1) Challenges to teaching outdoors include curriculum standards, daily schedule, supervision of students, potential hazards and lack of knowledge about effective outdoor instruction. Here are a few tips to address these and other barriers to teaching outside:
• Attend a Project Learning Tree (PLT) training and become comfortable teaching outdoors – in urban, suburban, and rural environments. (Project Learning Tree has over 40 years of expertise providing training, curriculum and resources to support teachers engaging in nature and outdoor instruction with students.) https://www.plt.org/trainings/attend-a-training/
• Get buy-in. Start with approval from administrators and buy-in from teachers.
• Have the students establish outdoor “rules” that they will live by for the year and have all agree to them. Discuss and review potential safety issues.
• Train your students to be in the forest/swamp/field/school yard and advance outdoors by short steps. It takes some time to build respect and trust.
• Make accommodations for less capable students. Arrange for a paraprofessional to escort students with special needs.
• Take time for “teachable moments” when you run into something outside that is unexpected.
• Teach students how to observe with “soft eyes” looking not just in a specific spot but focusing on everything at the same time. This will help them appreciate nature’s “big picture".
• Don’t be discouraged if every time you take your students out things don’t go perfectly. Reflect on the event and make a few notes on how to make it better the next time.
2) One valuable resource that you can use to engage your students in the development of an outdoor classroom while assessing your school outdoor campus is the PLT GreenSchools Investigations. (https://www.plt.org/custom-login/?target_page=green_school_register) Once you register, you have unfettered access to all 5 investigations (Energy, School Site, Environmental Quality, Waste and Water) In the School Site Investigation students will:
• Explore the outdoor school site and the broad variety of activities that it can be used for
• Observe and record plant and wildlife species around the school
• Assess gardening and composting possibilities on the school grounds
• Investigate the presence, health, value and benefits of trees
• Determine if changes to the school site would encourage the use of outdoor space for classes
• Learn how school grounds are being maintained and if sustainable practices are being used
• Develop student conceived plans for improving the school site
3) Provide examples of success stories and scientific research that highlight the many benefits of outdoor instructional engagement. The Children and Nature network reveals several research studies that glow about how nature, hands-on learning, and authentic experiences can:
• Improve test scores, attendance, and attitudes toward learning
• Positively affect student physical, social, interpersonal, and aesthetic development
• Alleviate symptoms of ADHD and ADD
• Help ELL learners learn new vocabulary
• Improve student health
• Allow students who learn differently from others to become leaders and shine
This quote is from a HS student whose teacher utilized PLT with his students doing phenological studies - “. . . I had so much fun in science this year. The field study was really fun, even though that lab report was kind of scary! . . . never, ever, ever stop the way you teach, because even though it’s a lot of work, it’s preparing us for real life.” https://www.plt.org/educator-tips/experiences-help-students-become-scien...