Wednesday, 16 April 2014

10 ways to make outdoor teaching easier

Taking learning outdoors can sometimes prove quite stressful for a teacher. There's so much to think about beforehand - what to take, what to wear - and what about when you get there? The wild and wonderful world of the woods is just so distracting for students... why would they bother listening to you when there's so much to explore?

But there are a number of things you can do to make teaching outdoors easier! And they're actually really really simple.

To get you started, here are ten ways you can keep your students safe and their attention firmly focused on you  all the while making sure you're giving them the best and most enjoyable outdoor experience you can.

  1. Set expectations before going out – Understanding what is going to happen and how long it will take will help children relax. Keep it positive and emphasise ‘care’ through looking after themselves, each other and the natural environment.
  2. Take a rucksack for necessities – This would include a first aid kit, water, mobile phone, emergency contact details, hazard tick list, sit-mats, whistles – a gentle sounding one to call the group back together (i.e. owl hoot or ocarina) and a sharp-sounding emergency one. Don’t forget any evaluation equipment you plan on using – for example, a camera (and spare batteries) or post-it notes. And if carrying props for any activities, pack them in order of use to make your life easier.
  3. Appropriate clothing – Ensure children are wearing appropriate clothing and footwear. Suggest zipping up/tucking in/putting on hats before they start getting too cold (or hot).
  4. Be sensitive to fears/preconceptions – Children may feel woods are dangerous (thanks to many nursery rhymes and fairy tales, as well as negative media stories). If these arise, try to deal with them in an understanding and non-judgemental way.
  5. Keep it simple – Children find it hard to listen to someone talking for too long, especially outdoors. Have a clear mental plan of the session before you go out.
  6. Go visual, auditory and kinaesthetic – Engage everyone by trying to have a visual focal point (for example, stand near or hold the thing you are talking about) and if you can, demonstrate it too.
  7. Circle-up – Get the whole group, including adults, into a circle when introducing and ending activities, as this means you will have everyone’s attention and hopefully only have to say things once. Invent different ways to do this to make it fun (i.e. ‘sticking’ elbows, knees or toes to neighbours).
  8. Weather affects ability to learn – Try to stand facing the sun when talking to your
    group so they won’t have to squint. Attention span decreases in windy, wet or cold weather so adjust your expectations accordingly.
  9. Meeting dogs off the lead – Ask children to fold their arms and look away from dogs if you meet them off the lead. The dog should quickly get bored and leave.
  10. Evaluate outside – Sharing the learning experience while still outside will provide more valuable feedback because it is done in context.

Look out for the next blog post in this series!
Of course, taking a group of students outside involves a certain degree of risk. The third post in this series will feature a hazard tick list which will outline a number of the hazards you may encounter while outdoors and what you can do to avoid them.

The material in this series of blog posts is taken from the article 'A practical guide to outdoor learning' by Amy Williams of The Woodland Trust.

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