What is an Outdoor Classroom?

What is an Outdoor Classroom?

          I feel that it is first important to understand what an outdoor classroom is before understanding what the benefits are, how to build and co-construct your own, and what areas of development it impacts.

Teachers, educators, parents/guardians traditionally see a classroom as a place where children learn everything that they need to know to development within the norms and be successful in all areas of life. The idea of an outdoor classroom is that this learning is now being received through play and exploration outdoors using the materials and natural resources available. It’s the belief that through play and exploration in an outdoor classroom that children learn everything that they would learn in a regular classroom but they would master these skills through their own interests and discoveries, which ultimately benefits the children more in the long run.

The following link below will connect you to a great video posted by the outdoor classroom project. This video discusses what an outdoor classroom is all about. It also demonstrates the importance of allowing children to be connected to nature and providing them the space and the time to really explore and discover the world around them. When space, time and materials are provided to children can then begin to enhance their full development in all areas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNgq2WO3mgg

I recently discovered a really great article on Pinterest posted by community playthings titled “What is the Outdoor Classroom?” which helped me to understand this educational style better. http://www.communityplaythings.com/ resources /articles/2013/what-is-the-outdoor-classroom. The article express’s that “children should be able to move seamlessly between indoors and outdoors; their play and learning should be as easy in one place as the other” (Community playthings, 2014). They also outline that outdoor classrooms provide more time for the children to learn, allows large gross motor learning activities, freedom for children to play on their own, and creates an environment that engages the children at a deeper level.

Overall an Outdoor Classroom is a place of learning where children are free to explore and play in the world around them as they please, with the support of a caring and nurturing educator who is not too far behind them.


Benefits & Importance of Outdoor Classrooms in Early Childhood

Benefits & Importance of Outdoor Classrooms in Early Childhood

Many people would say that playing outside, whether it’s recess or gym, is just for children to run off some energy before coming into the classroom to learn. Is this really the truth though? The belief and truth behind an outdoor classroom is that begin outdoors children can learn more effectively in ways where is strengthens all developmental domains of the entire child.

Outdoor classrooms during early childhood are vital and are very important because through play and exploration outdoors with the support of natural and loose materials that children’s physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and language development can be enhanced in a more natural and comforting way.

If you visit my Pinterest account http://www.pinterest.com/slwight03 you will see a few different boards that breaks down the different developmental domains. Within each board you will see how each domain is positively influenced during outdoor play, as well as some possible outdoor learning experiences you could provide the children to enhance each particular area of development. In addition to this you will also find a board that also includes blogs, pictures, articles, studies that prove why outdoor learning experience are so crucial and beneficial for young children.

One pin in particular will lead you to a study done on the impact of outdoor play on children. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/420875527651252965/ http://www.imaginationplayground.com/images/content/2 /9/2960/an-investigation-of-the-status-of-outdoor-play.pdf. This study expressed that “most parents and educators agree that outdoor play is a natural and critical part of a child’s healthy development. Through freely chosen outdoor play activities children learn some of the skills necessary for adult life, including social competence, problem solving, creative thinking, and safety skills (Miller, 1989; Rivkin, 1995, 2000; Moore & Wong, 1997). When playing outdoors, children grow emotionally and academically by developing an appreciation for the environment, participating in imaginative play, developing initiative, and acquiring an understanding of basic academic concepts such as investigating the property of objects and of how to use simple tools to accomplish a task (Kosanke & Warner, 1990; Guddemi & Eriksen, 1992; Singer & Singer, 2000). (Clements, 2004). “The study also conveys findings related to the frequent use of electronic diversions and discusses several suggestions for early childhood professionals, classroom teachers, and parents for fostering the child’s enjoyment for outdoor play” (Clements, 2004).

Another reason why outdoor classrooms are so effective is because they are very diverse. No matter the children’s background, religion, or interests etc. all children can be included in this type of play and exploration. For these reasons outdoor classrooms are also inclusive. It also provides learning experiences that can be altered to children with special needs or learning disabilities. I also believe that being outdoors also creates an environment where children feel more comfortable, where they can learn at their own speed and within their own interests. Through this type of learning all children can be involved and benefit developmental.

The great outdoors are not just for children to run off some energy before learning, being outdoor is the children’s true classroom. When children get outside they not only enjoy learning better but they are learning better!

All Developmental Domains Enhanced Through Outdoor Classroom Play

All developmental Domains Enhanced through Outdoor Classroom Play

          One of the great things that is involved with having an outdoor classroom is that the learning areas and developmental domains are all intertwined, where as in a classroom everything they are spilt up into different classes or subjects. In one learning experience in an outdoor classroom it can involve math, science, and creative arts, gross and fine motor, language, social and emotional etc.

Recently I have been collecting and organizing articles, blogs, pictures and different resources on Pinterest and dividing them into the different learning areas to better support individuals that are looking for ideas and resources about outdoor classrooms. I would encourage you to visit my Pinterest account at http://www.pinterest.com/slwight03/. Within each board you will find activities and resource that are specific to that learning area. For more information about a particular pin just click on the picture which will lead you to the original source. In addition to this you may also be interested in visiting my Twitter account where you will find other resources available about outdoor classrooms.

Whether it’s social, emotional, physical, language or cognitive it is certain that children involved in an outdoor classroom are exploring learning experiences that are enhancing and strengthening each domain. Our job as the children’s more knowledgeable other just need to provide them with the space, time, and materials needed to create these types of opportunities.

Natural Materials in an Outdoor Classroom

Natural Materials in an Outdoor Classroom

          Playing and exploring in an outdoor classroom there are going to be lots of natural materials involved. Whether it is water, sunshine, shadows, rain, mud, rocks, grass, sticks, leaves, snow, wood etc. it is all right in front of the children to explore.

Being in an outdoor classroom it is very similar is the Reggio Emilia early educational learning model. The Reggio Emilia approach believes that natural, loose parts materials are best to foster an enriched environment for children. Reggio also finds value in lighting, whether its light tables, huge windows for sunshine, and large amounts of time spent outside in the sunshine or in the shade of a tree close by.

Natural materials allows children to use them as they please and to discover new knowledge through play and their own direction. A lot of the time natural materials can also fall under the category of being a loose part. The blog written by Playing Outside, describes a loose part as “materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials” (Playing Outside, 2010). http://www. letthechildrenplay.net/2010/01/how-children-use-outdoor-play-spaces.html.

Natural and loose part materials are not just all about fun. I believe that they provide a better environment to encourage a different and more enriched type of learning. While exploring Twitter recently I discovered a post written by Kate Pickle, which led me to her blog about their natural/loose part learning experience with play-dough. http://www.kidspot.com.au/play-doh-and-natural-materials/. Within this post it talks about the learning that took place in such a simple experience. I believe that this experience could have been strengthened even more by providing the opportunity to use real clay rather than play-dough, but she described that the children explored patterning, shapes and imprints, as well as gardens and more.

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Natural and loose materials are great, and key to a great outdoor classroom because these types of items can be used anyway children choose, can be adapted and manipulated in many ways, they encourage creativity and imagination, as well as develop more skill and competence than most modern plastic toys, but can be used in combination with other materials to support imagination, which encourages open ended learning overall, says Playing Outside. http://www.letthechildrenplay.net/2010 /01/how-children-use-outdoor-play-spaces.html http://www.racheous.com/kids-activities/reggio-loose-parts/. Natural and loose part materials are not only key to developing a great outdoor classroom, but ultimately will benefit the children more.

Creative Arts in an Outdoor Classroom – An Andy Goldsworthy Inspiration

Creative Arts in an Outdoor Classroom – An Andy Goldsworthy Inspiration 

Being outdoors and finding beauty go perfectly together like nothing before. From flowers, to sunsets and sunrises, to waterfalls, ice, colourful leaves, snow and much more are the wonderful things that the great outdoors provides on a daily basis, but one just has to go and discover them.

I can confidently say that Andy Goldsworthy would agree with me when I say that bringing the arts outdoors and creating art work outdoors is something that every child has a right too during their childhood. Natural and loose part materials are also the perfect items to use when creating art. It creates a learning opportunity that encourages imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills etc., and allows children to have unlimited choice as to what they would like to creates. Involving natural materials in art also provide the chance for children to not always focus on the end product, but rather the process instead. Whether it is exploring the properties and elements of mud, water, sticks etc., the children can use their time to fully understand these items rather than having to follow step by step instructions in order to develop the same themed craft that all their other peers are making during that same moment.

Andy Goldsworthy is one of the leading artists that uses natural materials to create piece of art in their own natural environments. I invite you to watch these videos that I found on Twitter to understand who Andy Goldsworthy is and the work that he does, and how his work can inspire young children’s art work in your outdoor classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DjCMqtJr0Q  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw0UG_VRUPM&app=desktop

When we keep Andy Goldsworthy’s style of art in mind when we are outdoors we can begin to use our outdoor classroom to its fullest. I would suggest that you introduce the idea of Andy Goldsworthy and his style of art to the picture first before heading outside. Show them pictures, videos, and books of some possibilities when working with natural materials. An adult by the name of Jeanette Nyberg posted a blog about Andy Goldsworthy and his work. She showed the children what his art was all about and when they visited a nearby stream a little while after the children were inspired. By providing the children with a provocation or an invitation and then stepping back to Observe, Wait and Listen (O.W.L) you can truly let the children lead the play from there. You can read more about this blog at http://tinyrottenpeanuts. com/kids-learn-installation-art-andy-goldsworthy/

Now that we understand how the creative arts can be brought outside and the benefits of allowing children the time and providing them with the appropriate materials and spaces, we can now have a more effective and complete outdoor classroom.