There are so many benefits to getting your class out of the classroom during the school day, they almost don’t bear repeating. But here are some of them:
(a) It can do wonders for your pupils’ physical and mental health and wellbeing. Children smile more easily out of doors. Maybe you will too.
(b) It helps to foster a vital connection with the natural world outside of your classroom window.
(c) There is a whole world of exciting, fascinating learning to delve into, from bushcraft to orienteering and natural history. Help your class to tell their ash from their elm.
(d) It vastly improves children’s concentration and focus in other lessons. Tackle the afternoon slide into lethargy head on with a burst of fresh air after lunch.
(e) It beats doing another spelling test.
It’s easier than you might think to add some great outdoors to your day. All of the following activities can be completed in 15 minutes or less. Perfect for when you have time to kill before afternoon assembly and you’ve finished today’s chapter of War and Peace.
1. Bring the Outdoors indoors
Back in the dark ages before interactive whiteboards, homework portal apps and and trolleys of laptops that don’t work, any primary classroom worth its salt would have its own nature table. A nature table was at the cutting edge of immersive classroom technology in its time. On it would be displayed any interesting finds the class had brought in with them from the playground or the back garden. You could look at them, smell them, pick them up and everything.
Reinstate this glorious tradition by finding a suitable tabletop or chest of drawers, covering it with a table cloth and supplying a magnifying glass and field guide or two. Encourage your class to bring in their findings, and hey presto: your very own corner of the countryside is within easy reach. Excellent inspiration for starters in literacy, art prompts and the obvious links to science.
I once had a child bring in his collection of silkworms in a shoebox, which sparked a fascinating mid-lesson tangent about caterpillars, life-cycles and Chinese silk production. They couldn’t half get through some mulberry leaves, those silkworms.
Photo from Montessori for Everyone
You never know what will come in on a Monday morning. Exhibits might include sheep skulls, owl pellets, exotic mushrooms or four-leaf clovers. In his schoolboy memoir Moab is My Washpot, Stephen Fry recalls his failed attempts to win a star for the most impressive nature table exhibit of the week:
“I had entertained high hopes that week for my badger’s skull, boiled, vigorously scrubbed clean with Colgate toothpaste […]. I tried a starfish, a thrush egg, a collection of pressed campions and harebells and a boxful of shards of that willow pattern ironstone china that the Victorians buried in the earth for the sole purpose of disappointing twentieth-century treasure seekers. None of these met with the least success.”
He eventually brings in the body of a recently deceased mole, only to be outdone that very day by a classmate who brings a live donkey to school.
I would allow just about anything from the natural world on the nature table, but I’d probably draw the line at a donkey.
2. Mini scavenger hunt
Children love to collect things. Harness their mania for acquisition by sending them off on a scavenger hunt.
Their quarry will depend on your surroundings and the time of year. In autumn, children might find red and yellow leaves, a pine cone and a conker. In winter, a holly leaf, red berries, two turtle doves and a partridge in a… you get the idea. Children could write lists of items for their classmates to find. Set a time limit of ten minutes, and supply a small container or paper cup to store their finds.
Variations include ABC scavenger hunts, where children find something beginning with each letter of the alphabet (pity the child who makes it to q) or photograph challenges, where children take photos of their finds instead of picking them up. This at least has the advantage of reducing the amount of greenery left on your classroom carpet after the lesson.
3. Ramble on
Lead your class on a short wander around the school, taking in nearby outdoors spaces such as sports fields, vegetable patches, ponds, forbidden forests, etc. Ask children to keep their eyes open for wildlife such as wild flowers or insects as they go. Hand out some paper back in the classroom afterwards and ask children to write down as many different sightings as they can remember. The child with the largest number of items on his or her list wins.
This can also work in more urban settings where outdoors space might be scarce. Take a magnifying glass and look closely at a brick wall or fence. You will be astounded at the variety of mosses and lichen growing there. Just don’t stare for too long, people might start to talk.
The most important thing is to make the effort and get out there. I know it’s probably raining, and you don’t have the time. But there are so many benefits to taking children outdoors. I don’t think it’s necessary to set aside a huge chunk of your day to enjoy them.
Besides, those laptops probably won’t connect to the wifi, and the iPads haven’t been charged. The children have done enough sitting down for the day. Get their coats on, step outside and blow away the cobwebs.
Your class will thank you for it.