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The Benefits of Outdoor Lessons for Primary School Children

03 July 2017

Why should you take our lessons outside?

Summer is finally here, and the UK seems to be experiencing a relatively dry season. The exam season is also almost over, so this might be the perfect time to think about taking your classroom outside.

Your pupils may get distracted by being outdoors, particularly when term time is drawing to a close and they are starting to think about their summer holidays, but with some careful planning, you can make your lessons relevant and more engaging for them.

What are the benefits of teaching outside?

A recent report by the Western Sydney and Plymouth Universities claims that the positive outcomes for students of a formal and regular timetable of lessons outdoor are:

  • A healthy and happy mind
  • A confident, outgoing child
  • A creative thinker and contributor
  • A socially responsible person

Childhood is undoubtedly changing, and it appears that children are getting fewer and fewer opportunities to get outside as hobbies and past times move indoors. Consequently, the lack of contact with the outdoors is having an adverse impact on children’s physical and mental wellbeing.

‘Children are becoming disconnected from the natural environment. They are spending less and less time outdoors. In fact, the likelihood of children visiting any green space at all has halved in a generation.’ Natural Environment White Paper (HMG 2011:12)

Encouraging a child’s imagination

Ask any adult who sits in a room all day without access to fresh air and open spaces, and you’re likely to find that they think their creative thinking and imagination feels stifled; this is the case for children as well so exposure to the natural environment can help release that creativity. And, it’s surprising how much more they can learn when they engage with their creativity and how much more they are likely to experiment and develop.

Behaviour Management

You may have to implement a new set of rules for teaching lessons outside, or you might have to alter your behaviour management approach, but you may find that your pupils are more motivated to behave if the alternative is to go back inside on a warm summer’s day. And, if they are behaving then they will be more engaged and more likely to learn, which in turn should have positive ramifications on school attendance.

A healthy approach

The recent rise in obesity in children demonstrates that they are less activate nowadays and more prone to a sedentary lifestyle so if you take your lesson outside and engage your pupils in an exercise-based lesson it will be to their advantage. In addition to the reduction of exercise in some children’s lifestyles, long hours spent in front of a computer means more children are suffering from sight problems, so a break from their screens will do them a world of good.

Planning for outdoor lessons

You can plan for an outdoor lesson in the same way you do for your indoor classroom. The advantage is that your pupils may not see an outdoor lesson as learning in the traditional sense and will more uninhibited and, hopefully, more susceptible to learning. If you set your expectations out before the lesson and give your students a clear idea of you expect them to achieve, then you will have the basis of an exciting and engaging lesson.

Here are some suggestions for outdoor lessons or you can find some excellent resources online.

Your school will have its policy on how you should prepare for an outdoor lesson and will have a risk assessment procedure so make sure your acquainted with it and have done all the necessary health and safety checks.

Ideas and resources

Please make sure your pupils are a suitable age before you undertake any of these activities

Play Geography and natural sciences
  • As part of the RSPB’s Big Schools’ Birdwatch, they created some bird counting sheets that your pupils can use to identify different species. You can divide your class into teams and challenge to identify the most birds within a set time.
  • Or, you could have your own Animal Olympics. How do humans compare to animals for speed, endurance and strength?
  • The Woodland Trust has an app that you can use to teach leaf identification, or you can get your students to create a leaf mobile.
  • If it’s a winter night, you can take them stargazing if it’s dark enough where you teach. There are some great apps you can download onto a phone or tablet computer, or you can invest in a simple star map from a decent bookshop or online.
  • if your class is a little older you could discuss and question how a particular animal fit into the food chain and how does this support and improve biodiversity.
  • Set a scavenger hunt for your class by asking them to find ten different types of natural materials or challenge them to find five human-made and five naturally occurring materials.
  • Give your class buckets of water and some washing up liquid and ask them to ‘paint’ the playground
  • Run a mini competition to see who can create the best seasonal poster
  • Get your pupils to find a leaf or branch and ask them to do some shadow drawing.
  • Run a 'phoneme treasure hunt'. Print and laminate pictures of things your class will find outdoors and get them to write the names when they find them.
  • Try asking your class to write and put on a short play set outdoors or can maybe write a rhyme or a poem about the outdoors or you can test your student’s knowledge of collective nouns.
  • Alternatively, most fairy tales are set outside so you could ask your pupils to re-write a fairy tale set in the school grounds.
  • Test your students counting skills by setting an outdoor maths trail cards for example, find five flowers, find ten different stones or have a weights and measure scavenger hunt
  • How many different sounds can you hear? Can your students make out the difference between bird calls and how many different birds they can hear?
  • You can ask your students to count the number of steps between particular trees, maybe asking them to identify the type of tree using a leaf identifier, and then plot the trees on a map or some graph paper.

Further reading and resources

What Does the Research Say about Outdoor Learning?

Natural Environment White Paper - Connecting through education – in and about the natural environment (page 21)

The Natural Choice; securing the value of nature

Rethinking Childhood

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