The benefits of outdoor classrooms and how best to implement them

We all remember those sunny school days when we looked longingly out of the window and where thrilled when the teacher said we could take the lesson outside! It is more than just the benefit of being out in the sunshine, however, the benefits of teaching in an outdoor environment is now a well established education principle.

Children are learning everywhere and all the time. They respond to a broad variety of learning experiences and opportunities to grow and these cannot all be found in a traditional classroom environment. The use of an outdoor classroom offers activities and opportunities to learn that are personally meaningful to them and provide a highly effective learning environment.

Here are just some of the reasons to encourage outdoor classrooms in the school environment –

It makes learning a multi-sensory experience

By learning outdoors there is the opportunity to engage the senses of touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. This helps children to retain a physical memory of activities that are long lasting.

Moves learning away from traditional text books and resources

Outdoor classrooms allow children to learn from direct experience rather than more passive resources such as text books, lectures and the internet. By engaging with nature and the physical world it can bring learning to life.

Children learn from the process and not just the outcome

Outdoor classroom teaching encourages a more hands on, inquiry-based learning in a real world setting. The process is something the children will learn from (often working in groups) and not just the answer or outcome.

Encourages the teaching of multi-disciplinary studies

Outdoor classrooms lend themselves to the teaching of multiple academic subjects in one task (often without the children being aware of it). The creation of a vegetable bed, for example requires maths skills, biology, writing and observation skills and creativity (if there is a scarecrow making to be done).

Accommodates different learning styles

People have different learning styles and preferences – visual, aural and kinesthetic. For children you thrive in a more experiential approach, outdoor classrooms provide the environment in which to learn in this way, which is often difficult to replicate in a traditional classroom setting.

Outdoor classrooms can be flexible spaces

Tradition classrooms tend to only have one purpose – as a classroom. But an outdoor classroom space can be used for teaching and learning, but it can also be used as meeting places, quiet places or as shelters and waiting areas.

So if you are convinced about the benefits of outdoor classroom spaces, what are the options?

Although not essential to have a structure, the UK weather means that have a sheltered area is preferable. There are decisions to be made.

  • How are you planning to use the space?
  • Does it need to be near nature areas or as part of the playground?
  • Do you want it to be attached to the classroom or away from it?
  • Do you have unused areas which could be converted and made some use of?
  • Is it a space the children will be allowed to use themselves at break times?
  • Do you need integrated seating?
  • What is your budget?

Depending on how you answer these questions will depend on the type of structure you opt for. There are basically 3 types –

1. Standalone shelters

Shelters such as the ever popular Buttercup shelter provide seating and shelter from the sun. They can be positioned in playgrounds or grassed areas and benefit from a circular design

2. Attached to classrooms

Use of canopy style structures from classroom provide large and flexible outdoor classrooms and sheltered play areas. There are often unused areas bwteen buildings that can be used to create additional outdoor teaching areas.

You can even add shutters for additional security when the school is closed.

3. Shade sales

Shade sales are a popular solution for providing playground shade but can also be used for outdoor classroom areas with the inclusion of seating.