Are Outdoor Classrooms the Future of Education?

With the rising popularity of outdoor offices, many businesses are looking to take advantage of the various benefits of spending time outside. This growing trend is also inspiring teachers to incorporate the great outdoors into their lesson plans. By considering the pros and cons of teaching outdoors and a few handy tips, you may find that an open-air classroom is right for you and your students. carolewood gray outdoor cocktail

The Challenges of Traditional Classrooms

While many educators still prefer to teach in the traditional classroom setting, these environments pose several challenges for students and their instructors. The average class has one teacher assigned to around 25 students. More students mean that teachers have less time to spend with each child, which can hurt their progress. The limited space of an indoor classroom can also become an issue. Students have less room to move and are stuck in confining desks for several hours at a time, making it hard to concentrate and focus on their studies. It can be a challenge for educators to keep kids calm, occupied and engaged while cooped up in a stuffy classroom. In an attempt to alleviate several of these issues, some schools use staggered schedules. While this may seem like a good way to give students more room by having different kids in the classroom on different days, this also limits the amount of face-to-face time children have with their teachers. Additionally, many institutions have begun using full- or part-time online learning, which puts students with an unreliable internet connection at a disadvantage. Those with limited access may fall behind in their studies. Educators may also find it difficult to gauge their students’ understanding of course materials when teaching remotely.

Benefits of Outdoor Education for Students

While some parents and educators may believe that being outdoors during class time would be detrimental to learning, studies show that the opposite is true. Many students demonstrate increased productivity, better cognitive skills and improved mental health when they participate in outdoor classrooms. Studies show that kids who experience outdoor learning for at least a portion of their school day perform above average in essential subjects like math, science and writing. Conducting lessons outdoors enables hands-on learning and real-world experiences that are difficult to recreate indoors. Instead of trying to explain abstract concepts, instructors can facilitate firsthand sensory experiences. Students who spend more time outdoors also tend to experience less stress. This can lead to pupils who are content, healthy and higher performing. Happy children tend to have an easier time focusing on assignments and paying attention in class, which in turn results in better comprehension and grades. picture of a teak patio furniture set

Benefits of Outdoor Classrooms for Teachers

Teachers can also reap the benefits of holding class outdoors. Educators can choose the location of their outdoor classroom based on the lesson plan for the day. Are you focusing on biology? Conduct class by the local pond. Creative writing exercises? Go to the park and have the students journal about their surroundings. The possibilities are endless, which can make every workday fresh and exciting. Of course, instructors can also enjoy the perks of working in sunshine and open spaces. A happy teacher makes a better educator, and the clean air and physical activity can help you feel refreshed and ready to engage with your students. For the same reasons, teachers may want to take their breaks outside or even set up a secondary outdoor office for a change of pace.

Disadvantages of Outdoor Learning

While there are an array of benefits to outdoor classrooms, this approach also comes with some unique challenges. One of the biggest issues a teacher can face when holding class outside is the distractions beyond their control. Kids, especially younger children, may feel overwhelmed by the abundance of colors, plants, animals and sounds. Weather is another factor to consider. It’s less practical to have regular outdoor classes in areas with extremely cold or hot climates. It can also be difficult to account for inclement weather. Rain or snow is uncomfortable, plus it could potentially damage learning materials like books or electronics. However, if you can set up a semi-permanent outdoor classroom, a canopy can offer some protection. Having class outside can be a double-edged sword when it comes to physical activity, too. Kids may be able to run around and burn off some energy, but this also opens them up for the risk of injury. There are far more potential hazards to consider in an outdoor classroom, from accidental falls, scrapes or bruises to potential exposure to stinging insects or poison ivy. Photo of a Canopy

Outdoor Classroom Ideas

When it comes to designing an outdoor classroom, teachers have a lot of freedom. Depending on the budget and the class size, instructors may want to use secondhand furniture to create learning stations throughout the playground. Alternatively, they can use the natural resources of the area, such as small logs or large rocks, for seating. Teachers should ask themselves a few important questions when plotting out an outdoor classroom. How many kids will be in the class? What age range are you teaching? How big is the area? What type of furniture can you reasonably fit into the space? Are you teaching the entire class outside or only for a portion of the day or week? Every classroom is unique, so it’s essential to consider the needs of the students, the requirements of the curriculum and the limitations of the location. With a little creativity, outdoor learning can work for just about any subject and group. As long as you develop a plan to suit you and your students, outdoor learning can be exciting and enriching. blue outdoor picnic table

Outdoor Classroom Furniture

Deciding which outdoor furniture is best for your classroom may feel overwhelming. It’s important to consider how much space you have and what materials will work the best. Durable wood such as teak lasts for years, but it can be pricey depending on how many pieces you need. On the other hand, aluminum furniture is sturdy, lightweight and affordable. When buying patio furniture for your outdoor classroom, durability is a top priority. Kids can be tough on furniture, so you’ll want to find pieces that can stand up to constant use. Opt for easy-to-clean tables and seating that resist staining or discoloration. A few functional options to consider include:
  • Benches: Outdoor benches provide plenty of space for several children to sit comfortably. Backless benches tend to blend in more with the scenery, while models with backrests allow students to relax during lessons.
  • Sectionals: Sectionals provide the perfect spot for quiet reading time or group activities. Many sets also come with coffee tables so that students can have a surface for writing or projects.
  • Chairs: Outdoor chairs are a versatile option for outdoor learning. Sturdy and comfortable patio chairs are a great way to recreate the classroom environment outside. Folding or stackable options work best for clean-up at the end of the school day.
White patio seating set