Before You Start Taking Your Students Outside: How to Prepare for Outdoor Learning

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You have heard of the many amazing benefits of outdoor learning and getting outside with your students. Getting outside can be as easy as taking your students for a walk or spending your physical education class outside. However, to get the major benefits of outdoor learning, you need to get outside with your students on a regular basis. This is a great place to learn how to start taking your students outside.

There are a few simple safety steps that you will need to take before you start taking your students outside on a regular basis. These steps are in place to ensure that both you and your students are happy, healthy, and safe during your outdoor learning time. Following these steps will help you to feel more comfortable with outdoor learning and will also ensure that everyone has fun and stays safe.

A teacher talking to a group of students outside

7 Things to Do Before Your Start Taking Your Students Outside to Learn

1. Plan Ahead

If the idea of outdoor learning seems scary, a bit of planning and time to think ahead can help to make you feel ready and capable. Remember, outdoor learning doesn’t need to be complicated. You can start with something as simple as just reading a book outside or give your students time to work on a project outdoors. Templates for planning your first outdoor lessons can be found in our “Get Outside Tool Kit.”

Don’t overwhelm yourself and start with an elaborate outdoor inquiry unit. Perhaps you just want to start with an outdoor art project or a writing project. Look for something that is easily transferable to the outdoors and doesn’t require a ton of expertise. You can even look on TeachersPayTeachers for some pre-made outdoor learning activities. These ready-to-use activities can help ease some of the planning burden and make you feel a bit more comfortable taking your kids outdoors. 

2. Get to Know Your Area

Take some time to learn about the area which you will be using for outdoor learning. If it’s important to what you are studying and learning from. For example, you might want to learn about what type of biome or ecoregion you are in. This can help you to identify some of the plants and wildlife that might be in your area. Knowing the plants and wildlife can be important both for interest’s sake, but also for the safety of your students. It is important to know if plants such as poison ivy might be in your area and how to identify them. Also, understanding the wildlife that might be present, even in an urban area, can help you keep your students safe.

It might also be necessary to learn about the weather patterns so that you can plan for the best time to take your kids outdoors. If you are travelling far away from your school you may need to know places where you can find shelter or even places where your students can use the bathroom. 

Understanding your area is also important in planning your risk management strategies. A thorough site assessment can help insure the safety of your students while using your outdoor learning space.

3. Gather Your Supplies

Figure out what you are going to need ahead of time. Having to scramble for materials at the last minute can just add to the stress of your experience. Know what you will need and if you need to travel far how you will transport it. Look for resources and materials that can help to enrich your experience outdoors. You can check out blogs, books, or even just see what is in your school for ideas on resources that you can take outdoors. 

4. Prepare Your Families For Being Outside

Let your families know ahead of time that you will be spending time outdoors in the upcoming days/weeks. If families are going to need to prepare by finding outdoor clothing you may need to give them even more notice. I ensure that kindergarten families know well in advance of kindergarten starting that we will be spending a lot of time outside every day. I also let them know what dressing for each type of weather looks like. This way they can be prepared and source the clothing that they need well in advance of each season. 

5. Deal With the Logistics in Advance

Talk to your administrator, principal, or boss about what needs to be done before you take your students outdoors. If you are not planning on leaving the school grounds then there is probably nothing that needs to be done in advance. However, if you need to secure permission forms or need to seek permission from a land owner, ensure that you give yourself plenty of time to do that. Have items such as your first aid kit and student roster ready to go in advance.

6. Set Expectations Ahead of Time

Take some time to plan through your expectations for your students when they are outdoors. Ensure students understand the safety and behavior expectations for their time outdoors and why these expectations are in place. It is also important that the students understand what to do if something happens to themselves or a classmate or if they notice something that is unsafe. Having these expectations in place is vitally important for classroom management when you are outide.

7. Ask For Help

You don’t need to do it alone. If you don’t feel comfortable, you can ask family members to volunteer to help supervise or even lead sessions. You might be surprised at the skills and areas of expertise that your classroom families can share. It is also a great way to engage families in your outdoor learning. There are also many organizations that provide outdoor field trips, forest school opportunities, or even outdoor learning kits. See what is available in your area and what you need to do to get your students involved. 

A group of teenage students outside linking arms.

What Are You Waiting For, It’s Time to Start Taking Your Students Outside

There are so many benefits to getting your students outside. Take a bit of time to do some planning and then go for it. Your students will love the chance to get out of the classroom and spend time learning in a different location.

Keep things simple, and then grow into bigger and more ambitious learning goals. If your students are not used to spending long periods of time outdoors, they will need some time to adjust as well. There are so many ways that you can take learning outdoors, don’t worry if your way doesn’t look Instagram-perfect the first time you head out. With a bit of planning and preparation, getting started with taking learning outdoors can be a breeze. 

Here are some great activities to get you started outside:

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