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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Five Tips for Introducing Outdoor Education to Your Class

Follow these easy-to-implement suggestions about how to go outside with learning.

This how-to article accompanies the feature "Early-Childhood Education Takes to the Outdoors."

Here are five ways to adopt the ideas behind the Waldkindergarten concept:

Partner with a Local Nature Center

Some schools are forming partnerships with local environmental centers and organizations to expand students' access to outdoor resources. Asking a local nature center to lead classes on bird-watching or other types of nature observation is one easy way to create a meaningful outdoor-learning experience.

Connect with a Natural-Education Initiative

Advocacy groups and initiatives aimed at connecting kids with nature are forming nationwide. Nature-education proponent Richard Louv is chairman of the nonprofit Children and Nature Network, which has identified and encouraged more than 50 regional, state, and local campaigns that are helping reintroduce children to nature.

Use the network's Web site to find a group that can help connect students with nature. Or you can use materials provided by the network to start your own group.

Network with Other Professionals

Teachers cannot always do it alone. Build relationships with other professionals invested in expanding outdoor opportunities. In New York City, a coalition of environmentalists, teachers (including early-childhood and outdoor educators), health professionals, businesspeople, and government leaders make up the Long Island Nature Collaborative for Kids.

LINCK works on projects with museums, libraries, community centers, schools, and other organizations to promote and create outdoor-learning opportunities for children. The group also trains educators and landscape architects who specialize in designing outdoor natural-learning spaces.

Bring the Forest to Campus

Small changes to a school's outdoor space can dramatically enhance the opportunities to use nature as a teaching tool. Planting a school garden or pushing for a green playground makeover can bring nature to the campus.

The Dimensions Educational Research Foundation is collaborating with various organizations to develop a network of outdoor-learning spaces at schools, libraries, museums, and other public places. These nature-exploration classrooms are equipped for hands-on, outdoor learning in science, art, music, movement, and other areas.

Gear Up

Sensible precautions and attention to safety make outdoor learning possible in all but the most extreme conditions. Educating parents about the benefits of outdoor exploration will encourage families to dress their children appropriately, and schools can also require proper gear. Outdoor programs may also want to have outerwear on hand for students who show up unequipped; thrift stores often have affordable children's gear for sale.

Andrea Mills is an early-childhood teacher who has taught in both the United States and Europe. She lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband and sons.

Comments (6)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jessica Culverhouse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for this wonderful article and how-to list! It is exciting that the power and importance of outdoor learning are becoming topics of discussion in mainstream education publications.

Educators can participate in a national celebration of environmental learning during National Environmental Education Week (http://www.eeweek.org), which will be April 11-17, 2010.

If you're trying to identify a local nature center to work with, as suggested in the article, you are welcome to search EE Week's Nature Center Map at http://www.eeweek.org/nature_centers.

BrainBackBend's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes--students need to interact more with the natural world. Some colleagues and I have used geocaching successfully as a way to connect students to the natural world. Austin, Texas has a number of State parks and Greenbelt areas that provide easy access to the great outdoors.

Robin Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for these timely tips. A colleague and I are looking for ways to make Thoreau's WALDEN more immediate and concrete for our students. We're lucky enough to be able to visit Walden Pond, but I'm even more interested in finding ways for students to reconnect with the land in more visceral ways. As always, I find something I can use in each e-newsletter from Edutopia!

Jane Kirkland's picture
Jane Kirkland
Author, speaker, photographer

Start in your own schoolyard - study the nature you find there. No money needed - and it's a beginning. When students learn about the accessible nature in their own backyards, schoolyards, and neighborhoods, they are better prepared to explore beyond - and they are more respectfull and appreciative of their own spaces. This is place based experiential learning at its best! Teachers might want to consider my teachers guide for getting kids outdoors: http://www.takeawalk.com/no-student/.

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