Planning an outdoor class can be summed up into 5 main topics:
#1 Location, Day, & Amount of time
#3 Standards or Why are you going outside?
#4 Activities: Materials needed & back up
#5 Behavior Plan
#1 Location, Day, & Amount of time
Pick a location that makes sense for the topic that you are wanting to do and the day you want to do it plus a back-up day for whatever reason. Take a look at how much time you will have to work with and how much time you will need to do your activity. Location is is the most important so that you will be able to do what you want. However time is the second most important because if you see the route you want to take the kids on a hike is a mile long and you only have 30 minutes then that will not work. From there you are picking the day of the week with the appropriate amount of time slot for you and if not that far into the future check the weather as well.
SAFETY IS HUGE: Plan for anything and everything that could go wrong
- Allergies & Asthma – Know who in your class has allergies and what they are as well as if anyone has asthma. Then determine with the school nurse if those kids should have Epipens or inhalers on them this may depend on how far from the school you will be going and what you will be doing. Like many things though better to have them and not need them than not have them and need them.
- Injuries & Emergencies – Depending on your school’s rules it will be good to pack a first aid kit with the basics when going outside. Talk to the school nurse for this as well as what you are able to treat and what should be brought to her. Additionally know what your school determines as an emergency and when you should be calling 911 before the school nurse.
- Permission slips – Determine with you principal or department lead if permission slips will be necessary. They may be for where you want to go and what you are planning on doing outside with your class. This might also be helpful if you determines having an additional adult will be helpful and you don’t have one at the school already who can help. You can then ask for an additional adult to volunteer and have them go through whatever process your school has for them to be checked out to volunteer in class.
- Water Safety – Know your school’s rules when it comes to having students near water some schools insurance does not even cover this so you wouldn’t be able to do it! Crazy right? But make sure you have a safety plan already worked out like students are only allowed in as deep as the ankles of their boots and you will always have a life preserver with you. Always ALWAYS use your best judgement though if you get to the locations and the rocks are too slippery or icy or the water is flowing too fast postpone the activity for another day. Also have back ups in place for if someone falls in like spare dry clothes or towels back in the classroom if you can. Because trust me when water and kids are involved it is likely someone is going to end up wet!
- Weather – Usually following the same guidelines for Recess will be good for this one so if it is too hot, cold, icy, rainy, or storming for recess then you probably should not have them outside for class either. But make sure you follow your school’s rules and even pass that the guidelines for heat and cold related illnesses. Because staying outside for an hour for class is different than staying outside 30 minutes for recess.
- Lastly (Unfortunately) Stranger/Shooter Situation – Once again going off of Recess protocols for this is usually a good starting point but setting additional safety procedures with your principal is a good rule. For example how far the kids can be from you and your protocol for when strangers are around your school group. Do you head inside immediately when someone else is in the woods?
#3 Standards or Why you are going outside?
Select which standards you are going to be covering by going outside and what additional things you want to cover. This is because there is a chance you may have to justify it with your principal or department head. So you may have to show it is an activity that can only be done outside or just because you can do it inside there are additional benefits when you take your class outside. I find it easier to select a standard and then find an activity that covers that standard. This is because there are many different activities you can pick from out there to use for helping your students learn about a standard. If you are a parent reading this not for the purpose of homeschooling this is much easier! You can pick a more simple focus like we are going outside to do nature art or learn about wildlife but if it turns into something else that is okay as long as the kids are having fun and learning!
#4 Activities: materials needed & back up activities
This goes hand in hand with #3. Like previously stated you are finding activities that meet the standard you want to cover during this part of your class. However there are additional considerations like that can reasonably get (or afford) the materials for the activity. Otherwise that maybe cover a secondary goal in your class like building collaboration or another standard. As well as the students will enjoy and want to do it so that you didn’t just do all this work only to have to pull teeth to get them to do the activity. So if your group likes games include a game, if they like exploring include exploring etc. If you don’t know what they like yet try out a few of the usual suspects for their age and plan future outdoor classes from there. Like I said before some kid favorites are games and exploring! Additionally if your activities are weather dependent or you are counting on the students being able to go near water or some other factor that is likely to change make sure to have some kind of back up activity ready. This way if you show up to the river and it is flowing too fast, too icy, or some other thing you are not stuck with nothing to do but walk back to the school. A good rule is plan for more than you intend to do but prioritize the most important things as the first and second activities.
#5 Behavioral Plan
Lastly hopefully something you will not need is creating a behavior plan for what will happen if one student or the class is not listening or behaving. Honestly if your whole class is not doing what is expected you probably know what to do already. Round them up and bring them back inside for a discussion about respect and instead spend the time learning inside about what you were going to cover outside. However it gets tricky when it is just one student causing issue since it may be hard to send them inside and to the principal’s office depending on where you are. Additionally if your school uses the take a break method you can’t really leave a kid sitting on the side of the trail while the rest of the class continues on the hike (as tempting as it may be). So at the very least set the standard that justifies sending one kid inside to the office (if you can do this) and the standard for having the whole class come in and let the kids know. Easy tip is if these standards are the same ones you hold the kids to in the classroom they will be also easier to remember for the kids and set the tone that we are still in class even though we are outside. There is a ton more that goes into class management so please check out the video below or a future blog post about this!
So that is all I have for you today please comment below any questions you have I am always happy to help! As well as check out my other blog posts, videos, and social media accounts for more resources to help you take your kids outdoors!