When March ushers in greenery, spring-time, fresh air, and warmer weather, our students can start to get antsy. Not only are they excited for the sunshine and spring break coming soon, but they are chomping at the bit to enjoy the great outdoors. Students should not just be limited to enjoying nature when they’re at recess. We, as teachers, can enjoy it with them too during instructional time, which allows them to be outside for longer periods throughout the day. With this, I wanted to share 8 ways to learn outdoors this spring.
I must admit that I have not always been a “bring your class outside” or “learn outdoors” kind of teacher. I love my cozy classroom, and I love that all of their books and my materials are right at our grasp. When you bring your class outside to learn outdoors, it takes thought, premeditation, and a couple of extra minutes to gather everything together and head out. Yet, when Covid hit, I switched schools, and my new administration had the idea of erecting tents and buying every student a yoga mat to enjoy lessons in the great outdoors, so kiddos could go mask-free and enjoy some fresh air. Diving headfirst into teaching classes outdoors due to Covid, I became a “bring your class outside” or “learn outdoors” kind of teacher.
According to a research study completed by the University of Wisconsin, “Learning outdoors is healthy. Learning outdoors is active and increases students’ physical, mental and social health. Some studies have even shown follow-up (e.g., non-school) physical activity increases with outdoor learning. Access to nature has also been shown to decrease the symptoms of ADHD. Outdoor learning and access to nature also decrease the stress levels of students and teachers.”
The study goes on to say that students even have a better academic performance by learning outdoors as shown through higher test scores. Learning outdoors, according to the research, affects students’ in-class behavior, as well as their attitudes become more positive. They are happier when they get back inside the school building if they’re outside for longer periods of time. Even just the change in environment correlates to happier students.
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Completely-outdoor daycare centers exist in Sweden. Can you imagine? The students eat, play, learn, and even nap outside. Outdoor daycare facilitators in Sweden find children more engaged, happier, and calmer. Their motto is to co-exist with the weather and outdoors.
I am not saying you have to go to this extreme, and you don’t have to teach in a yurt for you and your students to experience outdoor education; however, you can start soon, incorporating nature bit-by-bit into your lessons. We have put together a list of 8 ways you can start utilizing learning outdoors for your lessons on the next day your region has nice weather!
1. Read Outside
Load up your kiddos, their short stories, or novels, or the read-aloud you’re going through and enjoy the sunshine and warm breeze. Our school uses yoga mats, but if your school has picnic tables, use them. You could even ask parents to send in one yoga mat per child if you would like to try that out. Use your sidewalk, or have students perch on curbs. Reading outside is tons of fun and even relaxing. My students always seem calmer after reading outside.
2. Use Sidewalk Chalk
Have students write their spelling words or math facts using chalk on the sidewalk. Students can write down their vocabulary words and definitions. What a memorable, yet simple lesson it would be for your kiddos.
3. Perform Experiments
Science teachers could really utilize the great outdoors to perform experiments and complete lab activities. It makes for easy clean-up and the students can get as loud as they want. When I was a science camp teacher, we went outside to play a relay race in which the campers pretended they were salmon swimming upstream.
We also went outside to put pizza box solar ovens to the test to cook s’mores. We measured the length of sharks outside using rolls of yarn. When I taught elementary school, we planted terrariums outside and with the extra soil, we threw onto the grass. We did the old diet coke and Mentos experiment on the lawn of the school. One of the fondest memories I have of being a sixth grader myself was when my awesome science teacher started a garden. Working every day for a little bit in our vegetable garden was so much fun. If there’s any chance you can incorporate science with learning outdoors, go for it!
4. Write Outside
Writing outside can be so therapeutic. In spring, since April is National Poetry Month, I like to take my students outside to observe nature, and then they write spring poems. I also love to do nature walks in which students write down what they observe in the fall and then they turn their findings into a descriptive essay. You can most definitely do that in the spring too! (Read all about how I did that in the blog here.)
5. Play Educational Games Outside
The spelling game Sparkles, the math games Around-the-World, or Buzz! can all be played outside. Students can complete relay races in which they must spell a word correctly before they go back to their line and tag their partner. If you have a basketball court, students can play “Horse,” using spelling words. They can play vocabulary basketball. Taking your students outside for a game promotes student buy-in and gets them excited to learn.
6. Scavenger Hunts
Scavenger hunts are a fun way to incorporate the great outdoors into your curriculum. Students can have a pre-set list that they are looking for outside, such as different items they’re learning in science. Then they must expand by writing details about them on their scavenger hunt sheets. If you’re assigning a nature walk outside for a descriptive writing assignment, a pre-made checklist of items they must incorporate can help guide their observations and writing.
Check out our freebie right here to do just this!
7. Collect Nature
From collecting leaves for leaf rubbings that you can then turn into descriptive paragraphs to collecting rocks during a rock unit, getting outside and gathering natural materials can make learning hands-on. Some other ideas are to collect flowers and write poems about them during April’s National Poetry Month. Collect twigs to create a STEM project. I’ve even seen a colleague have students use only natural, outside materials to make a cushioning for an egg drop experiment. Think outside the box to see how you could incorporate nature into any lesson you teach in order to learn outdoors.
8. A Rain Walk
If you study weather, getting outside to observe the clouds, sunshine, or even the rain is exciting. Have students bring in one umbrella ahead of time, and on a particularly rainy, (not stormy) day, take your class outside to experience the rain. When I was a summer camp teacher in college, one of my campers’ favorite activities was to do a rain walk. Observe the bugs and the leaves as the rain pitters patters down. Have students hop in some puddles. Sometimes, we get so caught up in technology, we tend to keep our students inside and sheltered. Yet, they really thrive and come to life outside, even if they get a little wet from some rain.
Educational Books for More Ideas
Would you like to explore this concept even further? We found the perfect book to help you along this path, The Big Book of Nature Activities.
Get out! Seasonal activities, information, stories, games and observations to foster engagement with the natural world. The Big Book of Nature Activities is a comprehensive guide for parents and educators to help youth of all ages explore, appreciate and connect with the natural world. This rich, fully illustrated compendium is is packed with crafts, stories, information and inspiration to make outdoor learning fun! Perfect for families, educators, and youth leaders wanting to help children connect with nature!
With the great outdoors being right at your fingertips, explore the idea of taking your class out in nature. You can utilize an outdoor classroom for a variety of subjects, from reading, spelling, science, and even math. Your students’ mental health, academic performance, behavior, and attitude will be positively affected, and your mood will lift as well. I encourage you to look at your region’s weather, along with your lesson plans to see how you could incorporate ways to learn outdoors into your instruction.