Outdoor learning can take place in three contexts. It can serve as: a venue for learning, a source of content, and a vehicle for service learning.
The outdoors as a different venue for learning:
In this case, the focus is not on learning about the outdoors, but rather, the outdoors is used as a backdrop. This change of place can heighten interest in content and add variety to instruction. For example:
- Use natural objects as writing prompts.
- Do team building activities outdoors.
- Measure and mark an acre on the school grounds.
- Go outside to read and discuss nature-related literature.
The outdoors as a source of content:
This is probably the most common way to utilize schoolyard enhanced learning. Begin your study of concepts such as habitat or bio-diversity in the classroom; then go outside and find examples. Use nature as the ultimate audio-visual tool to find examples of what you are presenting.
- Use data that has been collected outdoors to construct graphs, tables and charts.
- Visit a cemetery to spark an interest in local history.
- Do stream or other aquatic studies to find evidence of pollution.
- Do a litter survey to see the impact of humans on the environment.
- Build bird feeders, nesting boxes or other devices to attract animal life.
Service learning outdoors:
Hopefully, frequent contact with the outdoors will foster a sense of stewardship. By developing service projects that take place outside, students not only are in contact with the outdoors, but they are improving the environment for others. For example:
- Plant flower gardens to beautify the school grounds.
- Develop a mini-nature trail for both school and community use.
- Construct an outdoor seating area or gazebo.
- Tackle problems such as litter on the school grounds.
Probably one of the most compelling reasons for getting students outside can be summed up in two words: video vegetation. We live in a society that is being overwhelmed by electronic media. The image of a twelve year old multitasking youth simultaneously listening to music, watching TV, emailing friends, and talking on the cell phone is becoming commonplace. For many of today’s kids, going outside is simply not viewed as an option. There simply are too many electronic gizmos to occupy their time.
Perhaps one of the best things we can do as teachers is to provide students with an opportunity to reconnect with nature while at the same time making our content more meaningful. What a gift to be able to occasionally give students “a classroom with sky for a ceiling and earth for a floor.”