Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Tips & Tools for Making Learning Outside the Classroom Easy

Taking your lessons outside the classroom provides a myriad of benefits for learners. Here are some suggestions to get you started or enhance what you already do. These are worth sharing and adding to over time so that they add to the enjoyment and accessibility of outdoor learning for all staff at your school.

By Andy Carley

Set expectations before going out
Understanding what is going to happen and how long it takes will help children relax. Keep it positive and emphasise ‘care’ through looking after themselves, each other and the natural environment. Try to shrug off/deflect any negative comments about poor weather, distance to walk etc. in order to be upbeat (despite your own reservations!).

Take a rucksack for necessities
The following items will be really useful to have as a standard resource kit for operating outdoors: First aid kit, water, mobile phone (or radio), emergency contact details, hazard tick list, sit mats, whistle, a more gentle one to call the group back together (i.e. owl hoot or ocharina), camera/tablet device, clipboards, post-it notes, tape.

Ensure children are wearing appropriate clothing and footwear for the weather conditions, time of year and the terrain. Suggest zipping up/tucking in/putting on hats BEFORE they start to get too cold (or hot!). Consider carrying a spare top and waterproof just in case. Wellies will prove invaluable for most situations.

Be sensitive to fears/perceptions
Children may feel that woods are dangerous places (thanks to nursery rhymes, fairy tales as well as negative media stories). If these arise try to deal with them in an understanding and non-judgemental way. Over time the fears will pass as more time is spent in the natural environment. Try building towards walks in low light, dusk and even dark to build confidence.

Keep it simple
Children find it hard to listen to someone talking for too long, especially outdoors. Have a clear mental plan of what you want to say before you go out. We can sometimes try to over engineer our sessions. Try to be as child led as possible with your teaching and learning. Allow for the sense of awe and wonder in the most simple of things! 

Engage all of the VAKOG channels wherever you can
Engage everyone by trying to have a visual focal point (i.e. stand near or hold the thing you are talking about). Demonstrate where you can and allow children to take a full and active part. Bring in all of the senses wherever possible.

Get the whole group, including adults, into a circle when introducing and ending activities so as to get everyone’s attention and, hopefully, only having to say things once. Invent different ways to do things i.e. ‘sticking’ elbows, knees or toes to neighbours. Seating circles and simple canopies can help with shelter but they also add a structure to your teaching.

Weather affects our ability to learn
Stand and face the sun when talking to your group so they won’t have to squint. Consider the effects of wind and voice projection (turn and face those you wish to communicate with). Windy, wet or cold weather will reduce attention spans so adjust expectations and session times accordingly.

Meeting dogs off the lead
Ask children to fold their arms and look away from dogs if you meet them off the lead – the dog will quickly get bored and walk away.

Evaluate outside
Sharing the learning experience whilst still outside will provide more valuable feedback because it’s done in context. Mini white/blackboards can be really useful, as can post-it notes. Consider also the use of photos, artwork with natural materials, ropes for line ups and creating quadrants etc.

Storing resources
How to get the teaching resources outside with you can be a challenge. Consider a number of rucksacks or carrying bags. A trolley with pneumatic tyres will enable you to transport resources over quite rough terrain. If you visit the same site regularly then consider installing a lockable storage unit or shed.

Written materials, activity ideas and lesson plans
Try to create a discipline and rigour within the school around capturing and saving successful activities and lessons. Create a hard and soft copy repository for these resources. It will save lots of work in reinvention and new design in the long run. 

Just a few great resources to have for outdoor learning
Weatherproof clipboards and pencils
Laminated sheets of paper or mini-whiteboards
Chalkboards – paint blackboard paint onto logs
Ropes and string of various lengths and thicknesses
Ziplock bags for collecting things
Pegs for hanging items
Tarpaulins and mats for sitting on
Tarpaulins with grids for
Buckets for collecting things
Number stones, tiles or wooden discs
Flags for marking areas
Lesson plan templates in hard copy to be completed when great ideas come to you whilst outside.
Bug boxes/magnifying glasses
Tape measures
Weighing scales