The Transformative Power of Outdoor Writing for Students

Cover Image The Transformative Power of Outdoor Writing- A group of kids sitting on the grass with books

When I was an indoor teacher, I always found that I struggled to come up with engaging writing activities. I tried all kinds of different tactics…writers workshop, prompts and activities from TPT, making up my own random activities. However, no matter what I tried, the results were always the same. The kids who enjoyed writing performed well. The kids who didn’t enjoy writing either didn’t try or did the bare minimum. Then there was always that kid who just sat there because they didn’t know what to write. It wasn’t until I tried outdoor writing that I started to notice a change in my student’s writing.

Once I started taking writing outside, I began to see my student’s writing evolve. For starters, there was an endless source of creative material to write about. Additionally, students were taken out of the classroom and immersed in a new setting. Both of these translated into more interesting writing. I also began to notice students beginning to connect more with the subjects that they wrote about. They seemed more engaged in both writing and nature.

Taking writing outside is an easy way to take your first steps toward outdoor learning with your class. You don’t need to start out big, simply taking a writing prompt outdoors can be a great way to get going. Once your students settle into outdoor writing, you will begin to notice both subtle and big changes in your students and their writing. Below you will find seven benefits of taking writing outdoors for your students.

A group of kids sitting on the grass with open notebooks

Seven Benefits of Outdoor Writing for Your Students

Students will Experience The Overall Benefits of Outdoor Learning

By taking writing, or any subject outside, your students will not just cover the curriculum outcomes, but also experience the many benefits of outdoor learning. There is a growing body of research supporting the value of outdoor learning for students. Outdoor learning is a truly holistic learning experience where students benefit physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. What outdoor learning looks like depends on school contexts, teacher philosophies, and the age of the students. However, no matter what form outdoor learning takes, students still experience the many benefits of being outdoors.

a group of middle years kids with notebooks reading and writing in the school yard

Outdoor Writing Develops Observation Skills

By taking writing outside, students have the opportunity to hone their observation skills. Whether students are journaling, engaged in descriptive writing, creating a fictional work, or working on their next poem, they will be immersed in studying their subject. The uniqueness and richness of the outdoor setting create ample opportunities for students to find subjects to connect with and hone their observation skills.

Additionally, while outdoors students are actively engaging all of their senses (yes sometimes even taste) to learn about their environment. They take in everything in a much more meaningful and embodied way than they would in the classroom. This sensory input allows the students to create a richer and deeper understanding of what they are observing and experiencing.

Descriptive Skills

Students develop their descriptive skills in tandem with their observation skills. As students engage in observation, they naturally begin to develop their descriptive skills as they find ways to communicate their observations. You can see students begin to carefully choose adjectives to describe their findings and discoveries. Descriptors such as a simple colour, start to take on subtle nuances as students find ways to convey meaning. This will naturally translate into much more descriptive and detailed writing.

a group of 3 kids observing something on the ground in a field

Creativity Increases in the Outdoors

Another amazing benefit of writing outdoors comes in the form of increased creativity. Spending time outdoors has been linked to increased creativity and the ability to look at problems differently. When we are outside our brains and body are able to relax more and therefore we are able to think about things in a more flexible and dynamic way. Additionally, outdoors we are removed from the many distractions of an indoor working space.

When your students take their writing outdoors they will be engaging with a novel and unique setting. This will allow your students to convert these new experiences into new writing ideas. Once your students begin writing outside, you will start to see their ideas come alive through much more interesting, detailed, and descriptive works.

Nature Provides a Never-Ending Set of Subjects to Write About

There is always one kid in every class that says that they don’t know what to write about. You give them 1000 different ideas and they are still stuck. (Although this really has nothing to do with not knowing what to write about, but instead comes from a lack of confidence or an ability to organize their brains around such a big task.)

Spending time outdoors during your writing time allows your kids to bask in the inspiration that nature provides. There are endless sources of writing topics from animals, to insects, to plants to fuel both fiction and non-fiction writing. If your students are still stuck you can provide them with writing prompts to help get their thinking going.

a girl sitting outside drawing with a marker

True Immersive Cross-Curricular Learning Happens Outside

When we take writing outside we are naturally providing our students with opportunities to learn about nature, to learn about their community, and to move their bodies. Simply by being outside, in nature and in their communities, children are learning. Outdoor learning, no matter what subject is covered, is both immersive and cross-curricular without even having to try.

You can take the cross-curricular learning even deeper by tailoring writing prompts or tasks to build upon another curriculum. For example, your writing prompts could center around descriptive writing about plants or trees in the area. This allows your students to both develop their scientific observation skills and get to know the plants in the area, while also developing their writing skills.

Increased Connection to Nature Through Writing

As if the health and academic benefits of spending time outdoors is not enough, writing outdoors has one more profound and important benefit… an increased connection to nature. By spending time immersed in observation, writing, and exploration, our students begin to really get to know and understand their outdoor space. They begin to see themselves as a part of the space and therefore begin to want to care for and look after that space.

Only through time outdoors will children learn to love and care about their environment. Spending time outdoors is potentially the single most important thing you can do if you would like to build students who will become future (and present) stewards of the earth.

a group of 6 kids huddled together on the ground outside

Now Let’s Take Writing Outside and Watch Our Students Thrive

There are so many ways that you can take your students outside to write. Outdoor writing can be as simple or complex as you make it. An easy way to start is to try some nature poetry. Nature poetry allows students to follow a template taking some of the stress out of what to write about. There are also some fantastic ways that you can take both fiction and non-fiction writing outside. Additionally, nature journals can help scaffold students’ writing and observation skills as they spend time outdoors.

I will acknowledge that there are many barriers to outdoor learning. However, often one of the biggest barriers is our own personal beliefs about outdoor learning. By taking small steps towards getting outside with our students, we can start to normalize the experience and make it easier. You don’t need to head out to a forest or have an epic mountain setting, simply observing the plants or insects in your schoolyard can be a great start.

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