Tips for Your Outdoor Classroom

Posted by Scholar's Choice in General

The schoolyard or your center's outdoor space provide a learning environment outside the classroom that can be used for interdisciplinary; curriculum-based; hands-on; inexpensive; inclusive of all learning styles inquiry- based learning.


  • One class watches birds using a nest box they constructed, taking notes on their adaptations for flight and feeding.
  • Another class learns about plant reproduction by examining the flower they planted and observing the bees and butterflies pollinating them.
  • A group uses math skills to estimate the tadpole population in a pond which students helped construct.
  • A fourth group records observations of squirrel behaviour as they gather nuts to feed their young.
  • An environmental club meets for an afternoon of bird watching and fills the feeders they made.
  • An after-school program is making leaf rubbings to create bookmarks.

Tips for Inquiry-Based Learning Activities Outdoors

The most important thing to remember is to give yourself time to prepare. Inquiry-based learning involves much more prep time than other lessons. It is important to give yourself proper time when preparing such lessons. You want to be sure that you are able to guide your students through the process and have proper closure to the lesson with the students' full understanding of what was taught. Here are a few other tips for inquiry-based learning activities outdoors.

  • Use collaborative learning. Inquiry-based learning generally works best in a collaborative setting. Try dividing your class into small groups. Give each group a question that they will work on together, and then let them develop a project based on the question that supports their answer.
  • Incorporate discovery into lessons. Giving students a chance to discover things on their own can make concepts click to where they understand what is being taught. Add questions to your lessons whereby students have to explore to find the answers. An example might be having students build a model in order to answer questions in a sequential order.
  • Incorporate observation into lessons. Seeing is believing! Some students gain an advantage in learning when they have the opportunity to observe what is being taught. Of course, we generally think of science experiments when referring to this concept, but consider using this approach in all areas of learning. Check out the lesson plan below for an inquiry-based math lesson outdoors!
  • Use measurement in lessons. This approach is best used in science lessons. When a student is given a chance to measure progress it helps them learn important concepts. Perhaps each week you track plant growth.
  • Incorporate hands-on activities in lessons. Any opportunity to let students work with their hands is a good way to use inquiry-based learning. Hands-on activities can be used in all subjects. The outdoors is a great place for children to benefit from hands-on, inquiry-based lessons.

Turning your schoolyard or facility grounds into an outdoor classroom is easier than you think. Here is a great idea for an inquiry-based math lesson outside- I Spy: 3D Geometry and Capacity Hunt!

Here are some examples of things in and around your school...

Tree in a school yard Black metal post in a school yard Cement support post in the sidewalk Large black garbage bin Red cylander cushion in a classroom Blue beta fish in a fish tank

You can download this 3D geometry and capacity hunt worksheet and have students record what they saw and discussed. There are two sides- the first is what 3D Shapes the students saw and where. On the second side, students record the 3D objects and estimate their capacity.

completed I Spy geometry and capacity hunt worksheet completed backside of the I Spy geometry and capacity hunt worksheet

For more great inquiry-based learning ideas check out Learning Through Inquiry: A Look into Our Grade 3 Classrooms. This blog documents the learning experiences of two Grade 3 classes that collaborate together to explore the Ontario Curriculum through inquiry-based learning.

If you're looking for more reading on outdoor learning check out these articles:

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