An outdoor environment can improve children’s mood, well-being, and motivation. It can contribute to increased physical exercise and improve learning outcomes. Outdoor learning can reduce stress, too!
Outdoor classrooms also provide a space to maintain physical distancing while learning. During the Covid-19 pandemic, physical distancing is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. The outdoor classroom must be designed in a way that promotes physical distancing, while also promoting authentic learning experiences. Here are 5 things EVERY outdoor classroom should have
1. A space for imaginative play.
My youngest students love to build mini shelters with sticks and leaves.
Sometimes these shelters are made for fairies and gnomes that will visit them when we leave the forest. Other times, these mini shelters are made for snails (as shown on the right) that are collected from around the forest and brought to their new home.
Building one shelter usually leads to an entire community of mini shelters being built. This activity is great because the children can work in cooperative play, building a shelter together, or in associative play, where they each build their own shelter near each other. There is also parallel play. Some children choose not to build shelters and instead find other ways to explore the forest nearby.
2. A space to get messy.
Our mud kitchen is the outdoor, messy version of the house centre that is a staple in most Kindergarten classrooms. This space is great for imaginative play and social play. Children love to make mud cakes to share with each other.
The best part about getting messy? Cleaning up after! Playing in the mud will ensure your students are lining up to wash their hands afterwards.
3. Outdoor inquiry lessons. A chance to ask questions about nature!
Students are surrounded by nature. They have questions! In the winter, we did a Winter Birds Inquiry, which you can find here on our TPT store. Students asked questions about where birds go for the winter and made bird feeders for the birds that stick around in the winter. The bird feeder was made using a pinecone- shown in the picture on the right! It was great to get students thinking and learning about the natural world around them.
4. Outdoor lunches.
At lunch time, students would gather around the campfire. At this time, the older (age 6-8) and younger (age 4-5) groups would get to sit together. Eating together allowed for social development. Physical distancing could be emphasized by giving each student their own stump to sit on. Space the stumps 6ft apart. Let the students know that trees need room to grow!
5. Cooperative play.
With my group of Forest School students, aged 6-8, we built A LOT of shelters. Shelter building allowed for gross motor development. They followed all the safety rules perfectly. If a log was too big, they moved it with a friend or lifted it from one end and let the other end drag. Moving a big log as a team allows for physical distancing, too! Each friend is at opposite ends of the log.
There you have it! Please- take your students outside!