C&NN Connect

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Using the Schoolyard as a Teaching Tool

The concept of teaching with the sky for a ceiling and the natural landscape as an audio-visual
tool is both challenging and empowering. At a time when natural curiosity about the outdoors
is being eclipsed by the demands of busy schedules and the ever-present glow of video screens,
schools may become the only place where children are encouraged to interact with nature.
But going outside doesn’t have to be an “extra” or “add-on” activity. The outdoors can be
seamlessly integrated as a part of many traditional lessons. Just step outside to take advantage
of the richness of the outdoors to make good indoor instruction even better. That lesson about
geometric shapes becomes truly relevant when the class goes outside to find these shapes in
nature!

It's helpful to think of the outdoors as both a venue and as a source of content. For example,
it sometimes is very appropriate to use the outdoors just for a change of pace and place. Going
outside to read a story, or using the playground to form a human bar graph of the birth months
of all the children in the class utilizes the outdoors as a venue. The outdoor setting provides a
change of place that invigorates both learner and teacher.

The outdoor setting also provides an abundant source of content. Nature provides an
unlimited source of items to measure, shapes to recognize, and plants and animals just waiting
to be described. By thinking of the outdoors as both venue and content teaching possibilities
expand and quick excursions to the school grounds can be more easily woven into the natural
flow of teaching.

There is a growing body of research evidence showing that going outside for instruction
can actually lead to enhanced student achievement. The outdoors can be used as both a venue
and a source of content to provide exciting, engaging experiences that motivate student learning.

You don’t need a bus for a field trip— just open the door and unlock the powerful learning
experiences that are waiting for you and your students right outside the classroom door!
Many of you are already making wonderful use of the outdoors while others are exploring
some initial ideas for incorporating outdoor learning. We invite all of you to join the dialogue
and sharing that is taking place on the Children and Nature Network’s Natural Teachers
Network. It’s easy to join and easy to follow. Share your thoughts and read ideas about outdoor
teaching that are contributed by educators from all over the US and around the world. . http://www.childrenandnature.org/movement/naturalteachers/

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Comment by Juliet Robertson on December 15, 2010 at 12:10am

Well said! A very nice summary of why we need to be taking children outside. Here in Scotland, we are promoting the idea that almost all outdoor experiences during school time should take place within the school ground or walking distance in the local area. There's a lovely quote from one student who said "Why are we sitting inside when we could take 15 steps and see it for real outside?"

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