You may think an outdoor classroom is just another playground; however, an outdoor classroom carries a deeper concept: it opens the door to experiencing the beauty of our surroundings through the curiosity of learning. An outdoor classroom can be defined as “a space that brings learning outside.” It becomes a gathering place for teachers and students to integrate nature into school programs.
Outdoor classrooms promote a child-nature connection and bring awareness to the benefits children gain from spending time in the natural world. With the growing dominance of technology, there is a high demand for this type of natural learning environment.
In an outdoor classroom, any subject-area may be applied. The outdoors is not only a classroom for environmental sciences, but also math, art, social studies, language arts and physical education. Educators can teach what they would normally teach inside a regular classroom, but outdoors in a fun and innovative way.
We can all agree that some of the issues in the typical academic environment include lack of exercise, lack of recess, overuse of digital devices, misperception of outdoors as an unsafe place to play, lack of engagement and connection to the world, among others.
Outdoor classrooms help restore a child’s desire to learn while addressing these challenges by helping children:
1. Become more active
2. Develop their curiosity and a sense of wonder
3. Enjoy hands-on activities using nature as their main resource
4. Develop self-esteem and confidence
5. Connect pivotally with our planet earth.
Outdoor classrooms are quickly growing in popularity. Recently, The Nature Explore Program and The Outdoor Classroom Project have partnered to develop Learning Naturally. Learning Naturally is a place to find inspiration, information and support for teachers, administrators, environmental educators, professional development leaders and others on issues relevant to young children in natural outdoor classrooms. It provides schools with the steps needed to build a successful outdoor classroom.
It is not easy to create an outdoor classroom. To do so requires much creativity, training, commitment and support from faculty and administration. These organizations have done an excellent job in defining the roadmap for schools to successfully implement this new type of learning. They recommend when building an outdoor classroom to make sure to have signs, tools, resources and material for close observation.
A small local school in Key Biscayne has taken the lead in building a state-of-the-art outdoor classroom. Through the leadership team of Key Biscayne Presbyterian School (KBPS), principal Ms. Anne Richards Rothe and environmental science teacher Ms. Brooke Fatima Yubero quickly recognized that nature can enhance educational outcomes by improving academic performance, focus, behavior, and love for learning; thus, leading them to the construction of an outdoor classroom eight years ago.
They have created this outdoor classroom to go along with a natural garden sponsored by The Community Foundation and the school’s PTA; furthermore, Fairchild Gardens has awarded the school with several grants which have continually supported the program. The students at KBPS enjoy these outdoor facilities almost every day. They hold special events and activities which include a Family Work Day, Planting Day and Recycle Day. In their outdoor classroom, they have a Mangrove Restoration Project installation which reminds the students of their connection to the mangroves which grow right beyond their playground fence. “Our photography classes put the children in touch with our natural environment and support careful observation, which will become an important skill as they continue their journey as students,” says Ms. Rothe.
At KBPS, the outdoor classroom is used for various purposes including science classes that allow for more hands-on, messy work explains Ms. Fatima. The space is also stocked with materials that allow for problem-solving through building and teamwork (magnetic blocks, mini-bricks, giant Lincoln Logs, chutes and balls, standing balance scale). Sensory experiences include a water table, various types of sand and a creek bed where the children can use rocks and sand to experiment with changes to flowing water. An art table allows the students to use natural items to build, create, draw and/or photograph the variety of natural elements they have collected. In addition, the space has a stage and seating area that can be used for storytelling and reading.
Get your brain outside and start checking out ways to promote outdoor learning at your school. Whether you are a principal, teacher, or parent, bring this idea to your school and community and start promoting this innovative way of teaching by bringing life to learning.
Haz clic para leer en Español: Un Salón de Clases al Aire Libre: Las Maravillas de Aprender en la Naturaleza