Some Outdoor Learning Practicalities

It occurred to me on Thursday when I was facilitating some INSET training in Leighton Buzzard that it’s often the small practical suggestions relating to outdoor learning that teachers love. We might be doing a fantastically fun and effective numeracy activity but it’s the logistical stuff that always sends the teachers for their notepads. I thought I’d gather a few of those suggestions here.
Firstly before you plan your outdoor learning remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The very bottom rung can be interpreted as helping your children/young people to be comfortable so that learning can take place. Make sure they’re warm (outdoor clothing is a whole other blog) and well-fed. Make sure when you gather them together in a ‘safe-space’, away from traffic and other hazards, that it is you who is squinting into the sunshine not them and position them so the wind is not in their faces. If you are doing any work that involves sitting down provide them with a sitting mat of some sort. You can buy ready made sitting mats or you can make your own by cutting up old camping mats or using carpet samples.
Have a think about how you are going to manage any equipment you might need. Are you going to carry a class set in your rucksack? Do you need so much that children will have to carry some? How will you ensure you don’t lose any whilst out and about? I always use a brightly coloured and patterned sarong/throw which folds down really small as my ‘equipment base’; after a few sessions children understand that this is the location where they collect spare pencil, clipboards, tape measures etc from and that all equipment must be put back there too.
Writing outdoors can be tricky. It’s worth considering whether your fieldwork activities require writing in the first place. If note taking/idea generating/planning work is due to take place then mini white boards, old CDs with whiteboard pens or A6 pieces of card are useful. For most activities I use A5 clipboards. These feel a bit special; like they’re just for outdoor learning. They are easier for most small hands to handle. Clipboards come with flip over covers which are useful protection when it’s raining. I also have a couple of A3 clipboards in my training kit which are useful for group work/editing/brainstorming/art. The A3 boards also give some writers a more stable base for writing because you can lean on them as you would a desk.
If you are data collecting with older pupils or collecting images with younger pupils then the use of iPads is both appropriate and possible if you invest in some of the (expensive) rugged cases. These durable cases mean that a rain shower or a careless drop won’t cause anyone a headache.
And finally: always use pencils! They don’t smudge in the rain, they write better on damp paper and are cheaper to replace.
Now I have noticed that teachers like these tips about learning outside the classroom logistics I will start to note other ideas down and do a part II to this blog in the future.