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These are the elements that our schools need more of these days, say environmental and development experts. Many students already have access to technology. What they may not have are safe places to engage in the outside world with curiosity and wonder. And so much of learning, of life, is built on wonder.

“We tend to think that children today know so much because they have all these electronics at their fingertips,…..But what it really means is that teachers have a different role now. The teachers don’t need to pass on as much information as they used to, but they need to teach the students how to transform all this information into knowledge. In order to do that they need practical experience.”

And don’t forget, The health benefits to taking students outside, in almost any weather, are myriad. Even if you just wander with them for 15 minutes, or ask them to write a short description of something that they see or hear or smell, their health and education will improve. 

Here are 5 creative ideas for getting students outside:


1. Sidewalk Chalk

So many mudane tasks are improved with the introduction of sidewalk chalk. Math problems in particular are ideal to work out on pavement because space is bountiful (allowing for lots of collaboration), and because the brain is activated differently when students are outside and when they are writing on something other than paper. 

Additionally,here’s research that was done on using sidewalk chalk to practice tesselations outside on the pavement. Multi-age groups worked together on complex tesselations and problem solving. Something about the fresh air really gets the wheels turning! 


2. Natural Skills Unit

In any subject and at any level, you as the teacher could make gains by introducing a mini-natural skills unit. Your students could garden, weed, classify plants and animals, design outdoor spaces, track the weather, fight pollution, and much more.

Maybe you carve out an hour a week now that the weather has warmed up.

Maybe you invited a boy or girl scout to give demonstrations.

Maybe you let them show what they already know. 

You can’t go wrong! 


3. Playground Poem Portfolio

How does the playground change throughout the year? You could have students write once a month in a portfolio and tailor the specifications to fit your curriculum needs. 

Here are some questions to help anchor a playground poem project:

What are the sights, smells, sounds, and feels of the playground in spring, winter, fall?

What scientific principles can they observe?

What mathematical ones? What is historical or community- oriented about the playground?

What stories take place inside the jungle gym, on the slide?

How does that change over the course of the school year, or over many years? 

There is ALWAYS good reason to write, and write outside!


4. Mindfulness Moments

More and more schools are teaching mindfulness as emotional education, behavior regulation, and just good old-fashioned brain exercise. Capitalize on this perfect opportunity to take your students outside. 

After leading them through a mindfulness exercise like this, this, or this, conclude with an activity that is specific to the outdoors:

“End with a gratitude practice. Ask students to envision their favorite place or thing from the natural world. It could be a park, an animal or a tree — whatever comes to their mind. Once they have something in mind (it will take a moment or two), ask them to send thoughts of gratitude to this place or element of the natural world. Encourage them to fully appreciate this place or creature. Remind them how special it is to have this creature or part of the natural world in their life.

After you have done these exercises, ask your students to end by gently opening their eyes. Then have a discussion about what they just experienced together. Discussion topics might include:

  • Which one of the elements did the students connect with the best?
  • What did this feel like? Does anyone feel more like part of the Earth?”

One of the classic mindfulness practices is to blow bubbles…and who doesn’t love that? 


5. Engineering 

Take students outside and challenge them to get creative. Using a few classroom supplies like string, tape, or glue, design a structure! Your students may build with sticks or grass or dirt. They may create something that hangs from a tree or is meant to house birds. The parameters are up to you, but obviously the possibilities to infuse math, science, and creative writing in such a pursuit are easy to see. 

What about creating a sundial, making a pulley, or building a boat out of natural elements? 

Here are several links with many, many resources for outdoor STEM activities!

What are some great outdoor activities that you have used or seen? How do you inspire that wonder and respect for the natural world? 

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