5 reasons to teach outside in the rain (and how to do it!)

September 2, 2024

Have you had the experience of planning a fantastic lesson for getting children outside and then it started to rain? Typical British weather! Don’t be dismayed though, as there are so many reasons to go outside in wet weather, and, with a few slight tweaks, your children and the lesson will be ready and raring to go outdoors.

Read on to find out why you should still take learning outdoors in wet weather, top tips on how to do so, and for our free curriculum-linked activity guide for rainy weather.

Why is rain beneficial?

After the initial disappointment of looking out of the window to see it’s pouring, it’s important to consider why your learning should continue to go outdoors. Although your original lesson may need to be tweaked slightly, there are lots of reasons to get the children (and the staff) in your class outdoors. Read on to find out why!

1) Getting outdoors is good for us, whatever the weather

Being outdoors has been proven to be good for us, both mentally and physically. Spending time outside can reduce stress hormones and heart rates, particularly if there are green spaces around. There is also room for children to be more physically active outdoors, developing their gross motor skills and exercising, and the outdoors can also help with mental health, focus, and attention. This can particularly benefit those children who struggle in the classroom environment. As Erin K. Kenny, an expert in Nature Pedagogy, said, “Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.”

Read our guest blog from The Teacher’s Health Coach to find out more about Charlie’s story about nature and his mental health.

2) Rainy air is cleaner

When it rains, dust, allergens, and pollutants in the air get washed away during the rain meaning that the air we breathe is cleaner during or shortly after a downpour. As each raindrop falls, it attracts tens or even hundreds of particles to it before hitting the floor, clearing them from the air. This can have a positive effect on everyone’s breathing, particularly those who suffer from asthma or have other breathing difficulties.

3) Supporting children’s mental health

The sensory input from the sound and smell of the rain can often be relaxing and reduce anxiety. Did you ever go camping or caravanning as a child? If you did you’ll likely still remember the rainy nights when you were drifting off to sleep. 

This calming effect is thought to be linked to the regular pattern of the raindrops and the white-noise-like sound of rain hitting another surface. It’s also thought petrichor, the smell of rain contributes to the calming effect too.  The smell of rain is caused by the release of a mixture of molecules from the soil and plants that have a smell that humans are really sensitive to. This smell is often thought to be primitive yet pleasant and can have a calming effect on some people.

Read more about petrichor.

4) Supporting children’s physical health and wellbeing

Mud is a common result of rainy weather and it’s actually great for you & your children’s health too! As well as developing your core muscles and balance (trying not to slip!), mud is also beneficial for your immune system. When you touch soil, the microorganisms in the soil, a specific soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, prompt your body to release serotonin which is a mood-boosting chemical in your body. The microorganisms in the soil also increase the diversity of the skin microbiota (the microorganisms living on your skin) which, over time, can stimulate your immune system and therefore your body’s immune response to germs and viruses, meaning you are less likely to get coughs and colds. So get outside in the rain and don’t worry about a bit of mud!

5) It’s the adults who worry about the weather, not the children

As we get older, we often feel the cold more and have more hangups about being out in the rain. It might mess up your hair, make it frizzy, or even smudge your makeup! The classroom might get wet or muddy when you come back in or the edges of your trousers might trail and get soggy. 

Children are much less likely to be concerned about those things, and rightly so. Showing children that adults still choose to go outside, even if it’s wet is a great lesson for them to learn and helps towards building a resilient mindset to help them stay fit and healthy as they grow up.

Top tips for teaching and learning outside in the rain

With both the experience of teaching in schools previously and now regularly taking full classes of children outdoors in our Alfresco Learning workshops, we know that it can sometimes feel like a challenge to get outside. But, as experienced outdoor learning educators, we know how to adapt to the rain in practical manner, meaning teachers can still take learning outdoors even when it rains.

1) Dressing your class for the rain

When it’s raining, your class must be wearing the right clothing for the weather. There is nothing worse than being outside and getting cold because you are wet-through. 

The children’s outer layer needs to be waterproof and not just water-resistant. The layers underneath will vary depending on the temperature. In cold weather, ensure that they have additional mid-layers such as fleecy hoodies and jogging bottoms that can go over their uniform.

Footwear is also important to consider. Nothing will stop your outdoor lesson faster than cold, wet toes! Ensure that children have wellies in school ready for the occasion. You could ask your children to bring them in on a Monday and send them home for the weekend, this means that if you have unexpected rainfall everyone should have wellies available. 

Have a stash of spare wet weather gear ready in case a child in your class hasn’t got the right clothing for the rain. You may need some spare waterproof coats and wellies as a minimum. Asking the parents at school for an amnesty of unwanted waterproofs could help, or a trawl of the charity shops often produces a great, and relatively cheap, haul of wet weather gear.

2) Put worksheets or lesson instructions in plastic wallets

Use plastic wallets with bulldog clips to take your worksheets outside. Cut up the worksheets and place a section in each wallet. Fold the end of the plastic wallet over to stop water from getting in. Attach them around your outdoor area using the bulldog clips and get children to explore the area to find the questions before answering them. For recording the learning, read on!

3) Recording your learning

If taking clipboards and paper outside isn’t going to work because they will get soggy, then there are some great alternatives to record the children’s learning:

Read about our 5 essential outdoor learning resources, to support you further with resourcing your outdoor learning.

4) Plan for wet weather

Use weather apps to help you plan for going outside, whatever the weather. These will help you to look at when the rainy hours or days may fall and plan flexibility into your timetable for those days. We tend to use a few, including BBC Weather, Met Office, and Accu Weather. BBC and Met Office have longer-term forecasts which we are all used to seeing. But when the heavens open Accu Weather is our go-to! Their 4-hour rain prediction is often spot on and can help you determine whether the rain is a passing shower or something longer-lasting.

5) Scrap the original plan

Sometimes, (and thankfully not very often) the lesson you have planned to take outside in the dry just won’t work in rainy weather, particularly if it is pouring down. So what do you do in this instance? If you feel your class will benefit from getting outside anyway (and who wouldn’t!), switch tack and take a different lesson outside. There are so many lessons and activities that work brilliantly in the rain.

Science, and PSHE are lessons that are often easy to tweak to take outdoors. In science, modelling understanding of a concept can often be done outdoors very simply using natural loose parts instead of worksheets or traditional science resources. A great example would be Year 3 Animals including humans, and using sticks to represent the bones in the human body rather than cutting and sticking indoors. Our Outdoor Ideas for British Science Week 2024 article gives you some fantastic ideas for taking science outside.

PSHE discussion can be tweaked into active lessons outdoors, for example, Shared Responsibilities in UKS2 which also links to British Values. Instead of debating the ins and outs of rules and why we have them, play games outdoors to show the value of them and why it’s important to understand them. For extra inspiration have a look at our free Rainy Weather Activities guide and then sign up for the Planning Hub for the extended Winter Weather Guide and all the rest of our curriculum-linked lesson plans.

A final point about safety and flexibility

It’s important to note that being flexible in your approach can help. The whole of the lesson doesn’t have to be outside if the weather isn’t appropriate. Have discussions and explanations indoors at the start or end of the lessons whilst keeping the active and practical main body of the lesson outdoors to minimise standing about in the rain or cold.

Safety is also paramount. Heavy rain is alright for children to experience for a short time if they are appropriately dressed. But if they are out for too long or they are left in wet clothes in a chilly classroom after being outdoors then they are more at risk of developing hypothermia. Bear this in mind, and be flexible. Not all rain should be ventured out into!

At Alfresco Learning, we love getting outside in all weather types and hope that with our top tips, you will too. There are so many benefits of outdoor learning that support effective teaching and learning. So the next time a shower passes over don’t let it stop you from reaping some of those benefits for your class.

Are you contributing to the building wave of outdoor learning here in the UK? Tag us on social media @alfresco_learning to show us what you’ve been up to outdoors in the rain!

Curriculum activities in the rain - freebie!

Get the full version - Winter Weather Activity Pack - 20 curriculum linked activities!