Whether you add an outdoor learning center, a project-based station such as a vegetable garden, a natural art center, or an area for reflection and writing, an outdoor classroom can be a valuable teaching tool for all students. Outdoor classrooms provide stimuli that enhance indoor lessons. Science lessons take on a whole new meaning when students are able to touch, observe, collect datas, and experiment.
Relevant classes include both natural materials -like dirt, trees, and stones- along with man-made materials like bird houses and tables. An outdoor classroom provides opportunities for a student to learn in ways not possible in a traditional indoor classroom. Students can examine the soil, inspect water samples, analyze machinery to see how simple devices unite to make more complex ones, track real-time cloud patterns, and see how human activities can affect the world around us—for better or worse. As they record and study data for themselves, students will learn skills of observation, analysis and prediction that will benefit them long after their classroom years are over.
Outdoor learning opportunities have something for every grade level:
- Take a walking tour through an ecosystem.
- Activate the 5 senses: TOUCH the grass, SMELL the flowers, SEE the clouds, TASTE the strawberries, and HEAR the birds.
- Plant-seeds & plant parts. Plant an herb garden.
- Observe the weather, temperatures, and cloud patterns.
- Discuss living things-living vs. non-living, plants & animals.
- Collect and classify insects.
- Observe and study insects-life cycles & insect anatomy.
- Observe and study plants, seed parts, leaf & seed comparison, leaf measurement & leaf rubbings.
- Observe and study habitats-prairie land, forest & wetland comparisons.
- Follow the water cycle. Learn more about evaporation, condensation, precipitation & temperatures.
- Study plants and plant parts, leaf shapes & seed dispersal.
- Compare ecosystems such as forests & wetlands.
- Study and observe plant and animal adaptations.
- Study ecosystems & Soil-habitat, niche, producer, consumers, decomposers, soil & temperatures comparisons.
- Plants-monocot/dicot, roots, tree rings, bark & leaf rubbings.
- Build and observe sophisticated weather instruments.
- Observe and study erosion & runoff.
- Build soil and erosion labs.
- Use metric measurements in science.
Ecology- using microscopes with pond water, ecosystem & temperature comparisons (wetland, forest and prairie), insect collecting & food chain.
Researchers of The Natural Learning Initiative recognize that today’s children and families have limited opportunities to connect with the natural environment. They spend more time watching TV or playing video games on their computers than they do in active physical activity. They spend less and less time outdoors breathing the fresh air. That’s unfortunate because the developmental benefits are endless.
Outdoor classrooms also include places where children can move around, exercise, and even ask questions about equipment design. The benefits of daily exercise help children in many ways. Exercise makes our lungs and heart stronger for increased energy and endurance. That means children can play, walk, or jog longer without feeling tired. Exercise strengthens and stretches muscles and builds strong bones,
Because exercise gets our blood flowing, more oxygen reaches our brains. This means children can think better, stay more alert, improve test scores, and get better grades. Exercise affects chemicals in our brains. And these chemicals can affect how we feel.
- Give us energy so we feel good and can do things we want to do like sports, dance, play an instrument, or read.
- Make us feel better during stressful times.
- Help calm students down when they have to give a class presentation.
Whether you plan daily lessons in your backyard or the neighborhood park, your home schoolers will benefit from spending time outdoors.