When I began thinking about homeschooling I began reading everything and anything homeschool I could find. A recurring idea on many blogs was taking school outside any time the sun was shining, the kids were restless or school simply wasn’t going well. I considered the fact that our education may occur mostly outside – which would mean a parka would be needed for a good portion of our school year.
Honestly, I had trouble making sense of how the “go outside” theory would be implemented into everyday life. If school wasn’t going well was romping in the leaves or swinging at the park really going to fix things? It seemed more like an opportunity to get further off track, teach divisional coping mechanisms and add additional chaos to life. Lord knows, you can’t just take off work every time the sun shines – so why should school be any different?
But then it happened. The first day school really wasn’t going well. I forged onward and the situation spiraled downward. Eventually, my daughter and I both succumb to tears. Epic fail on the homeschool front. I assumed we’d be enrolling her in compulsory school directly as I clearly would not be able to facilitate her education at home.
Later I unfolded the events of the day to my husband. I admitted that before starting school I had consider going outside because it was a gorgeous day- but I hadn’t. I imagined we’d collect brilliant autumn leaves, we’d use fine motor skill development to create a leaf art project – something cut and paste – like a mobile. Perhaps we’d tie in math by using our leaves to create patterns, count, add, subtract and sort. Writing practice could be incorporated into our leaf based art project by making labels for the leaves or numbering them. Science could be explored as we learned why the leaves turn to warm hues in the fall. Despite this vision of spontaneity, I had put too much effort into preparing for our first school year to steer from my predetermined lesson plans. It was clear now that I should have.
Here are my take-always from learning to take school outside. Using these guidelines we’ve successfully taken school outside many times and have avoided school session tears.
- When an opportunity to move school outside arrises, focus on the core concepts you intended to teach that day not the specific activities you planned to do. So if you had a worksheet to practice writing skills or spelling, practice those skills in your outdoor setting without the worksheet. Write letters or words in sand, create labels for your garden, or build letter or words with sticks. Math also pairs nicely with the great outdoors. From finding shapes to measuring things, making number lines with sidewalk chalk, counting objects or creating equations with objects – your options here are endless. Google ideas for doing math outside and you will find plenty of ideas from both public and home educators. Let these activities organically arise from your setting (or adventure) and your kids won’t even recognize they are doing school.
- Books go great with blankets. Head to the backyard, a park, a walking trial or wherever else with the goal of going on an adventure to find a special secret reading spot. Kids love the idea of adventures, secret locations, and forts. Spread out your blanket, break out the trial mix and make reading apart of this special adventure. Older kids won’t need all the adventure fluff but will be happy to spread a blanket and have their own space to complete reading assignments on a nice day.
- Keep plastic grocery bags is the car. Okay – so honestly this habit started as a response to unexpected projectile vomit but it has benefited our homeschool as well. We all know kids are great at collecting stuff. Give them a bag and encourage them to collect things they are curious about outside during an outdoor adventure. Take these things home and use them for school. Rocks can become painted art projects, moss can be grown, and acorns can be planted (or turned into flour!). Collect leaves, flowers, fungi, or whatever your setting may offer and turn them into a lap book. Each season will present its own unique opportunities. Encourage your kiddo to ask questions about these objects and guide them in finding answers. This is all part of teaching kids how to learn. We love using SciShow Kids to turn our outdoor adventures into learning experiences.
- 15 minutes of spontaneous activity can completely change your school day. Initially I shuttered at the thought of deviating from the lesson plan and going outside. Now I invite these opportunities as I’ve learned 15 minutes of spontaneous activity can completely change our school day for the better. Perhaps we will complete some goal I had for my lesson plan more organically. Likely we will turn on learning mode without more formally stating, “its time to do school.” My kiddo often feels she has been more in control and self-directed with her school day. (And she focuses better after being out for an adventure.) I am a more tolerate mother and teacher with greater patience. And most importantly, I find we all smile more. Weather it is time in our yard, a stop on the way home from running errands, or a trip to the local park/lake, incorporating this habit has taken me from a feeling of I can’t do this (homeschool) to we’ve got this!
Please share your experiences, successes and lessons learned from taking school outside. Get outside and have a school adventure!