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A Recipe for Outdoor Classroom Management

Ken with kids planting-Plute

Originally appears in the Summer 2007 issue

Voyaging into nature’s classroom can be both a delight and a wondrous adventure for children. Students enjoy and value time spent learning outside the walls of their classroom, and for many students field trips and outdoor learning experiences are the most memorable part of the school year. For teachers, on the other hand, these outdoor escapades often evoke trepidation and fear. Many of us simply feel insecure about leaving the confines of the classroom walls and the accustomed comfort that they provide. My own research has shown that “losing control” of students is the number one fear that teachers have. As a result, many teachers rarely, if ever, plan lessons out in nature.

There are effective ways to address this fear, however. Since students are excited about and yearn to take part in outdoor learning experiences, our job as teachers is to work with this enthusiasm and liveliness while at the same time maintaining a focus so that learning can be maximized. As in any demanding educational situation, the way to master this effectively is through adequate planning, preparation and practice. Teachers who assume that students just don’t know how to act appropriately outdoors are often correct, since the majority of students have not had opportunities to practice the skills they need for learning in non-classroom settings. The following three-step process is an easy-to-implement and effective means of preparing yourself and your students for the joys and challenges of learning outdoors.

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Darius Kalvaitis has been a classroom teacher in Grades 1 through 6 as well as a director of school outdoor programs. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.