Overcoming Challenges Facing Outdoor Educators

Cover Photo Challenges Facing Outdoor Educators/ a teacher with a group of kids outside

The benefits of outdoor learning are amazing for both our students and ourselves as teachers. However, taking your students outside isn’t always easy. There is a reason why so many teachers stay inside, it is simply easier for them. However, in this post I will outline some of the challenges that teachers face in taking learning outside. We will also discuss some suggestions for overcoming challenges facing outdoor educators. My goal is to help make outdoor learning easy and accessible for all teachers so that they too can get outside and thrive with their students.

Challenges Facing Outdoor Educators

Feeling Alone

Being an outdoor educator or taking your students outside can be something that makes you feel very isolated and alone. Although there are so many benefits to outdoor learning, many teachers do not see the value in it or believe that outdoor learning is “too hard.” They might even look at outdoor learning time as a waste of time. As a result, you might feel like you are alone in your beliefs or even like you are doing something wrong. This might be especially true if you teach at a small school where you are the only one that promotes outdoor learning.

Some ways to overcome feeling alone as an outdoor educator are:

  • seek out groups and organizations that promote outdoor learning and get involved
  • seek out professional development opportunities where you can meet like-minded individuals
  • do some reading, find research to back up your beliefs and know that you are not alone
  • feel confident in the fact that you are a leader
  • know that you are making a difference in the lives of your students

Administration Challenges to Outdoor Education

Your administration has their student’s safety and success in mind and I like to always assume they have the best intentions. However, at times you may find that your administration does not support your ideas about outdoor learning. This may come from a few different places such as they don’t understand the value of outdoor learning, have different priorities (such as students meeting particular standards on tests), or simply are worried for student’s safety. In these cases, you may have to spend some time working with your administration to come up with a “win-win” solution.

Ways you can work with your administration and help them support outdoor education:

  • make time to talk with them (in detail) about your desire to take students outside and how you think it will benefit the students and the school
  • show that you have a detailed risk management plan and a plan to cover the curriculum
  • take time to explain the benefits of being outside for their students, including how it will impact their learning

Parents Who Don’t Believe in Outdoor Education

Another challenge that some teachers face in taking learning outside is convincing parents that outdoor learning is a worthwhile endeavour. They might have beliefs about outdoor learning based on their own personal or cultural backgrounds or they might feel that the outdoors is unsafe. As a result, they may have some issues or push back when you introduce outdoor learning.

Some ways to work with hesitant parents are:

  • mindfully listen to what they are sharing so you can better understand where they are coming from
  • keep parents informed on what you are learning and how you are learning it
  • show parents how you will be meeting the curriculum
  • share your risk management plan with families
  • share some of the research supporting outdoor learning and the benefits of outdoor learning for the child

Kids Are Coming Unprepared for Outdoor Learning

Students coming unprepared to be outside is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to outdoor teachers. You spend time creating fun and meaningful outdoor lessons only to have students show up unprepared to be outside. However, there may be reasons for this. For example, I often find that kids who live in two different homes may accidentally leave their stuff at the other parents house. Another reason is that families might not be able to afford outdoor clothing or be unfamiliar with what is needed if they are new to your area. These barriers to outdoor learning can be real and understanding them only comes with building relationships within your community.

Some ways that you can help ensure that your students are prepared to be outside:

Weather Interfering with Outdoor Learning

You really can’t control the weather, but you can be prepared for it. Weather getting in the way of your carefully planned outdoor lesson can be a real bummer. However, if it is safe and your students are prepared you might be able to still go outside. This is where you will have to use your best teacher judgment and rely on your weather policies and procedures to help you make a safe and informed choice.

Some ways that you can work with the weather are:

  • ensure that you have outlined your weather limits in your policies and procedures to take the guesswork out of whether you will go out or not
  • ensure that your students have appropriate clothing for the weather so that you can go outside when you are close to the limits
  • if the weather is borderline, (example the temperature is close to your cold limit, but not there yet) why not spend a bit of time outside and then come in
  • have a backup plan- I find that if I have an indoor backup plan then the weather doesn’t interfere…it’s when I don’t have a backup plan that the weather decides to get crazy
  • know when to come inside- if things are getting bad know when it is time to come in

Finding a Place to Take Kids Outside

For some schools, finding an outdoor space to take their students might be challenging. Either they have a schoolyard that lacks green spaces or their school neighbourhood is unsafe. You don’t have to have a schoolyard forest (I wish) in order to take your students outside, you might just need to get creative. (Of course, if it is unsafe in your neighbourhood, you might need to get very creative.) Before starting any outdoor learning activity, be sure to do a thorough site assessment.

Ways to find a suitable outdoor learning space:

  • think outside the box…is there a park or a green space nearby?
  • if you are extra motivated you can work on ways to create green spaces in your schoolyard
  • are you able to work with a local conservation area to get your students outside if your school neighbourhood is unsafe?
  • look for grants for getting your kids outside- you might be able to find grants that will allow you to take your students on field trips to various outdoor spaces

Other Conflicting School Priorities and Activities

At times you may find that there is nothing standing in the way of your outdoor learning time, except for all of the other things going on at school. It may be a matter of a group of students being pulled out of class for various reasons or a testing period that seems to conflict with your outdoor learning time. In some schools it feels like there are so many competing priorities that it makes it hard to get anything done. However, if outdoor learning is your priority, you may need to find some ways to work it into your daily schedule.

Ways to work outdoor learning in with other priorities at school:

  • if students are being pulled out during your outdoor learning time, work with the other staff to figure out how best to navigate this. Perhaps, if you ask nicely, you might even be able to get them to move their pull-out times around
  • if your day is filled with so many other different activities, why not just have an outdoor reading period or a period where you take other work outside
  • find ways that you can take other classes outside, such as your gym time, so that your students are still getting some time outside
  • ensure that the other staff at school know why you are taking your students outside- if they don’t see it as extra playtime or “wasted time” they will be less likely to interfere with it

I’m here to help you overcome some of these challenges…

Outdoor learning has so many amazing benefits. These benefits extend to both your students and yourself as a teacher. However, there can be many challenges facing outdoor educators or teachers who want to get outside with their students. Whether your challenges come from your administration, your school community context, or simply just students being unprepared, they can be disheartening. I’m here to help you get outside with your students. If you are struggling with one of these challenges, or if you have another challenge that you would like some support on, why not send me a message?

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