Children enjoying the campfire in their school’s outdoor classroom.

A lot has changed in the last couple of weeks. Educators have adapted incredibly to the ever-changing circumstances as pupils are once again learning from home. We know that many teachers want to build outdoor learning into their remote classes, but that there are also particular challenges to overcome. 

This post discusses the barriers that face educators as you work to implement outdoor learning right now, followed by some basic tips to break them down. If you think there is something missing from this list please leave a comment below. That way, we can update this post and better cater our resources and support. 


What are the barriers?


There is limited time online with pupils and key topics need to be prioritised. By now, you have likely seen loads of resources shared over the last week to support your remote learning and/or home school plans. There are some fantastic ideas and tools out there, but no matter how wonderful they might be, you still have a curriculum to follow. 

Many teachers want to try all of the fun ideas they are seeing online, but there is not enough time to do so, especially if there isn’t a clear connection to the topics they are teaching. Stay tuned for more support from SOuL on this one.


Not all pupils have a garden or green space on their doorstep, and with outdoor exercise restricted to one outing per day, many pupils simply might not be able to spend much time outside. 


A lot of outdoor learning resources assume that children and young people have an adult ready and waiting to take them on an adventure. In reality, parents and guardians are juggling their own work or caring for other children and are not able to head outside at a moment’s notice. We know that older pupils may be able to explore by themselves, but many younger pupils cannot. 


The set up used for most online classes doesn’t lend itself well to being outside. Between the cables, ever-changing weather and background noise it is tricky to go outdoors as an online class. 


First of all, we know that you don’t need anything special to engage in outdoor learning and that the act of being outside works wonders in itself. That being said, there are pupils who may not have the right clothing at home to be outside for long. In addition, some of the basic supplies that we often take for granted, such as sandwich bags, may well be in short supply for some pupils. It may not just be a case of affordability, with few opportunities to go shopping and leave the house for us all, it is not always easy to stock up on supplies.

Believe it or not, this does not mean the end for outdoor learning, but it does mean that we need to think outside the box! 


How to overcome these barriers in online lessons?


1. Use short outdoor activities

It might not be feasible to be outdoors for a long time. A lesson or homework task could include a short outdoor activity and the rest can take place inside. This can be as simple as asking pupils to step outside their front/back door or open a window (safely with an adult as needed) for 60 seconds, and then to report back on what they saw and felt. 


2. Learn through the window

Consider what outdoor learning can be done via pupils looking out of the window. Try daily weather reports or a bird watching exercise, then discuss what they saw and build it into your class content. Our next blog post will share a specific idea for teaching through the window. 


3. Pre-record parts of a class outside

You might be pre-recording some of your lessons and for some teachers, this could be an excellent opportunity to record outside. While your pupils may watch the recording from the indoors, it can role-model getting outdoors for them. A different video environment than usual might even hold pupils’ attention for longer (and perhaps keep things fresh for teachers too)! 


4. Use simple, basic supplies

This is something we know teachers are already mindful of because low or no supply activities increase the chances of all of the pupils to be able to get involved. Offer alternative supply options for every activity, such as a wooden spoon instead of a stick for those pupils who cannot easily pop outside. Here is one of our own ideas to try with your pupils. 


5. Bring the concepts inside

Being outside is the ideal place for outdoor learning, but let’s be honest, there is not an ideal anything right now. We are all doing our best. It may not be possible to get outdoors for a number of reasons. There are some excellent activities that might typically be done outside that work really well indoors. 

If pupils are able to collect materials and work outside, great news. Alternatively, if outdoor time is limited, ask pupils to collect their materials outside and bring them inside? Could pupils build small-scale shelters that would normally be built on trees with sticks and leaves, using the contents of a kitchen cupboard, for example? 


Outdoor learning may look different, but the benefits it provides can still be discovered as we adapt. 

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