George Lucas Educational Foundation

Outdoor Game-Based Learning To Refocus Students

Outdoor Game-Based Learning To Refocus Students

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With spring in full force, many teachers find it difficult to refocus their students' attention as most children would rather be outside. Instead of fighting your students’ desire to be outdoors, which is natural and healthy after a long winter, embrace it! Incorporate open-air learning games that will allow your students to release energy while continuing to learn. According to Carleton College, game-based learning increases engagement and motivates students to learn. Here are some ideas you can easily work into your lesson planning:

1. Telephone Bounce Spelling

Spelling words can become boring, fast. Take students outside to make them more interesting. Use sidewalk chalk to draw a telephone keypad on the pavement, complete with letters. Then, have the children create a circle around the keypad for a game of Telephone Bounce Spelling.

Give a child a ball and tell the class a spelling word. The first child should bounce the ball on the first letter in the word, saying the intended letter. Another child across the circle will catch the ball and bounce it on the next letter. Play continues until the word is spelled correctly. If someone misses, the word starts over. Ensure fairness by telling students they can only contribute one letter to each word.

2. Fill the Bucket Relay Race

Because it involves water, schedule the Fill the Bucket Relay Race for a hot day and instruct children to bring a change of clothing. Then, collect five coffee can containers and five five-gallon buckets. Have the children estimate how many of the coffee cans of water they think it will take to fill the five-gallon bucket.

Divide the players into five teams, and have them fill the coffee can with water, run to the bucket, dump it into the bucket, and run back. One player from each team needs to count to see how many cans it takes to fill the bucket. The first team to fill the bucket wins, and the player who had the closest guess also wins.

When the game is over, extend the learning element by doing a demonstration that shows exactly how many cans it takes when no water is spilled because of racing, and then discuss how they could have improved their estimation.

3. Get Even

Take two decks of playing cards and remove the jokers and face cards. Use four cones to create a box in the middle of a playing field. Refer to this area of the field as the "pen." Then, use four more cones to make a larger area around the pen. These cones should align with the cones on the pen to create a perimeter.

Give each student one playing card from one of the decks, and place the remaining playing cards on a chair, stand or box in the middle of the pen. Then, disperse the other deck evenly into piles at each of the four outer cones.

Instruct your students to run to one of the corners and find a card that, when added to the card in their hands, will make an even number. They then take both cards and run to the pen, dropping their cards and getting another card from the stack in the center. Play repeats until all cards are used.

This game has no individual winner, but is a fun, simple way to get kids moving while reinforcing math concepts. You can add competition by having the children compete to beat their most recent best time for the game. For older children, change the game to practice multiplication, with the same rules.

4. Tree Tag

If your science class has been learning about local trees, use this information to play tree tag. Find an open space that has many different trees on the school property, or schedule a field trip to an arboretum for a game of Tree Tag. Create a list of characteristics found in the trees, such as  evergreen leaves, or fruit you can eat. Then, instruct the children to tag a tree that is evergreen, and watch as they run to tag a tree that matches the description. If they get the tag wrong, they are out. The winners are those still standing when you finish your list.

If you don't have access to an area with many trees, make a variation of this game using a variety of things found in nature. The descriptions could include tagging a plant that flowers, something that can grow into a plant (a seed), a specific type of rock or anything else in your school yard.

Outdoor games does not mean learning has to stop. With a little bit of planning, you can cure cabin fever, indulge in their desire to be outside and enjoy interactive, educational activities at the same time.


David Reeves is the Marketing Director of Superior Grounds For Play (http://www.groundsforplay.com/) in Carrollton, GA. 


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

These are great ideas, David! A few years ago I asked my 8th graders if they'd like to try reading outside. They were a class of struggling readers, and I had them sitting with a partner, reading aloud, one page at a time, and talking about the book as they read. I suggested they try doing the same thing outside, except walking around our quad outside our classroom while they read aloud. They loved it! I think they thought they were getting away with something, reading while walking and talking outside, but I also think the movement and fresh air gave their brain (and reading) a boost. Too often we stick to what we've always done, which usually means sitting inside all day. Thanks for sharing these fun ideas!

David Reeves's picture

Thank you for your kind words, Laura. I agree, a change of pace and some fresh air can definitely give your brain a boost!

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