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5 tips to introduce outdoor learning at school

By Atom | Jun 21, 2023, 8:40 AM

Outdoor learning


The summer term is now in session. So, why not allow your pupils to experience learning in a different format?

Creating an outdoor classroom is a fantastic way to increase pupil motivation, develop problem-solving, and improve social skills.

At Atom, we have devised five top tips to introduce outdoor learning to your curriculum. Teach the same subjects, with a twist.

1. Train your pupils for outdoor education

With different terrain comes different responsibilities.

Many pupils will not be familiar with the concept of an outdoor classroom. It is crucial to establish boundaries in both a behavioural and geographical sense.

You could start by mapping out an appropriate ‘discovery area’ that pupils can explore. You may even want to practice with short weekly outdoor sessions to build confidence. Practice could involve

  • Lining up sensibly

  • Ensuring that ‘outdoor checklists’ are complete (more on this later)

  • Walking through the school grounds to the designated ‘discovery area’

  • Setting out equipment appropriately for learning outdoors

  • Exploring routes to toilets and hand-washing stations

  • Basic protocol in case something goes wrong, if someone gets too hot, too cold, or hurts themselves

Another crucial aspect of outdoor learning is risk assessments.

Outdoor lesson plans will need to include your school-approved risk assessment. It might also be a good idea to involve your pupils in this discussion. They can mind-map hazards within the local area and ways to make their outdoor environment as safe as possible.

Ensure that all pupils are clear on teacher expectations. This will lead to effective, creative learning outside the classroom.

2. Equipping your pupils for learning outdoors

‘Miss, I forgot my coat, hat and water bottle, can I go and get them please?’

A classic mistake with outdoor learning is to usher your pupils out the door without preparation time. It is crucial that time spent in nature also forms meaningful learning.

Have your worksheets stuck into books prior to leaving the four walls of the classroom (you don't want paper flying everywhere!). You could even assign outdoor monitors to help transport resources. Metre ruler monitors and mini-whiteboard monitors can be responsible for safe delivery outside.

Learning in the great outdoors can become disrupted if not planned well. Combining initial training with an outdoor checklist means both the teacher and the learner will have all the tools to succeed.

3. Connect classroom theories

Arguably the most important element of outdoor learning is bringing subjects to life, creating deeper pupil understanding.

Primary years are a great time to create deeper pupil understanding through alternative learning techniques. Stepping outdoors is not only good for physical well-being, but it is also good for your brain!

There are huge benefits to be had across the entire curriculum when learning outdoors:

English: Explore similes and metaphors with a supervised blindfold activity

Pair your pupils up and have one guide the other to different corners of the discovery area. Their heightened sense of touch can help refine their descriptions.

This bark is as rough as…

The sun is warm on my skin like…

Maths: Introduce estimating in non-standard units

A great way to show the practical application of a mathematical skill outside the classroom:

How many leaves are on this tree?

How many blades of grass are in this taped section?

As a stretch task, you could even consider averages based on pupil calculations!

The outdoor environment is a great way of cementing core concepts and offers a memorable alternative to learning inside.

4. Involve parents in outdoor learning

A great way to encourage outdoor discovery is to involve parents in your outdoor learning strategy.

You could send letters home making them aware of this initiative and how it can benefit their child’s creativity and progress. Not only will they then be aware of the sessions and can equip them properly, it can also inspire extended learning at home.

Parents can take the principles taught at school and introduce them on dog walks or even on their way to an evening club. Connecting home and school is a great way to give visibility over a child’s academic progress.

5. Get outdoors!

Once you’ve created your outdoor classroom and pupils are aware of expectations, get outdoors. Outdoor learning opportunities can be few and far between, so if you see an opportunity for creative teaching, we recommend you seize it!

Sometimes it may be a little overcast or even a little cold, but you can motivate your pupils to carry out independent tasks and help them to discover a love of a particular topic they never knew they had.

Above all, it's nice to remind children about the beauty of the outdoors!


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