Why you do have usable outdoor space for learning, even when you think you don’t!

February 18, 2022

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been sharing more about what curriculum outdoor learning is on our social media (spoiler alert: it’s not the same as Forest School). Whilst we feel we’re helping more teachers to demystify this approach and witness its value, there’s one barrier that keeps on arriving in our DMs; having space for curriculum outdoor learning. So today we’re here to reveal why you do have a space suitable for curriculum outdoor learning, even when you think you don’t!

We’ve all been there, you plan to use the beautiful green space your school has, maybe it’s a vegetable garden, or a woodland space, or just a simple patch of grass with a few shrubs. You get your class ready, walk out of the door and turn the corner only to find another teacher already using it with their class. These situations can make it feel like planning outdoor lessons, or planning to deliver one of ours, is a pointless exercise.

However, curriculum outdoor learning is a flexible approach. This is what makes it so great for everyday teaching in key stage one and two!

Take a moment to engage with this exercise:

Imagine you are somewhere within your school grounds, the entrance perhaps. Now with your mind I want you to sweep all over every single outdoor space, every nook and cranny. Picture them all, even the areas you would never take your class too, like the bin area or car park! Continue sweeping through the entire outdoor space. Take note of every area; what’s the floor surface like, what the plants are like, the size.

We’re going to reflect on your outdoor space in a moment, but first let’s address some common misconceptions.

You don’t need a large green space for curriculum outdoor learning.

Yes you read that right! The primary aim of curriculum outdoor learning is to cover key stage one and key stage two learning objectives. Whilst we encourage deepening a connection to nature, it’s not the main outcome of this approach, more of an additional benefit. You will need some natural loose parts to use for some lessons, especially maths, as they’re much more practical than some classroom equipment outdoors. However, these don’t need to be foraged each lesson, simply collect and store some in your cupboard! It’s what we do when we visit schools, as we never know quite how green they’re going to be!

You don’t have to use the same space for every lesson

For some National Curriculum objectives you will need to plan some large scale chalk activities whilst others might call for close observation or somewhere to provoke the imagination. Consider the types of activities you’re delivering. The four operations in maths, generally work better delivered on a playground or other hard surface. Whereas the more biology focused science will require a more natural space. And bringing history alive outdoors might call for a combination of the two!

With those misconceptions in mind, I want you to return to the visualisation exercise we did. Which areas of your school grounds could you make use of? Perhaps you have a hard surface right outside your classroom door perfect for visual activities? Perhaps you have a MUGA perfect for more active learning? For a natural space, you don’t need it to be large. For example we have delivered science lessons using just grass verges and planters!

The best spaces for taking your class outside are often those that no one else will consider using, because that way you can pretty much guarantee that they will be free! Spaces that are walkways at the beginning and end of the school day can work well, as they’re often not used for playground space (important if playtimes are staggered) but they’re also not in use during the day.

Once you start to use some of these spaces, you will quickly realise just how much potential there is in your outdoor areas around school and how easy it is to take your everyday lessons outside.

If you enjoyed this blog post and want to know more about how to take the curriculum outdoors in KS1 & KS2 we have something just for you! We recently launched training courses to make our in-person training accessible to more of you! Our venue is the perfect blend of natural spaces and hard surfaces to emulate your own school grounds. By the end of the day we will equip you with understanding of the different components needed to make curriculum outdoor learning a breeze for your staff team. Plus you’ll take away a bunch of activity ideas for curriculum objectives from Year 1-6 too!

Find out more about our training courses here!