Tips for Teaching Outdoors

Teaching in the outdoors can be fun and inspiring, especially when everyone is prepared for a positive learning experience. Here are three topics to help as you bring your classes outside.

Here’s how to have fun and be safe while being outside.

Preparation

Scout the area to make necessary safety precautions and plans. Are there areas where children can sit and journal? How long does it take to walk to and from the location? Do you see poison ivy, broken glass, or other safety issues?

It’s a good idea to teach children how to identify and avoid plants like poison ivy. The Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac Information Center provides complete information and photos.

Before going outside, talk with your students about the location, length, and purpose of the outing. Find out if your students are accustomed to being outside. Address their possible fears of scary insects or animals. Remind students that insects and other small animals are often more afraid of humans than we are of them. Decide upon guidelines for behavior and remind the class about not touching things like sharp objects or broken glass, and not eating berries or any other items.


Send letters home with parents so their children can come prepared with proper clothes and footwear, hats, sunscreen, or insect repellent, if necessary. When appropriate, recruit parent volunteers to help chaperone.

Prepare for a bug and tick check upon returning to the classroom. Wearing light-colored clothes and tucking pants into socks is a good way to avoid unwanted plant or insect contact. For more information about avoiding ticks, check out these websites:

Massachusetts Public Health Fact Sheet
Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine
Cornell Cooperative Extension


If the excursion involves being away from the school grounds, check with the school nurse regarding any special medical needs and consider bringing a first aid kit (or check with the field trip site about their emergency or first aid procedures).

Off school grounds

If you are bringing your students to a location off of the school grounds make sure you:
  • Contact the destination and let them know you will be bringing a group of children. Make sure they know the date and time of your visit, as well as the number of students, the ages, and number of chaperones.
  • Ask about any events that might interfere with your visit. Some locations may have public programs, trails open to snow mobiling in the winter, or seasonal hunting.
  • Ask if there are indoor facilities and bathrooms. If not, be prepared for poor weather and remind students to use the bathrooms before the field trip.
  • Bring a class list in case of an emergency or in case anyone gets lost.
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Respect and Care

Agree on ways to behave outside while on a nature study.

Establish guidelines for collecting natural items and for cleanup. If children move items, such as a log in order to examine any inhabitants beneath it, they should replace the items carefully to its original location.


New discoveries are an exciting component of nature study. Children are excellent trackers and catchers of small animals. A covered plastic jar with holes on the top enables the students to pass around specimens for all to see without harming the animals.



If specimens are brought back to the classroom, release the animals within 24 hours in the same location at about the same time. Be sure to be sensitive to the animals’ needs (e.g., if catching amphibians, be sure to muddy your hands before touching them).


When searching for plants or plant parts, be careful only to collect leaves, flowers, or other items that seem abundant. If you see only one or two of a specimen, it’s best to leave them in their natural state for further study.

Classroom Management in the Outdoor Classroom



Before going outside, agree on a word, sound, or a hand gesture to signal the class to circle up as a group to share their findings.


Allow time for children to explore and enjoy the excitement of being outdoors.

Keep in mind that being quiet provides students with a calm learning environment, and it may give them an opportunity to see animals. If there are unnecessary distractions, consider moving the class to another location (away from a lawn mower, for example).

Staying on the trails reduces erosion and allows the subject matter (leaves, trees, and small animals) to retain its natural state for study. Keeping on the trails also reduces the risk of unwanted insect or plant contact.

Before leaving the nature study area, ask the students how they can reduce their impact on the environment. Can they leave only footprints?

Be willing to adapt as children make discoveries. If a hawk flies overhead or if someone finds a salamander beneath a log, take advantage of this opportunity to share the wonder of nature. These are the moments your students will most likely remember.

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