The outdoor classroom is an under-utilised space, full of incredible natural potential. It is a great place for learning and it supports the overall development of children alongside dispositions and key competencies that help them succeed in life.
So why is it not used that much when it is right there? Literally just outside. Te Whariki and the NZ Curriculum provide so many opportunities for outdoor play and teaching outside so what is it that stops it being used more?
One thing that teachers often tell me is that they want more practical skills for the outdoor classroom, but when teachers finish a workshop with me, it is less about the practical skills and more about the confidence they have gained to start using their outside space.
Here are 5 starter tips to get you started, that will help build your confidence and get you thinking about how to use the outdoor classroom more with your tamariki.
1. WHAT’S YOUR PURPOSE
Know why you are doing it. What does success look like when teaching outdoors? Start with what is the purpose for using the outdoor space. What are you hoping to achieve, what are the outcomes? These answers will be influenced by your settings philosophy and the age group you are working with. It is also worth considering that within school settings there could be play outside during class time and teaching in the outdoor classroom. I am an advocate of play myself, and it’s good to acknowledge that both happen, and these can look different.
2. HOW CHILDREN PLAY
Develop a deeper understanding on how children play outdoors, what schema or play urges are, the importance of risky play in the outdoor classroom and the value of loose parts. When we know how they play we are better equipped to recognise what they are developing through that play, what they need to evolve their own play and schema, and what the links to the curriculum are.
3. TEACHERS ROLE
Know what your role is. On any given session, depending on the purpose, your role may change slightly but there are a couple of things that will remain the same. One of your key roles is risk management. This can look like identifying hazards that the children have not seen and carrying out a thorough site assessment. In your own setting it is about providing the resources needed that meet the children’s interests and inquiries. Observation and facilitation are two key roles that educators take on in the outdoor classroom and when we know our purpose and how children play outdoors, we can find ourselves much clearer on the role that we should be playing at any given time.
4. INVOLVED TAMARIKI
Involve the children as much as possible. From setting up the outdoor classroom and the design of it through to the managing the safety and day to day care of the space. The more children are involved the better it is for not only their development, confidence and well-being but also for their connection to nature and their local environment.
Lastly is having strong relationships with your children. I am not just talking about being friendly with them and a general chat about the weather. I am talking about those deeper relationships where you know how they think, what pushes their buttons, what inspires and motivates them. When we have these strong relationships, we develop trust and trust grows self-confident, empowered tamariki. The outdoor classroom is based on trust and will ensure that everyone has a more enjoyable time while there.
If you are reading this and thinking this is great but I need more help, then check out our online course called Play in the Outdoor Classroom.