What are the essentials for an outdoor classroom?
All over the UK, more and more schools are realising the benefits of outdoor learning and are moving some of their classes outside into purpose-built outdoor classrooms. Outdoor learning is becoming more popular all the time, with things like the recent extreme weather and the pandemic making the option to be outside more and more enticing.
Outdoor classrooms are brilliant for so many reasons, not only for pupils but also for teachers. Some of the main benefits include:
Extending your normal classroom
An outdoor classroom functions as an extension of your normal classroom space, allowing you to split into smaller groups across different spaces if you need to spread out. It also makes good use of some space on the grounds of your school which might otherwise just be unused space.
Providing shade and shelter
An outdoor classroom lets you and your pupils work and learn outdoors without having to battle the elements. Whether sheltering from the rain or fierce sun, having a sheltered space outdoors is a real asset to any school, whether during lessons, at break or lunch, or before and after school.
An outdoor classroom can be used for all kinds of things, from lessons to lunches, as a place for parents to wait for pick-up time and for children to play out of the sun and the rain. They can be great as breakout spaces for group work, as bases for after-school clubs, and as stages for performances and presentations.
Wellbeing and focus
Being able to spend time outside makes for a unique learning environment. Breaking the standard routine of the day by simply getting out of the normal classroom can be, quite literally, a breath of fresh air for young pupils. This different environment can help children to concentrate better on tasks and refocus their minds.
In addition to this, the opportunity to spend time outside with nature is proven to benefit mental health and general wellbeing. Getting out of the normal classroom and into the calm of the outdoors can relieve stress and anxiety and help children to regulate their moods.
Convinced? Then here are some of the main things you need to consider stocking up on for your outdoor classroom, and how they might be used:
Being out in the great outdoors can be a lot of fun, but it gets a lot less fun if you’re caught in the rain! Having a good shelter to protect teachers, pupils and their work from the rain is an absolute must.
Having shelter from the sun is just as important to protect children when it gets very hot, as those warmer months are likely to be when your outdoor classroom would get the most use. Having a permanently shaded area outside is crucial for protecting children from sunburn and heatstroke whilst they work and whilst they play – the shelter can be enjoyed at break and lunchtimes too.
Having a comfortable place to sit is crucial to allow children to concentrate on their learning and stay focused. For an outdoor classroom, there are lots of options. Some popular ideas include:
Whether using tree stumps, boulders or even carved wooden mushrooms, using natural-looking or nature-themed seating can be a great way of making your outdoor classroom feel rustic and exciting. It also helps to make the classroom, and so also your pupils, feel more attuned with nature.
Circular or rounded seating
Circular or rounded seating is a popular way of encouraging group work and a cosy group dynamic. It also fits in very well in rounded huts or circular structures like summerhouses which might be used as an outdoor classroom.
Benches are great for children in outdoor classrooms because they’re a bit different to the ordinary chairs they’re used to sitting on in their usual classrooms. They also have the advantage of letting children sit with their friends which adds to the fun of being in a new learning environment.
Storytelling chairs are a brilliant way of making a child feel special, whether it’s to reward good behaviour or just as a way of singling out a child whose turn it is to read, these wooden thrones are always a hit.
Tables and surfaces
Picnic benches have the advantage of coming with tables built in, which can be very useful for lots of types of classwork. They also make a great addition to your school’s grounds and would be popular at break and lunchtime, for pupils and teachers alike!
If you don’t want tables all the time, there are plenty of other options such as moveable tables, or even just using clipboards or chalkboards. In an outdoor classroom, there’s plenty of room to be creative with the way you teach, and you might find you don’t need tables at all!
Whether you’re going to have tables and chairs in your outdoor classroom or not, some activities are best done sitting or lying on the ground. Having the option for children to be on the floor is always a good idea for those who benefit from being able to move around as they learn, but perhaps even more so when outdoors.
If your outdoor classroom is on grass that’s great, because it’s a soft and safe place to sit or lie down. If you don’t have grass, other options include artificial grass or a rubbery, springy surface.
What you don’t want is to have children sitting or lying on a hard, dusty playground surface for any length of time – it’s uncomfortable and will almost certainly lead to a class full of children covered in dust and dirt!
Platforms and levels
It’s always a good idea to have a raised platform of some kind in an outdoor classroom. They’re brilliant for literally putting children on a pedestal when they have to feed back or present work, when they’re reading or telling a story to the group, or just to make certain pupils feel special. It’s a great way of helping build confidence and boosting self-esteem.
A raised platform is also great because it can be used as a stage for performances and assemblies in warm weather, bringing the whole school outside and getting lots of use out of your outdoor space.
Planters and plants
One of the many advantages of having an outdoor classroom in the first place is the ability to get children outside and interested in the outdoors. A great way of doing this is by having lots of plants around for them to look at and absorb the jungle or forest atmosphere they create.
However, plants are even more exciting when you plant them yourself, so why not fill up some planter boxes and raised flower beds with plants that the children grow themselves? Anything from grass seed to flowers, from herbs to vegetables – letting children nurture their own plants and watch them grow can be a hugely rewarding experience.
When setting up your outdoor classroom it’s a good idea to consider storage space. You might well use outdoor-specific resources and supplies which will need to be stored somewhere – why not store them outside too?
There are lots of storage options available, whether you’re after outdoor lockers or pigeon holes, covered storage bins, or something more robust like a wooden shed.
Outdoor storage can also be used to safely store larger items for indoor work such as PE equipment or other bulky items which take up precious storage space indoors.
You can browse some of our outdoor classroom resources and products by looking through our online shop. Have an idea for something that you can’t see in the shop? Let us know and we could be able to help make your idea a reality.
For more information and tips on how to set up your outdoor classroom, just get in touch with us. We can help you work out what you need and then create the perfect, bespoke outdoor classroom for your school, and get your children excited about being outside.