What does outdoor learning really look like?

Does it look like children sitting down quietly reading a children’s book? Does it look like children eagerly listening to the teacher as he or she explains how to plant a seed? Or does it look like children taking their time to look over a pile of leaves, carefully picking one red one, one green one, and one yellow one then gently placing them all in a paper bag?

I may have moments where outdoor learning looks like that, but I have to tell you…

most of the time, outdoor learning doesn’t look anything like I imagine it should when I take my preschool or prekindergarten age children outside.

In fact, sometimes I wonder if I am leading a group of sweet, kind, angelic children or a bunch of wild animals to head outside to play. By the time I open the door, the last thing my students want to do is gather around me to do much of anything especially be quiet and listen to me teach a lesson, read a book or make them pick three perfect leaves. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Every time I take the children on a leaf hunt, they stuff their bags with as many of the ugliest brown, dried up leaves they can find and then shout, “I’m done! Can I go play now?”

But over my 30 years of teaching young children, I have learned that outdoor learning is far deeper and more meaningful than any lesson I could prepare (although I still like to try).

The key to truly seeing what outdoor learning looks like is to know what to look for and then knowing what to do and what language to use when you do see it.

With spring in the air, I will be getting my wild animals sweet little angels outside for some quality outdoor play and exploration. I want them to be able to enjoy their time outdoors but, in the process, I also want to challenge their thinking, build large and fine motor skills, promote their skills and understanding in math, science, language, literacy, and even in the arts. I also want to see my students mature in their abilities to self-regulate, make good decisions, problem solve, and work collaboratively. I don’t think that is asking too much, do you?