Environmental education resources

Top Ten Tips For Teaching Outside- Early Childhood

From preschool staff at St. David's Preschool

  1. Poster of How to dress showing snow pants, boots, jacket, neck warmer, has and mittens

    Poster of how to dress

    Before going out with your students, get to know your area's outdoor spaces on your own.
  2. Ask someone who is familiar with nature in your area to identify the plants and animals. The only ones you have to worry about are the dangerous ones. I've never found a dangerous plant or animal in our school property.
  3. If there are truly serious hazards, remove them. (Such as broken glass, poison ivy, etc.)
  4. Maintain an extra clothing box to supplement kids' clothing. I've added some adult-sized hats, mittens and boots for parent volunteers who also forget.
  5. The first time out with children, do something simple. Let them learn their boundaries.
  6. Establish a consistent schedule for going outside. Teachers complain that there is not enough time. It takes a few weeks, but eventually I can get a room of 4-year-olds to be dressed to go outside in under 10 minutes.
  7. Make sure you inform parents that their children WILL get dirty, and that they must be dressed in play clothes. If parents want kids in fancy clothes, tell the parents to bring the fancy clothes when they pick up their child.
  8. Let the children play and explore. But also give the children something to do to stay focused on the lesson. We do storytime outdoors (they sit on carpet squares), or I give them sand pails to collect nature items to sort.
  9. I once taught in a school that had only mowed lawn and a tree. At first glance, outdoors looked pretty boring so we didn't use it. I'm learning how other schoolyards and nature centers are spicing up these kind of surroundings, such as: leaving logs, stumps, and fallen trees around for climbing, "planting" surprises such as bones, cones, and stones; installing weatherproof trunk for outdoor supplies (child-sized rakes, snow shovels, sand pails, binoculars, carpet squares, rain boots, etc.).
  10. If you're still nervous, "Just do it!"

Teachers like these exist everywhere. Find one at a local nature center or through your state environmental education organization. For a copy of Dr. Cynthia Gardner's paper, contact cgardner@lander.edu