How to Take Full Advantage of your Outdoor Learning Space

By Nate Bosch
K-12 Education outdoor learning

Get the most from your outdoor space

Childhood is the best time to foster an affinity to the natural world. At this stage of development children need to be provided with immersive experiences outside. However, children spend most of their time indoors. Schools around the country are trying to change this by including outdoor learning in their curricula.

There is an overwhelming amount of data and anecdotal evidence available demonstrating that outdoor learning improves student outcomes. But, how do you incorporate the outdoors into your current curriculum? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all, prepackaged curriculum that works for every school. This is because individual qualities of each natural environment, creativity of teachers, and needs of the students vary. What works in one community may not work in another.

Tying Pedagogy to Outdoor Space

An effective outdoor learning curriculum uses the local environment as a starting point to teach concepts in math, language arts, science, social studies, and other subject areas. It emphasizes hands-on, real-world learning experiences. We’ve seen quite a few interesting activities in the outdoor learning environments we’ve designed. Here are just a few:

Read a book indoors and compare it to real outdoor experiences

There are many great books for children that will enhance their outdoor experience. One great one is “Because of an Acorn” by Lola M. Schaefer. In this charming book, children make the connection between an acorn that becomes a tree, that has a birds nest, that results in a dropped seed, that becomes a flower. After reading the book, children will delight finding these special treasures that nature provides and make connections in their mind about the objects they find.

Take a “water audit”

Children love exploring. They will enjoy the chance to “find” as many water features as possible including natural features such as clouds, puddles and ponds as well as man-made water features such as fountains and taps on the school building. This is a good chance for them to learn about the cycle of water and it may instill an appreciation for the wonderful natural gift that water is.

Using the natural environment to learn math

There are all kinds of wonderful things found in nature with which you could teach children shapes, adding and subtracting and measurement. Sticks, stones, grass, limbs – the possibilities are endless.

With outdoor learning, you can connect every academic discipline imaginable while enlivening the senses and invigorating the body. You are only limited by your imagination.

Learn more about the positive effects of Outdoor Learning in an Early Childhood Setting in Nate Bosch's 2019 EDspaces conference presentation.

Nate Bosch, LLA, LEED AP, ASLA

Nate Bosch is a landscape architect with a focus on developing outdoor spaces that inspire creativity, promote flexibility, and connect people to the natural environment. He is passionate about the outdoors and how spending time in nature can have a positive impact on learning, development, and our overall wellbeing.