Working With Hesitant Parents to Embrace Outdoor Learning

Cover Image Working With Hesitant Parents/ Two girls with binoculars outdoors

Congratulations on taking some of the first steps towards taking learning outside. You have ensured that your site is safe and you have blessings from your administration. Everything is ready to go until you hit a roadblock…you have a parent or guardian who doesn’t think their kid should be learning outside. It is so frustrating when a parent doesn’t support something you have worked so hard on, especially when you know how much outdoor learning will benefit their student. In this post, we will discuss some tips for working with hesitant parents who are unsure about outdoor education.

I’ve outlined 6 tips for working with hesitant parents to communicate about your outdoor education program and help them to understand the benefits and value of outdoor learning. These tips include:

  1. Listening carefully to families when they share their concerns
  2. Share the benefits of outdoor learning
  3. Show how you will cover the curriculum
  4. Make outdoor learning easy for families
  5. Keep families in the loop
  6. Invite families to come and see your outdoor learning program

Working With Parents Who Are Unsure About Outdoor Education

Tip 1: Listen to the Family Members When They Share Their Concerns With Outdoor Learning

If a family member is sharing their concerns with you about outdoor learning, don’t dismiss just them. Families have the best interest of their children in mind and want to know that you have their best interests in mind as well. Taking some time to listen to their concerns about outdoor learning will allow you to understand where they are coming from better and help you to meet them where they are. By listening you will be building trust and allowing that family to see you as someone who cares. Simply giving the concerned adult a lecture on the benefits of outdoor learning will have little impact if the parent doesn’t feel seen and heard.

Giving the families the opportunity to share with you what they are concerned about will not only allow you to make a connection with that family, but will also allow you to find ways to address their concerns. Some concerns that they might share are:

  • safety concerns (they believe that being outdoors is unsafe)
  • the students are not learning (in the traditional “textbook” way)
  • concerns about heat, cold, insects, animals
  • concerns about the safety of the neighbourhood (they believe the people in the community are unsafe)
  • they think it’s a waste of school time or it’s just playing
  • their background/upbringing did not include spending time outdoors so they are unfamiliar with outdoor learning

Once you have taken the opportunity to mindfully listen to the parent’s concerns, you can take steps to address these concerns in a diplomatic way. You might even ask the family if they have any suggestions for how some of these issues might be addressed so that they would feel comfortable with outdoor learning. This will allow the family to have some say and feel some agency over the outdoor learning.

kids outside with binoculars

Tip 2: Share the Benefits of Outdoor Learning

As a teacher, you may know the many benefits outdoor learning has for both your students and yourself. Not only does outdoor learning benefit the student’s health and well-being, but it also benefits them academically as well. Children love getting outdoors and you can see the many amazing things being outside does for our students.

However, not all adults are aware of these benefits. Many adults live lives removed from the outdoors. Working with hesitant parents should involve sharing the many benefits of outdoor learning in a meaningful way. By sharing these benefits in a way that is both meaningful and tailored to the needs of your school community, you will help families see the value of their children spending time outdoors at school. The way you share this information with families will depend on your school and community context. If you have families that speak different languages in your class, sharing the information in their language can be helpful if you are able to translate it.

Some suggestions for sharing the many benefits of outdoor learning are:

  • one-on-one conversations with families
  • putting a fact about the benefits of outdoor learning in your weekly communications
  • sharing the benefits with families at a school open house or meet the teacher night
  • putting information on outdoor learning and its benefits on your class website, blog, or social media communications
  • sharing an outdoor highlight of the day using your class communication platform along with how it benefits the students (for example a photo of kids working together outdoors along with a brief explanation)
  • posters for your classroom or school (There are some in our “Get Outside Tool Kit”)
  • sharing handouts with families on the benefits or outdoor learning (You can also find these in our “Get Outside Tool Kit.”)
a boy using a magnifying glass to look at a leaf

Tip 3: Show Families How You Will Cover the Curriculum

For families that are focused on academic achievement, outdoor learning may be viewed as just “play time.” They may view outdoor learning as a waste of valuable indoor learning time or traditional learning time. Working with hesitant parents who are concerned about academics may require you to be a bit proactive and share some of your planning and future outdoor learning activities with them. This way you can share how you will be meeting the curriculum through your outdoor learning activities but also that their students will be experiencing the benefits of outdoor learning as well.

If you use a platform such as SeeSaw to communicate with families, providing regular updates on what you are learning outside can be helpful to keep them on board. Providing photos of students being fully engaged in an outdoor project along with captions of how they are meeting the curriculum can help families to see that meaningful learning can take place without a textbook or computer screen.

Some tips for sharing your curriculum with families:

  • provide regular updates on what you will be doing during your outdoor learning time
  • share updates on your communication platform or class website/social media of what students have learned outside and how it meets the curriculum
  • if you use a communication platform that allows students to share, have students share in their own voice/words what they have learned outside

Tip 4: Make Outdoor Learning Easy for Families

For families that are already reluctant to have their students participate in outdoor education activities, the last thing you want to do is place an additional burden on families. Asking families to purchase new items or giving them a short period of time to provide supplies for an activity will only make them see outdoor education as something that makes extra work (and costs) for them. Instead, make things easy on families.

Ways to make outdoor learning easy for families:

  • find ways that you can source supplies for activities rather than asking families to purchase or supply items
  • provide families with information on needed supplies or clothing items well in advance
  • don’t just assume people know how to dress for the weather, provide information on what dressing for the weather looks like (handouts and checklists can be found in our “Get Outside Tool Kit.”
  • if students are required to purchase items for your program, give information on where the item can be purchased along with the approximate cost of the item
  • have extra clothing and supplies available in case students are unable to bring their own
  • have a way for students who may be in need to borrow outdoor clothing in a discreet and dignified way
a child hugging a tree

Tip 5: Keep Families in the Loop About Your Outdoor Learning Activities

Regular communication about what you are doing outside is a great tip for keep all families on board with outdoor learning, not just the ones that may be unsure about it. Letting families see what you are doing outdoors and what their students have been learning not only allows families to feel a sense of security that their child is learning, but also allows them to see the growth as their children experience the benefits of outdoor learning.

Some great ways to communicate with families are:

  • sharing photos of students in action on your class sharing platform/social media
  • sharing photos and updates on your class or school newsletter
  • sharing individual student highlights if you use a digital portfolio
  • having students share their own learning on their portfolio
  • sharing student work samples during school open houses or family nights

Tip 6: Invite Families To Come And See Your Outdoor Learning Program

Sometimes working with hesitant parents is simply a matter of inviting them in. Families have been amazed at what their children are learning and doing when they have had the opportunity to join our outdoor learning activities. Their children are excited to share what they are learning and what they love to do outdoors. If you have families that are skeptical about the value of outdoor learning, why not have them come and see it in person?

Some great ways to invite families in are:

  • having an open house day
  • having a “bring an adult” day
  • inviting family members to volunteer
  • sharing videos of your program at school open house nights
kids playing outside in the fall leaves

Now Let’s Get Outside and Thrive!

Working with hesitant parents who don’t yet understand the value of outdoor learning may seem a bit daunting. However, really all it comes down to in the end is building relationships with the family. Taking the time to listen to each families concerns as well as keeping families informed can go a long way to ensuring that you have all families on your side. Allowing families to see the benefits through regular communication or in-person visits can help them to understand that their children are infact learning in a very deep and rich way.

Don’t be shy about sharing what you are doing. You are doing something amazing for your students by getting them outside and you should feel proud. If you are struggling with a particularly difficult family, don’t forget to come back to your “Why.” Focusing on your own motivation and reasons for taking learning outside can help to keep you focused when things become challenging. Of course, if you are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.

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