Top ten tips for teaching outside for elementary students

From Cynthia Freeman, Dowling Urban Elementary School, Minneapolis

photo: Winter fort

  1. Do the "Earth Manners" lesson from PLT. Have them sign a contract. This gets saved in their notebooks. It has worked so far!
  2. Remind them that it is not recess. If they act like recess, I remove one minute from regular recess. I still keep them outside, but they might have to sit on a bench and reflect.
  3. Their notebook is their document of involvement. Since I have more than 400 students, I use this record to gauge their understanding, care, attention to detail, etc.
  4. Create an outdoor classroom by laying down sheets or blankets. Later, you can create something more permanent with rocks or plants. Find a quiet place, away from hubbub.
  5. Give each child a colored piece of paper. Ask each child to search for items that match that color. ("Signs of Fall," Environmental Experiences in Early Childhood). This activity slows kids down and allows for intense focus. Amazing conversations ensue!
  6. Get as much support as you can, such as from your local Department of Natural Resources, a nature center, community speakers, and parents.
  7. Don't be afraid to ask for contributions from parents and the community.
  8. Read The Lorax, outside. It's politically incorrect, and they love it. (Great discussions.)
  9. For ELL students, the outdoors is a great place to develop word banks.
  10. Document the process. You are building a new program, and what you are doing matters!

Teachers like these exist everywhere. Find one at a local nature center or through your state environmental education organization.

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