10 Tips for Teaching Outdoors

The following is a list of some of the tips and techniques teachers have found helpful when taking their students outdoors. 


1. Have clear expectations

Let students help create rules for going outside. Remind them they have a job to do outside and that this is different then recess. We encourage you to include ways to be respectful of the nature in your schoolyard as a part of your class's agreements. Review and remind students of the rules and expectations your class sets each time before going outside. 

2. set Natural boundaries

Let students go ahead of you to designated spaces. This allows them to spread out and explore and observe different things. It also gives an opportunity for those students that are exceptionally sneaky and quiet to stay focused and not get distracted or upset with louder peers. Some teachers have put out mini "stop" signs or cones where students wait for the teacher. One teacher put faces on the trees where students would wait. Others have used other natural boundaries such as a row of hedges, a specific tree stump, a fallen log, fence posts, etc. 

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3. establish a way to regroup

Establish a sound to use when its time to regroup. Some teachers have used a crow call or wolf howl. Students can repeat the noise and know to come circle up for further instructions or to see something interesting. 

4. Put Yourself In the Best Light

Don't have students looking into the sun. If you need to give instructions or want to share something with the students, position yourself so that your students aren't looking into the sun. You'll find its much easier for students to pay attention. 



5. Use Teachable Moments

A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity to provide insight to students, or reinforce a topic that has been studied previously. Students should have a plan and a job while outdoors, but allow for students interests and curiosity lead the way. Students might discover a cool seed, a blooming flower, an interesting insect. When students are excited about something is their a way to connect it to the project at hand?


6. let students make their own discoveries

Students are going to be curious. You don’t have to answer all their questions! Encourage students to take charge and answer questions on their own.  Encourage them to continue asking more questions and making more discoveries. We recommend establishing a table or shelf in the classroom where students can bring in nature items they are excited about. Provide field guides or computer time for students to look up, identify, and learn about whatever caught their interest outdoors. Find ways to motivate them to continue learning on their own. Can they present to the class the information they’ve gathered? Can you offer a small incentive?


7. use all your senses!

Encourage ways for students to use their senses. Have a call or hand motion that signals to students to listen. Have them choose a place to sit and spend some time mapping different sounds they hear. Have them look at the big picture and then zoom in. What is the tiniest detail they can observe? Can they feel the direction of the wind? Or know which tree they are touching by the feel of the bark? The scent of the leaves?

8. Establish a CONSISTENT schedule

Choose a day of the week to go out and make your project observations. This way students know to bring appropriate clothing for that day - no matter the weather! The more routinely they go outside, the better they get at coming prepared. Students also get excited to attend school that day knowing they will be going outside to make observations. Having a consistent schedule might even allow you to use parent volunteers to help manage smaller groups outdoors!

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9. Bring Technology

This could simply be a clipboard and paper or a science notebook and pencil for students to record observations. You could also use a camera to capture observations. A phone with field guide apps can also be handy. You could also use a phone to track your distance and map your schoolyard exploration. Bring botanical loupes or magnifying lenses to have students see the outdoors in a whole new way!


10. know that Every time is different

The weather will be different, the students energy levels will be different, the distractions will be different. Don't expect every trip outside to go perfectly. However, the more you go outside the better your students will get at knowing whats expected of them and accomplishing the tasks at hand. I've seen wild, excited, loud classes turn into the quietest, sneakiest, dedicated explorers after lots of trips outdoors. Keep going outside!