Developing Your Outdoor Education Policies and Procedures

Teacher walking with students outdoors

You are excited to dive right in and start up your outdoor education program or club at your school. That’s awesome! Before you get started you need to set the groundwork for program. I know, this isn’t the fun part, but it is a necessary task if you are creating an ongoing program that strays outside the normal boundaries of the school yard or school activities. Before you start planning games, activities, and hikes, you need to take some time to set up the outdoor education policies and procedures for your program. Your policies and procedures, along with conducting a site assessment and developing your classroom management strategy are all part of having a solid risk management strategy.

As your school situation, location, and class is unique, these policies and procedures will be specific to your program. You can look at what other programs have created, but you need to answer questions specific to your program’s needs. You will need to take the time to think about where you will be taking your students in your program, what activities they will be doing, and the level of risk of the activities that they will be participating in. Carefully thinking about these aspects of your program will help you to clarify some of the outdoor education policies and procedures that you will need to craft. It is also a good idea to include your administration and other staff involved in creating your policies and procedures, this way everyone will be on the same page.

*Disclaimer: I am not an insurance professional. You will need to discuss your policies and procedures with your administration, your insurance company, and other staff that will be helping with your program. 

If you are looking for a step by step guide in developing your policies and procedures, check out the “Get Outside Tool Kit.” In this tool kit you will find teacher worksheets to help you develop policies and procedures specific to your program.

Why You Need Outdoor Education Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures can sound so…well, boring. I will admit that this is not the glamorous part of any outdoor education program. However, having a clear set of policies and procedures will make everything go smoother. From getting your program off the ground to dealing with potential situations that come up, your well-thought-out outdoor education policies and procedures will help you to navigate the challenges as they arise. 

Policies: When I think of policies, I think of rules. Policies will help to guide behaviour, site use, supervision, etc. Your policies should be based on your beliefs and overall mission of your program.

Procedures: Procedures are more of a “what to do if…” set of guidelines. Procedures can take the guesswork out of difficult situations since a course of action has already been established. 

1. Clear Outdoor Education Policies and Procedures Are Necessary for Insurance​

If you are running a school program, chances are you are covered by your school insurance policy. However, that insurance policy probably only covers certain things that fall under the umbrella of a “regular” school day. If you are participating in activities that may take you off of the school property or fall into a “higher risk” category, you may have to have these activities written into your insurance coverage. 

Your insurance provider will be more willing to add in your particular activities if you have a clear plan for how you are going to conduct your program. Simply telling them that you take the kids to the woods and they climb trees isn’t going to go over well. You need to show them that you have a clear outline for what your students will be participating in and the guidelines and safety procedures that will be in place. 

Additionally, if you are starting your own program, you are going to have to get insurance to start with. This is a process that can take a significant amount of time, especially if you are not clear on how you will be conducting your activities. Make life easier for both yourself and your insurance broker by having a clear plan, set of policies, and procedures ready to go. 

2. Policies and Procedures Make Your Administrators, Families, and Other Stake Holders Feel More Comfortable ​

Not all families and administrators are familiar or comfortable with the concepts of outdoor education, risky play, or even taking learning outside the classroom. In order for these people to feel comfortable, you will need to assure them that you have put a great deal of thought and planning into what you are doing. Having a clear set of policies and procedures assures families, administrators, and others that you have a plan and are capable of dealing with any situation that may arise. It also assures them that you are providing a valuable service and not just taking the kids outside for free time. 

3. Outdoor Education Policies and Procedures Keep Everyone on the Same Page

Conflict arises when people are unsure of what their roles or expectations are. You can aleviate some sources of potential conflict by being clear and explicit ahead of time about rules, roles, expectations, and procedures.

  • Having a set of policies and procedures helps families to understand what the behaviour expectations and guidelines are for their students
  • Explaining the policies and procedures of your program helps students understand what is expected of them
  • Policies and procedures help the adult staff to understand their roles and the rules/guidelines for participation
  • Policies and procedures help administration to advocate for your program

4. Policies and Procedures Make it Easier to Deal With Potential Conflicts

When conflicts arise, whether it be with a family member, a student, or another staff member, having the policies available to refer back to can help to resolve the issue or clarify the misconduct. Having procedures available will be useful in determining a course of action in a difficult situation.  

teacher working outside writing in a notebook

Policies to Consider​

Your policies should be based in your beliefs and your overall mission or objective for your program. They should be fair to everyone involved and clear as to what the expectations are. My lists below are by no means exhaustive, but are more of a place to get started.

1. Safety Policies​

  • supervision ratios
  • rules for participation
  • required clothing/footwear
  • activity-specific policies (especially if your program involves tools or open-water activities)
  • permission forms
  • waivers

2. Staffing Policies

  • staff conduct
  •  staff roles and expectations
  • reporting child abuse/neglect

3. Site Use Policies

  • site safety requirements 
  • site assessment requirements
  • environmental impact guidelines

Procedures For Your Program​

Having a clear set of procedures can help you navigate difficult situations as they arise. Procedures set out step-by-step guidelines for what to do in particular situations. You will need  to create a set of procedures that are specific to your situation and site. For example, if you are near water you will have procedures that are specific to being near water.

1. Procedures for Staff​

  • first aid procedures
  • lost student procedures
  • reporting injuries
  • dealing with behaviour challenges
  • staff misconduct procedures

2. Environment Specific Procedures​

  • inclement weather 
  • dangerous animals
  • reporting site or environmental damage
  • evacuating a site

3. Procedures for Students​

  • understanding different signals from the leader (emergency, gathering time, clean up, etc.)
  • what to do if you get lost
  • how to help if someone is injured
  • what to do if a staff member gets hurt
  • dangerous animals
  • what to do if there are strangers using the site that make the student feel uncomfortable 
teacher with a group of students sitting outside on a log

Communicating These Policies and Procedures​

After you have taken the time to carefully craft your outdoor education policies and procedures, share them with your administrator and insurance professional. They will be able to assist you in finding any gaps in your outdoor education policies and procedures. You will also find that as your program progresses, you may need to update and adjust your policies and procedures to suit your programs needs. Setting up your policies and procedures isn’t necessarily a “one and done” type situation. 

Prior to starting your program, share your policies and procedures with your students and families. You may wish to create a handbook to share with families so that they are aware of your policies and procedures. If you have a website, posting your policies and procedures on the website is also a great idea. You want to be completely transparent about your policies and procedures, this way everyone will be clear about what is expected of them. 

Now It’s Time To Get Outside…​

You’ve taken the time to carefully craft your outdoor education policies and procedures. Now it’s time to get outside and have some fun. There are so many amazing benefits to getting outside, from the amazing physical benefits to the mental health and social and emotional benefits of spending time in nature. Depending on your students and your program, you may have your students engaged in outdoor play or tailor your program more to meet the needs of your curriculum. No matter how you choose to do, take the time to get outside and enjoy nature with your students. 

Keep Reading…

Get Outside With Your Students All Year…

Similar Posts