The class pick up their books to complete the lesson and walk out the door. On the way, they organise themselves, hats on heads and water bottles in hands – no raincoats today, as the children have already checked the weather forecast. A first aid kit is slung over someone’s shoulder, and a few children hold iPads to capture the learning story of the day. The teacher carries additional resources and leads the class to their outdoor destination. It’s time for the lesson to begin.
This is outdoor learning.
What is outdoor learning?
Outdoor learning is influenced by the Scandinavian traditions of outdoor schooling, forest schools in the UK, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions of outdoor learning, and the ever-expanding Australian bush kinder phenomenon in the early childhood sector. There are well-documented academic and wellbeing gains for children who complete curriculum outdoor learning within the school day. Around the world, researchers have found a distinct link between time spent outdoors and the development of cognitive ability in children.
In a 2017 Australian nationwide Planet Ark survey, teachers ranked the skills they believed their students needed for the future. The top three were critical thinking and problem-solving, grit, and emotional intelligence. These skills are known to develop in outdoor environments, which can easily be accessed by schools in places such as playgrounds and local parklands. The recent inclusion of outdoor learning in the Australian Curriculum is a leap forward for future nature-based experiences within the school day. As an outdoor learning specialist, a recurring question I am asked is ‘How can I take my class outside considering the curriculum I have to cover?’
How to begin outdoor learning
Remember, it is not the content that changes but the context, so plan outdoor sessions into your regular timetable. Heading out of the classroom for lessons means using sound teaching techniques and pedagogy, with a focus on social constructivism, experiential learning, inquiry learning, and place-based learning theory. Outdoor learning lessons can include geography fieldwork, science living world observations, ephemeral arts, story play, scavenger hunts, mapping games, or environmental studies. The possibilities are as broad as the curriculum itself.
Logistically, getting organised for outdoor learning may take some planning, so approach it one step at a time. To begin with, choose the lessons that are easier to teach outside, to ease yourself into it. Initial outdoor lessons could include weather observations, botanical observations and drawings within the school grounds, or mapping of the playground. Once you are organised, schedule these lessons into your weekly timetable, and off you go.
Tips for taking your class outside each week
- ‘Outdoors’ could be your school playground or your wider local area. Any place within walking distance that little legs can travel will do. Whatever is practical for you and your students.
- Establish rules and routines to make outdoor learning fun. These can be set as games, songs or stories.
- Prepare a class ‘outdoor kit’ – a bag that is ready by the door and includes pencils, paper and a first aid kit.
- The Scandinavians say ‘there is no bad weather, only poor clothing choices’ so ensure all children have raincoats, hats and jumpers in their bags at all times.
- Be prepared for enthusiasm, and loads of it. Outdoor lessons can be a whirlwind of excitement and eager learning.
- Prepare risk assessments for your chosen sites of learning by switching your thinking to ‘what are the risk benefits?’ Begin your risk assessment by thinking: what will my children gain from being aware of the roads, wobbly logs or native animals?
- Attend some outdoor learning professional development and explore the potential of the outdoors as a site of valuable, authentic learning.
Now it’s your turn
Plan your own lesson, choose an outdoor activity and focus, and enjoy learning with your students in the outdoors.
Professional development with a natural twist
Outdoor Connections Australia offers outdoor learning professional development to primary schools in NSW, and at school staff meetings. All courses are NESA registered. For further details, please visit the Outdoor Connections website, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Amanda Lloyd
Director, Outdoor Connections
Dr Amanda Lloyd is an Australian leader in outdoor learning. She is a passionate outdoor enthusiast who began her educational career as a primary school teacher. With 17 years of experience as a classroom teacher, in leadership roles and coordinating education networks, Amanda believes strongly in educating the whole child across the academic, social, and wellbeing domains. She completed a PhD on the advantages of outdoor learning for primary school students, and has been published in the Australian Wild magazine reporting on children in nature, appeared on the ABC Catalyst program, and is a spokesperson for Planet Ark. Amanda is a director of Outdoor Connections Australia, delivering NESA registered outdoor learning professional development and facilitating nature education programs for children. Most days you’ll find Amanda outside. Look for a group of dirty, happy, laughing and engaged children playing with sticks and exploring the bush. She will be the one most covered in clay, dirt or sand.
Website: Outdoor Connections
Facebook: Outdoor Connections