Top Ten Tips for Teaching Outside – Elementary

There are lots of benefits for students learning outdoors and connecting with nature. But many teachers are uncomfortable with the idea or hesitant to try it out. I asked a few Minnesota teachers – one preschool, one elementary, two secondary – to give me their “Top Ten” tips for colleagues who have never taught outside.


kids-make-bark-rubbingHere are tips from Cynthia Freeman, Dowling Urban Elementary School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  1. Do the “Earth Manners” lesson, Activity 87 in PLT’s PreK-8 Guide. Have students sign a contract. This gets saved in their notebooks. It has worked so far!
  2. Remind students that it is not recess. If they act like recess, I remove one minute from regular recess. I still keep them outside, but they might have to sit on a bench and reflect.
  3. Their notebook is their document of involvement. Since I have more than 400 students, I use this record to gauge their understanding, care, attention to detail, etc.
  4. Create an outdoor classroom by laying down sheets or blankets. Later, you can create something more permanent with rocks or plants. Find a quiet place, away from hubbub.
  5. Give each child a colored piece of paper. Ask each child to search for items that match that color. (See Activity 78, Signs of Fall in PLT’s PreK-8 Guide). This activity slows kids down and allows for intense focus. Amazing conversations ensue!
  6. Get as much support as you can, such as from your local Department of Natural Resources, a nature center, community speakers, and parents.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for contributions from parents and the community.
  8. Read The Lorax, outside. It’s politically incorrect, and they love it. Great discussions.
  9. For ELL students, the outdoors is a great place to develop word banks.
  10. Document the process. You are building a new program, and what you are doing matters!

More Tips for Teaching Outside

Attend a PLT workshop and become comfortable teaching outdoors – in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Check out Appendix 14: Teaching Out-of-Doors in PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide.

Get more tips from Minnesota early childhood and secondary teachers. 

Laura Duffey

Laura Duffey

Laura Duffey is Minnesota PLT State Coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – Division of Forestry.

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