Kootenay Boundary Environmental Education

From Teachers for Teachers

50+ Tips & Tricks for taking your learning outdoors!

  1. Build an expectation that you will be outside every day for periods of an hour or more and it won’t take long before students show up with appropriate clothing.
  2. I always say, “Remember you are still in school, you just aren’t in a desk.” Then we review class expectations for listening and learning outside.
  3. A class set of clipboards really helps.
  4. The more we go out, the more the kids enjoy it and the more prepared to be outside they are. It may seem daunting at first, but the learning is totally engaging. Nature provides so many powerful provocations. When you go outside, listen to the conversations and record the questions and wonders you hear. Use those wonders as a jumping off point for inquiry projects.
  5. Carry extra clothes: mitts, tuques, buffs and a kid-size down coat.
  6. Don’t let a little weather frighten you.
  7. Have a stash (box worked for me) of pencils that you bring out for the kids to use so they are not bringing their own pencil and losing it.
  8. I think I need to remember not to make it a big thing. Going outside can be as simple as a brain break or a walk to make some observations. I get intimidated by going outside in the winter at times because it is icy or cold. I need to realize that the students are already coming prepared to be outside during lunch and recess and going out again during the school day would not be a big deal.
  9. Identify early students from income-limited families and find coats for the winter for them.
  10. Before engaging in a formal lesson I always allow students to explore the area on their own, with clear boundary expectations, of course. This allows the students to work out their curiosity and interact with the area in their own way within their own development stage. After this need to be curious and active has been met students are far more compliant with any formal lesson.
  11. Speak with the community volunteer to make sure they understood the class and also provide guidance with regards to student behaviour expectations.
  12. Be familiar with the area the students are comfortable finding a place to sit alone, think and draw.
  13. I have the students fold mini booklets to keep track of their notes in. It adds a novelty, requires less mass to move around, and they love that they can make new booklets for as many things as they want.
  14. Prep students on how to behave and act around animals.
  15. Really develop a sense of responsibility to those who demonstrate leadership qualities when in the forest with 30 kids.
  16. Having a project on school property allowed us to do weather-dependent activities. I feel if we had planned a field trip ahead of time and the weather had been rainy and miserable, the students would have refused to go, or been miserable in going. The week-long project allowed several students to participate on different days, and allowed us to skip the mid-week foul-weather day. It also made it easily accessible so that the learning opportunity was “right there”.
  17. Network! Make connections with people in your local community and let them help plan your outside days. We have connected with our local invasive species coordinator, a private land owner excited to share their beautiful lakefront property, our local mill’s managers and more!
  18. Don’t forget your whistle!
  19. Coyote’s Guide is a great resource for grounding kids in their environment. It is an important first reading step. I have gained a wealth of understanding of how to comfortably allow my students to help me teach me what they need or want to learn using nature as our medium. Our comfort level with the outdoors is ever increasing and as such I am looking at more opportunities for them to become greater stewards of their environment. This can be ordered online here: http://cbeen.ca/book-orders/
  20. Actionbound is a really fun, interactive app that is used to created scavenger hunts. Once created, the “bound” must be loaded in wifi but then can be used offline. So many possibilities.
  21. We used the book Keepers of the Earth by Caduto and Bruchac to guide our hike.
  22. I used flint and steel kits that are made by the Nakusp Secondary School outdoor ed. class. They come in a case with a flint, a tool that can be used like a knife but is not as sharp as a knife, and a block of tinder. We made our fires on metal pie plates which I liked because I think it encourages students to think small to start. I also described the fires as fairy bonfires.
  23. Contact local experts (like your ski hill manager) and take advantage of their expertise. When you visit a business find out if the students can do some work to help out. This will give the students a better feel for the time and effort it takes to keep the business going. This also makes it more worthwhile for your host who might be sacrificing some of the time out of their busy schedule.
  24. Have a set time to meet back in class, or have students bring their books with them if you’ll be finishing class outside. Share all instructions prior to leaving the classroom. Allow for activities to include more student-led and interactive (if possible).
  25. It is also important for students to have unmanaged time outside in nature that they can safely explore without an excess of rules binding their movements. I found it odd that at lunchtime so many of them and the adults were so comfortable with students playing on a created playground because it made it easier to supervise and yet they had a gorgeous, interesting setting at their disposal that I would like to help them find better ways to interact with and also feel a stronger sense of comfort when they do.
  26. Take time and slow down the process… at first I only had a few kids participating while the rest were playing in the leaves. But in time I had complete participation because I gave my students ‘wait time’.
  27. Work with a buddy group; the accountability to another group keeps you motivated, and also helps inspire the older kids because of the little buddy connections
  28. My students always end their day with Centre activities. I found that they had a lot more writing ideas being outside and were more willing to hand in quality work when it meant they could use their Centre time outside after completing their work.
  29. When we walk along the sidewalk we walk 2×2, but when we cross the highway we walk 4×4 so our line is much shorter and we make it across before a pedestrian light changes. I also spend a great deal of time ensuring that when we cross streets we stop talking and each of us pays attention to what is happening rather than just following like sheep; we are responsible for our own care across a street.
  30. This year I purchased a class set of clip boards, which lives in a bin by my backdoor. It is there and ready for whenever we want to go out on a whim.
  31. I recommend picking a place to visit frequently over and over again. This builds ownership and connection to the land.
  32. “The book “”Over and Under the snow”” by Kate Messner, is great for looking at how animals are living in these winter conditions. It was a great book to read before we made our mouse houses.
  33. Reinforcing behavior expectations before leaving for an outdoor learning activity is important. Also, I would recommend planning a balance of activities; for example, the students walked and explored for about an hour before I asked them to do the more focused quiet writing activity at their Sit Spot. I followed this by an active game of Tag.
  34. Going outside in the early morning made a big difference when it came to how focused the group was. I think it set up the rest of the day to be successful as well.
  35. A game, courtesy of the Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature (Jon Young, Ellen Haas, Evan McGown): Leaf Hide and Seek. Have students find a hiding spot by themselves under some leaves. They have to be as still as possible — unknowingly creating a “sit spot”, relaxing their bodies and noticing the details of nature in their immediate vicinity. As the seeker, the teacher takes their time to actively begin searching, allowing the “sit spot” time to naturally occur.
  36. For language teachers going over a written list of vocabulary required to use outside of the classroom helps students use the new vocabulary.
  37. We used the stumps either as tables or stools. The kids got to choose if they wanted to sit or stand to draw. This choice was good for them.
  38. Expect the unexpected and enjoy teaching to new surroundings and experiences rather than gathering students attention away from them.
  39. Have a hard surface for students to write on. I had students record the main ideas and interesting points of the presentations in their group and they had to use file folders, which were ok, but not great to write on.
  40. I think the most challenging part of our day was making sure all the students were prepared! Fall is a tricky time to be prepared for because the mornings can be very cold, but it can also be beautiful in the sunshine during the day.
  41. The balance of free play and structured learning is challenging to find! Free play proved to be some of the most valuable learning that took place. Don’t be afraid to leave some time unplanned and let the kids be kids.
  42. Students enjoy being outside but before they leave the classroom clarify they know they also have a task to accomplish (learn, collect, get inspired). Discuss the safety (buddy system, the time all students should be back at the meeting place so we can”
  43. Bound notebooks from the dollar store with a pencil taped to string and taped in the cover. $1.25 each. We bring our notebooks on field trips and do all most of our science in it. We are lucky to live next to a bird sanctuary so it is easy for us to take a walk and take down observations in our notebooks.
  44. We know even very small natural spaces hold amazing potential. When we visit a place over time, we come to love its unique characteristics. We love to name our wild places.
  45. Collaboration is great! Work with other teachers.
  46. Prepare your students to go out. I find high school students especially complain a lot if they are cold or wet.
  47. I loved that if students wanted to walk around and be away from the game, they weren’t noticed by their peers. Also, our games were sometimes “interrupted” with flocks of geese flying overhead which led to different conversations and questions.
  48. Alternate games to help keep you warm in cold temperatures but to provide rest, reflection, and quiet forest time in between.
  49. To not try to plan every moment. I think my students got the most from the times when they were allowed to explore independently.
  50. You can make art with anything from nature.
  51. For students or classes that are accustomed to learning indoors it’s beneficial to explain and discuss the activity they’ll be doing outside while in their classroom. This reduces distractions once outside as students know what to expect. Meeting or clustering at the beginning of the session and reviewing and demonstrating also makes learning objectives clearer to students. We meet at the end of each lesson in circle format to discuss what went well, what was liked, and things to change for next time.
  52. Pre-load instructions in class or keep instructions short in order to keep students moving, warm and engaged.

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