Outdoor learning is a great way to engage students in learning. It can be a fun and memorable experience for students and teachers alike. However, it can be challenging to plan an outdoor learning experience that meets students’ needs. This article will share some tips and my six key questions for planning an outdoor learning experience that meets students’ needs.
I often speak to teachers about outdoor learning. One of the significant concerns is how to properly plan regular lessons that are meaningful and do not take excessive time in planning.
I have two questions in return…
Why does outdoor learning need to be a stand alone?
And, why does it need to be a complete lesson?
When we work with schools, we start simple. We integrate outdoor learning and aim to be out just for 15-20 minutes a week for the first term. This does two things. It helps staff use their knowledge of the curriculum and link to that, and it also removes a lot of the pressure. Fifteen minutes is no time at all. (Of course, we are also looking for them to build up to at least three sessions a week, but that comes.)
I am a teacher in Scotland and remember well when Assessment Is For Learning first came in. It felt big and scary. It took a lot of time to plan for. The guidance was not clear at first. It felt like an add on. But time, experience and understanding helped it become simply part of the learning. Now, it is something I do not even think about; I just do.
You may not be in Scotland. But I am guessing wherever in the world you are, there has been something that came in that felt similar. We work with schools across the globe, and every system has something.
But reducing lessons to just 15 minutes, delivering before or after breaks, using outdoor learning as a tool helps take away a lot of pressure. We do need ideas for this, but I have shared many in the book and more on the member’s site.
Planning for the Week
I shall let you into a secret. I very rarely planned for outdoor learning. I did not need to.
Instead, I planned for my learning that week. I planned what concepts and ideas I wanted to cover. Only once did I know that I could look at what would lend itself to outdoor learning. At times it was a complete lesson, others just 15 minutes, sometimes it would be the whole class and others just groups. Outdoor learning was simply a tool to support learning.
While doing this, I would ask myself six key questions.
6 KEY PLANNING QUESTIONS
Which experiences will have more impact on learning is done outdoors?
How can learning outdoors enhance and deepen learning within curriculum areas?
Which experiences are best suited to a combination of indoor and outdoor learning?
How can learning indoors best be consolidated, progressed or enhanced using the outdoors?
What opportunities exist for linking learning across the curriculum?
What current affairs or events could help place learning in a more meaningful or interesting context for young people?
It was simple, but it should be!
One thing that has often saddened me about teaching is the copious amount of paperwork. But when we are evidencing planning of outdoor learning, we do not need to add more paperwork.
I would show what I was teaching outdoors simply by adding a wee doodle tree to my plan. Simple, it took seconds, but it was there for all to see.
I loved to be a responsive teacher to meet the needs of the children in my class. This meant I did not always plan every lesson weeks or months in advance. (I am not sure how you can do this and be responsive). This meant I would often backplan the outdoor learning.
When it came time to review my plans at the end of term, I could add my wee forest of trees throughout them.
Progression Plan for Outdoor Learning
I have previously written a blog about why you do not need a progression planner for outdoor learning. Simply put, it is not a subject; it is a tool. Your progression can come from your curriculum itself.
When we are not comfortable with something, it can be easier to have clear expectations. But if the expectation is you use them outdoors, even the concrete jungle, to support learning, it is simple. Remember to use the questions above.
Getting The Ideas
Part of planning, at least short term plans, is working out where to get the ideas from and having an idea of how your lesson will look. You are reading this on our website, so you know we have blogs with ideas. We also have our book, Breaking into the Playground, and our member’s site with even more ideas, curriculum maps and more.
But we are not the only people with ideas. Messy Maths, Learning Through Landscapes, Pinterest, and so much more. All have some fantastic ideas. Just be careful not to lose yourself down the rabbit hole and spend hours without actually getting anywhere!
So What Are Our Top Tips
1. KISS – keep it simple; you do not need a fancy lesson; stick to the six questions above to plan
2. Take The Pressure Off – teachers often put so much pressure on themselves, I know I am guilty of this, but lessons can be short and simple and still make a real impact
3. Stay Focused – when planning, it is so easy to fall down the rabbit hole and get tons of awesome ideas but forget what we are planning to cover. Try and stay focused and not be caught by the next shiny
Outdoor learning is a great way to engage students in learning. By following these tips, teachers can plan an outdoor learning experience that meets the needs of both students and teachers. Remember, it takes time to get used to something new, but you will get there, and before long, you will be planning for outdoor learning without it feeling onerous.