We spend a lot of time thinking about how to manage outdoor teaching in the colder months, but what about outdoor learning in summer time? On one hand, it is more appealing to be outdoors in the warmer weather. On the other hand, on an especially hot day it isn’t easy to maintain pupils’ focus and motivation. In addition, children can easily overheat or become dehydrated in summer and so there are different things to watch out for than in winter.
All the basics that apply for any hot day at school still apply for outdoor learning:
- Hydration – make sure water is available for you and your pupils
- Sun protection – encourage pupils to bring and wear sun hats and sun cream
- Shade – find spots where your class can shelter from the sun (or rain!)
- Frequent breaks – take it slow and prepare for drink and shade breaks
On a hot day outdoors it is easy to lose pupils’ attention when they focus on how warm they are or what else is going on around them. It’s not their fault, it happens to us adults too. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep introductions and the delivery of materials brief. This way, pupils can get the key information and then move on to a practical, hands-on learning activity. This will not only help with focus, but it aids learning too.
In between each activity or section of your lesson, bring pupils back together and give them the next chunk of information or have a mini discussion/debrief about what they have been working on. Essentially, break up the session into smaller pieces to keep everyone focused, comfortable and you’ll see positive results. This approach is not only beneficial for hot days, it works for cold days as well to keep pupils on the move to stay warm. Plus, it’s a great way for all learning styles to take on information anyway, so a win win!
Location, Location, Location
Nope, this isn’t anything to do with the popular television programme, but it does have everything to do with your outdoor learning set up. Now, you do not need a special set up to take learning outside, but you will want to think about the location you choose on your site.
Firstly, it is helpful to be out of sight of the main school building if possible to give pupils a sense of escapism. This way there are no distractions from and comparisons to the traditional classroom to ensure your outdoor learning is most effective. Secondly, pick a shady spot as your meeting place, this could be an outdoor classroom or simply under a tree. Avoid long inactive periods in the blazing sun where pupils will lose attention and in some cases overheat.
Adjust the Plan
The weather on the British Isles is known worldwide for its chameleon-like nature. As you well know, the day may start out cloudy and cool but end sunny and hot. Or, rain could make an appearance at any time. Most of us are used to preparing for all weather eventualities, who doesn’t have a raincoat, umbrella, sun hat and a hundred layers ready to go when you live in the UK? However, in the outdoor learning environment it is not so easy to prepare because each pupil has different items with them. Many pupils will have their school uniform alone to work with. Yet, no matter the weather, outdoor learning can and should still go ahead. You will need to adjust the plan though to suit the climate.
Here are some examples of hot day adjustments for EYFS and younger primary school pupils:
- Add water play to the schedule – it keeps pupils cool and offers excellent learning opportunities
- Play calm games such as telephone versus a game with lots of running around to keep pupils cool and engaged
- Postpone campfire outdoor cooking in favour of other forest school activities that take place under the trees
Some examples of hot day adjustments for older pupils are:
- Hold reading and discussion sessions outside in a shady spot instead of in the classroom
- Carry out data collection in small spurts and return to the meeting spot to discuss and cool off
- Lead character education sessions in the shade and scale things down, there are plenty of great activities you can do in a small spot and still reap the benefits
These suggestions are only a starting point and many of them will seem like common sense to you as experienced educators. That being said, it’s easy to forget how very simple adjustments can make a huge difference. Some folks we have talked to lately are quick to cancel outdoor learning in favour of staying cool inside – this doesn’t need to happen as long as we adapt. Slow things down, move locations if need be and adjust your expectations. Outdoor learning is just what many pupils need on a hot day. Let’s continue to go outside and engage in meaningful activities this summer. Your pupils will thank you!
We’d love to hear your ideas for outdoor learning in summer. Share your thoughts with us here.