Helping Parents Understand Outdoor Learning

As a new school year begins, here is a quick way to help parents understand the value of using the outdoors for learning. Perhaps you could include this on a classroom web pagesign1, or as a part of a classroom newsletter.


“Imagine a classroom with sky for a ceiling and earth for a floor. A room without walls or

desks, where young scientists explore the world of bugs; mathematicians measure rainfall;

budding writers record their observations; and actors rehearse on a natural stage.”—Boston Schoolyard Initiative


Creating a classroom that has the “sky for a ceiling and earth for a floor” is not really is unrealistic as it sounds.  Outdoor learning can take place on any schoolyard that has even a tiny patch of green.

As a new school year begins, many teachers across the country, and locally, are including the schoolyard as a teaching tool.  We often think of “school” as an indoor experience, but many teachers regularly use “Mother Nature” as a teaching assistant.

Nature makes abstract concepts more concrete. Take parallel lines for example. Traditionally, we define the term and then show examples in a textbook or on a whiteboard.  That’s a great beginning, but think how effective it is to then step outside and find examples of parallel lines in nature right on the school grounds. Immediately the concept is linked to real world experience – and that leads to long-term learning!

Teachers also use the outdoors for a change of pace and place. Adding variety to teaching has long been associated with student motivation. Occasionally changing the location of instruction is an easy way to add the variety that energizes both students and teachers.

At a school, that change of pace and place may be something as simple as occasionally stepping outside to read a story or have a class discussion.  There is something about the fresh air, sky and sunlight that invigorates any activity.

Outdoor learning is not meant to replace indoor instruction. As L.B. Sharp, an early pioneer in experiential education, said decades ago, “That which can be best learned inside the classroom should be learned there. That which can be best learned in the out-of-doors through direct experience…should there be learned.”

Outdoor learning is just one of many resources in a teacher’s instructional tool kit. It’ a powerful one, though. Not only is it effective teaching, it has the added plus of getting kid outside and connected with the natural world—a good antidote for a world that is gorging on video vegetation.


Copyright © 2017 by Herb Broda