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Outdoor learning – six ideas for how to take your class outside

Keen to ditch the iPads and introduce your pupils to the joys of nature-based classes, but not sure where to start? Try these tips from the Muddy Puddle Teacher…

Sarah Seaman
by Sarah Seaman
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1. Use natural materials  

Using natural materials is a great way to reduce plastic, and encourage the health benefits that come from being outside in nature, including the healthy bacteria the lovely mud brings along with it.

There are lots of sensory benefits from touching the many different textures in nature, too – like sticks, rocks, leaves, and of course mud – and this can better support neurodiverse children accessing the curriculum, as well as those pupils who lack concentration while indoors.

Furthermore, using what’s out there is free! Nothing more to buy!

And if that was not enough to convince you to use more natural resources to teach, this might be: it can all be left outside, with nothing to prep or put away, making outdoor learning easily manageable. 

2. Make an outdoor cupboard 

If you do have outdoor resources that need to be stored somewhere, get creative and re-think the way you can keep your items safe (and tidy!).

Try making an ‘outdoor cupboard’ using upcycled containers. Use barrels, steel dustbins, or even old tyres, and fill them with natural items you will use to teach.

You can alter the materials depending on the season, so in autumn you might use conkers, acorns, various shades of fallen leaves, and sticks (bamboo sticks are especially useful because you can get packs of them that are equal in length and nice and straight).

Just as you may have an inside cupboard of supplies, you’ve now got somewhere to organise your outdoor classes.   

3. Ban indoor items   

To begin with, this one can be difficult. You may be used to your indoor apparatus such as a whiteboard or an iPad, but for you to achieve lessons that really reap the benefits of being outside, you need to ditch them.

I have been there and got the t-shirt – by taking resources designed to be used inside, outside, you’ll open them up to damage and make life a lot harder for yourself, thereby making you more reluctant to go outside again.

Furthermore, outdoor learning is supposed to provide pupils with experiences they can’t get inside… so keep the kids moving, embrace nature, and leave your digital tools behind.  

4. Start with science 

There are plenty of outdoor learning opportunities in both the EYFS and National Curriculum for outdoor learning, but if you’re new to this it’s useful to start with science.

Many topics within this subject provide opportunities to take the children outside and get hands-on with their learning.

This is vital for the children who are practical and visual learners, but also for those who like to move and explore.

Topics such as habitats, animals including humans, plants, and materials can all be explored outside, and pupils might even gain greater depth than being taught inside only. 

5. Not all lessons have to be 100% outside 

You do not have to take full lessons outside. There are no rules!

Try a combined approach and maybe keep intros inside with main activities outside.

When I train whole schools, I always advise KS2 to work this way, as children can sit and focus at their desks to hear what they’re going to be doing, but then have the chance to develop a greater depth of understanding by being outside where their senses are alive and learning experiences become memories.

In particular, repeated learning like times tables and number bonds can be explored in interesting ways outside, such as allowing pupils to create their own counting ladders from sticks, for example.  

6. Go out in all weather 

In all the years I have been a teacher, I’ve only had to abandon an outside lesson due to weather once.

It was a dangerously windy day, and so for safety reasons we couldn’t complete our activities, but very rarely does the weather get bad enough for long periods of time.

As long as the children are dressed appropriately, you can do this! Plus if you’re using only natural or upcycled resources it will not matter if it has rained, as nothing will ruin. Win-win! 

Sarah Seaman is CEO of The Muddy Puddle Teacher Ltd, and author of The Playful Way to Create an Outdoor Early Years Curriculum. 

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