Outdoor Learning

There was a time when most everything a student learned was outdoors. A one-room schoolhouse became quite crowded when filled with school-aged children. Many things students learned in the sciences and arts were found outside the schoolhouse walls.

Years later, baby boomers exploded the size of classrooms. Moving from one classroom to another became a form of exercise, getting students up and moving throughout the day. Eventually the evolution of society tightened access to the outdoors, keeping teachers and their students safe within the confines of their school walls.

Now that teachers, students, and parents have taken a much more active role in their environments, trips to learn outdoors are once again becoming popular.  According to ClassroomInNature.com, “an outdoor classroom not only helps students in terms of achievement, but they can also gain motivation through outdoor classroom instruction. Children are more motivated to study and learn given the many opportunities provided to them in the outdoor environment. Moreover, teachers experienced a sense of excitement about teaching.”

What are the advantages of taking your class outside?

Herb Broda, in his article Moving Learning Outdoors: Embracing Schoolyards as 21st Century Classrooms, is an advocate of using the outdoors as a content source. From demonstrating what an actual acre looks like to the biodiversity of a small un-mowed site, Professor Broda believes there are lots of sound educational reasons for taking learning outdoors. A few research findings that immediately come to mind include:

  •  Improved performance on standardized tests of academic achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies
  • Reduced discipline and classroom management problems
  • Increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning
  • Enhanced pride and ownership in accomplishments
  • Increased motivation and opportunities for reluctant learners
  • Decreased stress as a result of being in an outdoor learning environment
  • Strengthened attention spans

Spatial conceptualization through chalk drawings; planting and maintaining a garden; identification of insects, trees, and atmospheric conditions; and measuring lengths through first-hand experiments all bring a sense of understanding to students of all ages.

Of course, there could be downsides to taking a class outside that must be taken into consideration. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ article Why Teach Outside – Environmental education resources lists possible barriers to teaching outside of the classroom:

  •  Curriculum standards
  • Daily schedule
  • Supervision of children
  • (Health and environmental) hazards
  • Lack of knowledge (and resources)
  • Kids aren’t properly dressed for the weather
  • We don’t have nature (inner-city schools)
  • Teachers simply don’t like nature/cold/wet/wind/sun/snow/ticks/etc.

Every subject from biology to math to art can be taken outdoors, but it takes planning and forethought. Collaborate with other teachers and make it a dual lesson. Invite local experts to share their personal experiences in their outdoor fields. And if you don’t have local “experts” there are plenty of parents, other teachers, and local business people who would be willing to share their knowledge in an outdoor setting.

It’s worth a look at changing your classroom environment. Discuss the pros and cons with other teachers, the administration, and even your students. See how they feel about mixing fresh air and learning.

You might be surprised at the outcome!

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