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.
Here are tips from Cynthia Freeman, Dowling Urban Elementary School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Get as much support as you can, such as from your local Department of Natural Resources, a nature center, community speakers, and parents.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for contributions from parents and the community.
- Read The Lorax, outside. It’s politically incorrect, and they love it. Great discussions.
- For ELL students, the outdoors is a great place to develop word banks.
- 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.