Taking the classroom outside
Many schools are taking the classroom outside to help them manage social distancing. The Outdoor Classroom Movement organise global Outdoor Classroom Days twice a year, in spring and autumn. An outdoors classroom doesn’t have to just mean counting minibeasts (although it’s always fun!). Below we’ve collected some of our favourite outdoor lesson ideas that allow you to interact with nature, and make the most of learning on a bigger scale.
Make things grow
Many schools have a gardening plot, and even if there isn’t much space there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are happy growing in containers. If you already have an established growing area, the staff and students who are usually involved could take charge of showing everyone what they’ve been up to. Spring is the perfect time for planting vegetables including the familiar carrots and sweetcorn, as most crops can go straight outside. Into autumn leeks, parnsips and broccoli are hardy enough to survive the winter without protection.
If you’re in a chillier area, you can protect your baby plants while they grow with mini cloches made from recycled plastic drinks bottles.
For the more ambitious, and if you have a spare unsurfaced area, why not try making a willow den? If you go for a classic circle, challenge students to calculate the diameter and the spacing between the willow canes. If you’re lucky you might be able to find someone to donate the willow, as it’s quite accommodating to being relocated.
A nature-themed treasure hunt presents an opportunity even for younger children to work on numeracy. For example, counting how many ladybirds or worms they can find, measuring which is the biggest, and recording what they see with a simple tick box or tally chart. Older students could start classifying the insects and plant life and using more sophisticated measures such as Venn diagrams and graphs.
If you’re looking for options to avoid spending half the time chasing paper (or leaves) across the playground, a portable dry wipe board could be the answer. These can be plain white for students to draw their own charts and graphs, or printed. We can make boards to any shape, whilst our hook up whiteboards can be displayed on a classroom wall to compare results. We recently completed a project for a nature reserve where visitors were given a map to mark up what they saw using printed magnets.
Creative Star Learning has some original suggestions to maximise the time outdoors by recording the information using natural resources.
They also suggest using outdoor space for hands on exploration of maths concepts, like this data gathering exercise with daisies.
Space for science
Sometimes the best – and most explosive – science experiments just need more space than you might have in the classroom.
Exploding sandwich bags are cheap to set up, and older students will be able to manage the whole process. They can be quite loud when they go bang, so if younger ones are involved it’s best to warn them beforehand.
A lava experiment is given a twist by adding colour to make a wizard’s brew, a fun introduction to hands on science for EYFS children. This blog also has instructions for making oobleck, the forerunner to the ubiquitous slime.
The classic film canister rocket is still great fun too, although getting hold of film canisters might mean a visit to Ebay these days.
These experiments all have plenty of scope to vary quantities to speed up or slow down the reaction, and are sure to get competitive. Plan the process and record the outcomes outdoors too – a wheeled magnetic whiteboard can easily be taken out of the classroom and used with pens or magnetic hexagons. Our Magnotes allow students to write down hypotheses, observations and results which you can easily group into clusters, and take indoors to continue the discussion in the classroom.
Art to treasure your finds
There are some great ideas for arts and crafts projects to preserve what children have collected over the course of the outdoor lesson. This also gives further opportunity to talk about what you did.
Gather up any interesting shaped sticks or small branches and paint them. Fat stubby sticks could be painted in stripes for a mini totem pole effect and strung together to make a wind chime. Skinny branches look pretty painted or wrapped in yarn and either hung or displayed as a bouquet.
Cathy James is the writer of the Nuture Store blog. She suggests flower mandalas (or suncatchers) which can combine elements of maths and art:
“You can use any materials you like to make a mandala, indoors or outside. They often use symmetry, repeating patterns, fractions and concentric designs, making them a wonderfully creative way to play with math concepts.”
The flower mandalas are made by placing leaves, petals and flowers between two sheets of sticky back plastic (contact paper in the US). You can also simply put the materials in a laminating pouch and run it through a laminator to preserve the colours, then cut out. We’d recommend choosing petals rather than whole blooms to minimise the number of flowers you pick, as they provide valuable food for bees and other pollinating insects. Younger children might simply enjoy placing petals at random, whilst older groups could explore fractions, symmetry or make a picture. If you have a magnetic whiteboard in your classroom you could attached any interesting leaves, rubbings or photos of the activity with strong pin magnets for a simple display.
You can find out more about Outdoor Classroom Day including lesson ideas and other dates planned for next year on the official website, and keep up to date via social media:
As walker and author Alfred Wainwright said:
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”