Finding Time for Outdoor Education in a Super-Packed Schedule
It’s the end of summer. You are filled with excitement and optimism for the upcoming school year, and you are overflowing with ideas and plans for how to make this the BEST. YEAR. EVER! Then, you receive your schedule and suddenly all your hopes and dreams are crushed into a million pieces and your excitement and optimism are instantly replaced with anxiety and panic about how on earth you will ever find time to teach reading, let alone take your students outside on a regular basis. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there!
A crammed schedule does not need to mean deleting nature education from your schedule. Here are some creative ways to make sure you are meeting the demands of your school’s curriculum AND still giving your students the gift of outdoor time.
Find natural areas of crossover in your curriculum.
If you take a close look at the standards/benchmarks/objectives that you are expected to teach, you will likely find many that seamlessly translate to outdoor learning. Here are a few examples:
Standard: Count to 10
Outdoor activity: Students search for 10 pebbles in the school yard.
Standard: Retell a story
Outdoor activity: Read a book to children while sitting outside, then have them reenact the story in small groups.
Standard: Compare weight and length of various objects
Outdoor activity: Students find 3 sticks of various lengths and line them up in order from shortest to tallest.
Standard: Read and spell words with vowel-consonant-e spellings
Outdoor activity: Students write spelling words in sand/dirt or “paint” them with water on concrete.
Combine outdoor time with other activities.
Most any part of your regular school day can be done outside with a few modifications: Morning Meeting, snack, Calendar Math, Closing Circle, sharing time, etc.
Many schools schedule time for non-academic activities, such as cross-grade buddies, family groups, and assemblies. These community-building times are excellent opportunities to get students outside. Check in with other adults and staff members to see if they’d be willing to do activities outdoors during these times. For example, buddy classes could go on a neighborhood cleanup, weed the school garden, or go on a nature scavenger hunt together.
Specialist classes such as music and PE also may be able to be held outdoors. If all else fails, try to get your students eating lunch or snack outside at least once or twice a week.
Think outside the schedule.
Sometimes there really and truly is not enough time during a school day to regularly take your students outside. In that case, consider organizing a before or after-school club. Students who are interested in and able to come early or stay late can have a dedicated outdoor time to look forward to each week. If you are not able or willing to lead the club yourself, see if you can wrangle a couple parent volunteers to help. The club can be as structured or loose as you like. Many schools have minimum or early-release days once a week for staff meetings, and these days can be a great time for an outdoor club to meet under the supervision of parent volunteers.