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13 Outdoor Class Activities for Anyone, Anytime

As the dreaded cicadas emerge from underground in a once-in-every-17-years nature event here in the D.C. Metro area, we seem to have jumped straight into the tail end of springtime. During this time of year when hours of sunlight stretch ever longer, students often clamor to have class outside. Before the pandemic, we might have limited the number of times we say yes to moving our classes beyond four walls, but now that outdoors is safest, having class in the fresh air is harder to argue with. If we can manage the distractions that holding class outside can present, being in a different space is a refreshing change of pace and scenery. Here are some ideas for outdoor classroom activities, many that span multiple grades and content areas.

  1. Nature Write. Encourage students to sit, listen, and absorb the nature around them. With a specific focus on sensory details (smell, sight, taste, touch, hearing), ask them to write about what they notice. Sharing is optional, but often a fun way to bring the class together at the end.
  2. Chalk Math. Instead of doing math problems on paper in a classroom, students can write them out on the pavement in chalk. Even better, they can incorporate their math problems onto common outdoor games where applicable, like hopscotch.
  3. Journal Spew. Sometimes, we just want to write or draw about anything. Give students time and space to use a blank sheet of paper and make something happen. Once again, sharing might be a good way to summarize class at the end.
  4. Pick an Object. Ask students to look around, pick any inanimate object, and turn it into a character in its own story. Whether they pick trees or trash cans, having students share what they selected will be fun for everyone.
  5. Measure It! If students are learning about any unit of measure, they can take the exercise outdoors and measure pretty much anything that fits the bill, recording their responses on a capture sheet or similar.
  6. Cloud Shapes. In this oldie but goodie activity, kids look for shapes in the clouds and use them as inspiration for anything from artwork to discussion.
  7. Rock Painting and/or Sculpture. This activity necessitates the transport of painting supplies outdoors. We can either bring rocks with us, or if we are in a rocky area, find them outdoors and create some arty magic! Taking photos for an online gallery is optional.
  8. Outdoor Theater. The great outdoors is a wonderful space for acting! Students can reenact history, mime vocabulary, or perform short scenes with nature as a backdrop.
  9. I Spy! This version of the classic car game can be thematic in alignment with class content, or it can also be free-flowing. With more to see beyond the walls of the school, there is definitely more to spy!
  10.  Twenty Questions. Using class content or themes as desired topics, students can develop the “answer” either individually or in teams while others take turns guessing with up to 20 questions.
  11.  DEAR Time. Sometimes, students just want to Drop Everything And Read, and we should encourage that as much as possible. Providing them time with a self-chosen text builds literacy skills with the added benefit of a serene outdoor space to enjoy.
  12.  Scavenger Hunt. What will students look for? Whatever fits the day’s lesson. This classic game can be aligned to whatever the learning outcome is!
  13.  Circle Talk. Use a field or blacktop space to seat kids in a circle for a class discussion on any topic. The circle encourages everyone to look at one another and the conversation will flow more freely as a result.

Sometimes, the rustle of leaves around us or the sound of a bird chirping can bring some much-needed serenity. While we might not be able to go outside for class every day, let’s think about doing it more than we ordinarily would. Lately, outdoor classrooms have gathered momentum as alternate learning spaces that allow everyone to worry a little less about possible infection. Most of us may not be able to secure a consistent outdoor classroom space, but the activities above get us one step closer to the goal of enjoying learning in a space where we can breathe more freely and appreciate the joy of what happens when we allow a little more freedom to creep into our lesson plans.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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