How to unlock the potential in your outdoor area

June 19, 2020

It’s human nature to want what we don’t have. The same often goes for teachers in the form of environment envy! Whether you have woodland space, a large open playground or cosy nature filled corners, it’s likely you will be pining for the opposite.

But today we’re moving past environment envy. We want to share how to make the most of the outdoor space you already have! That’s right, no need to spend money, or excessive time developing it, just unlocking the hidden potential in what is already there! This blog post is for teachers looking to take whole class learning outdoors, combining the curriculum with nature.

On platforms such as Instagram, we often see beautiful outdoor spaces at other settings featuring large natural spaces, gorgeous outdoor classrooms & an abundance of overflowing veg beds. As a result, we’re often left with a sinking feeling that the learning potential in these outdoor spaces is more effective and much more exciting than that of our own. But this does not need to be the case.

Through delivering our outdoor workshops we’ve encountered a wide range of outdoor spaces at many different types of primary schools. We have witnessed the common challenges teachers face in utilising their outdoor environment and provided many with a fresh perspective on how to make the most of what they already have.

In this blog post we’re going to do exactly the same for you! Read on below to find out what the common challenges are and how to unlock the learning potential in your very own outdoor space.

“The best classroom and the richest classroom is roofed only by the sky”

-Margaret McMillan

It’s a concrete jungle

This is a really common problem. Many primary schools have a large concrete playground and not much else around to use. However, this doesn’t need to put a stop to your outdoor lessons. Whilst having a natural environment does provide lots of learning opportunities and natural resources; it is possible to recreate these opportunities, on a playground using a natural loose parts collection.

These collections can be created with very little cost involved and they’re a versatile resource which can be used to deliver a range of different activities across the primary age range.

It’s also likely that whilst your school features heavily in concrete, that it still has some grass verges and planters. Don’t write these off as being too small for whole class activities. They still provide excellent places for bug hunts, observing mini-beasts and identifying plants. When we deliver our workshops in these spaces, we make the most of them by setting up group work activities and spread out along the length of of the space. With the use of our sit mats, we often prefer the playground as a place to sit and gather to discuss our findings anyway!

The space is too small

Outdoor learning is great for promoting active learning. Studies have shown that incorporating movement into lessons supports learning. But what do we do when the space we have access to isn’t large enough for 30 children to move freely around?

The answer is simple, change the style of the activities. Rather than lots of running and collecting, focus your activities on careful observation and investigation. For example, during our Great Fire of London workshop, we investigate materials in small groups and define the space for the activity using a bamboo placemat. Defining the work space in a small area works really well; the children can work collaboratively with lots of discussion but still get the benefits of learning in the outdoor environment. Here the added benefit is being able to test the materials’ effectiveness to withstand the weather!

We have a great space, but it’s too far away

A handful of schools we have visited have amazing natural spaces but it’s their location that puts teachers off going outside to use them. It’s understandable; especially when you teach a young age group. Dragging 30 little pairs of legs for a lengthy walk, whilst struggling with carrying all of your resources isn’t appealing to many!

In this scenario, preparation is key. Ask your senior leadership team to invest in an all terrain, foldable trolley like ours. It makes transporting resources and essentials for children such as water bottles in the summer, effortless!

Another key to success is to ensure the children are dressed appropriately before heading out. The last thing you want is to make it to your outdoor space and find that some children are too cold or don’t have appropriate shoes on.

Toileting can also present challenges when you’re working a distance away from the building. Ensure that your children have all been before heading outside and make it clear how long you are staying outside for. If learning outside is new to your class, introduce outdoor learning with shorter outdoor sessions and slowly extend the time. This will help you to find the length of time your class can successfully stay outdoors without needing toilet trips!

Make the walk to your outdoor area purposeful learning time by using collection or spotting activities along the walk. A journey stick as shown above is great if your outdoor lesson is related to a story!

You may find you still have some children who moan about walking the distance regardless of the distraction. Bear in mind that in the modern world children are frequently transported in cars, some really are not used to walking. So you may need to talk to your class about resilience, and how over time they will build up fitness, making the walk easier. Set the expectation and you’ll be surprised by what young children can achieve!

Everyone finds different aspects of their outdoor space challenging. It’s all about unlocking the hidden potential!

Which challenges to do you face in your outdoor area? Would you like us to unlock the potential in your outdoor space? Take a look at our staff training sessions to book us in for a visit to your setting and let us help you find the potential in your outdoor space!