduce students to its unique history. Use this trip to host a discussion on the role and importance of green spaces in community planning (this could be a good place to bring up Fredrick Olmsted!), or how natural areas can serve as monuments.
Journey around the school campus or local neighborhood and collect pinecones, leaves, and flowers. Use these items to create a natural art piece, or paint a still life from them. Through this, students grasp that nature can serve not only as an inspiration for art but also a medium for creating it. You can also make art out of recycled materials at your school, which is a great way to engage students with sustainability issues in the art classroom!
Venture outside the gym for a nature walk, and introduce students to creative ways to be active. Set up a ropes course in a local forest or park for your students. This is a great way to really engage students in their surroundings and encourage team building.
The outdoors present ample opportunities to enhance student learning across multiple subject areas. Incorporating outdoor activities into curriculum allows students to engage in hands-on activity in new environments. Hopefully these ideas can help you incorporate outdoor instruction into your instruction!
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