Outdoors education for those in a hurry by @infinitebirch

Put on your coats and scarves, step outside and blow away the cobwebs!

There are so many benefits to getting your class out of the classroom during the school day, they almost don’t support repeating.

But here are some of them:

(a) Does wonders for their physical, mental and spiritual health. Children smile more easily out of doors. Maybe you will too.

(b) Fosters a vital connection with the natural world outside of your window.

(c) A world of unique learning to delve into, from bushcraft to orienteering and natural history. Much better to light fires out of doors, I think.

(d) It vastly improves children’s concentration and focuses on other lessons. Tackle the afternoon slide into lethargy head-on, with a burst of fresh air after lunch.

(e) Beats doing another spelling test.

It’s easier than you might think to add some great outdoors to your day. If you don’t happen to have an hour spare in your timetable to march your class down to the woods and bother the wildlife, you might find the following suggestions helpful. All of the following activities can be completed in 15 minutes or less. Perfect for when you have time to kill before afternoon assembly and you’ve finished today’s chapter of War and Peace.

1. Bring the Outdoors indoors

Back in the days before interactive whiteboards, virtual pet apps and trolleys of laptops that don’t work, any primary classroom worth its salt would have its very own Nature Table. On it would be displayed any interesting flora or fauna that the class had brought in with them from the playground or the back garden.

Reinstate this glorious tradition by finding a suitable tabletop or chest of drawers, covering it with a table cloth and supplying a magnifying glass and field guide or two. Encourage your class to bring in their findings, and hey presto: your very own corner of the countryside is within easy reach. Excellent inspiration for literacy starters, art prompts and numerous links to science. I once had a child bring in his collection of silkworms in a shoebox, which led to a fascinating lesson about caterpillars, life-cycles and Chinese silk production. They couldn’t half get through some mulberry leaves, those silkworms.

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You never know what will come in on a Monday morning. Exhibits might include sheep skulls, owl pellets, exotic mushrooms or four-leaf clovers. In his schoolboy memoir, Moab is My Washpot, Stephen Fry recalls his failed attempts to win a star for the most impressive nature table exhibit of the week:

“I had entertained high hopes that week for my badger’s skull, boiled, vigorously scrubbed clean with Colgate toothpaste […]. I tried a starfish, a thrush egg, a collection of pressed campions and harebells and a boxful of shards of that willow pattern ironstone china that the Victorians buried in the earth for the sole purpose of disappointing twentieth-century treasure seekers. None of these met with the least success.”

He eventually brings in the body of a recently deceased mole, only to be outdone by a rival who brings a live donkey to school on the same day. On the whole, I’d say it is best to leave animal corpses, pressed butterflies and the like at the door.

And I’d definitely draw the line at a donkey.

2. Mini scavenger hunt

Children love to collect things. I have known several in my time who were exceptionally good at collecting detentions and black marks against their names. Still, at least they were good at something.

There are plenty of other, more wholesome things that children can collect if let loose upon the great outdoors. Harness their mania for acquisition by providing a list of things for them to find in the playground or sports field.

The list will depend on your surroundings and the time of year. In autumn, children might find three differently coloured leaves, a pine cone and a conker. In winter, perhaps a holly leaf, two turtle doves and a partridge in a… you get the idea. Children could even write lists of items for their classmates to find. Set a time limit of ten minutes, and supply a small container or paper cup to store their finds.

Once back in the classroom, scavengers can share their tips on the best places to look and report on anything else they came across. Variations include ABC scavenger hunts, where children find something beginning with each letter of the alphabet (pity the child who makes it to q) or photograph challenges, where children snap photos of their finds on an iPad instead of picking them up. This one at least has the advantage of reducing the amount of greenery left on your classroom carpet after the lesson.

3. Ramble on

Lead your class on a short wander around the school, taking in any outdoor spaces such as sports fields, vegetable patches, ponds, forbidden forests, etc. Ask children to keep their eyes open for wildlife such as wildflowers or insects as they go. Hand out some paper afterwards and ask children to write down as many different sightings as they can remember. The child with the largest number of items on his or her list wins.

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This will test the children’s powers of memory, and encourage them to take a keen interest in the world around them. It can also work in inner-city settings where outdoors space might be scarce. Take a magnifying glass with you and look closely at a brick wall (what do you mean, get a life?). You will be astounded at the variety of mosses and lichens growing there. Just don’t stare for too long, people might start to talk.

The most important thing is to make the effort and get out there. I know it’s probably raining, and you don’t have the time. But there are so many benefits to taking children outdoors. A breath of fresh air, fun, freedom, a big blue sky above you and waves of grass below. They are all there for the taking, and I don’t think it’s necessary to set aside a huge chunk of your day to enjoy them.

Besides, those laptops probably won’t connect to the wifi, and the iPads haven’t been charged. The children have done enough sitting down for the day. Put on your coats and scarves, step outside and blow away the cobwebs. Your class will thank you for it.

What have you got to lose?


This is a re-blog post originally posted by Tom Birch and published with kind permission. The article was originally published in 2015, and updated in 2019 by UKEd Editorial in accordance with website policy and upgrade changes.

The original post can be found here.

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