Take the classroom outside

Alan Parkinson By Alan Parkinson

Kids planting seeds

The benefits of play and spending time outside are obvious, as both help children to learn and appreciate their surroundings, and Sir Ken Robinson: world renowned creativity expert, is supportive of the value of play in helping children learn.

Kids inspecting veggie patch

The outdoors is also the natural home of the geographer. Geography is about curiosity, exploration and discovery, all things that open up to you when you are outside, particularly when you have an Ordnance Survey map in your hands. Many children will have unexplored areas within just a few hundred metres of their school or home, where they may be features on the map sheet they have never noticed before.

Kids playing in sand pit outside

Geography also gives you the power to see places in new ways, and helps you to understand and make sense of the world. The organisers of National Outdoor Classroom Day (held in November each year) have provided a range of activity sheets and booklets as free downloads.

Daniel Raven Ellison teamed up with National Geographic to produce a series of short animated films providing some simple and fun activities for younger students to get involved with. These would all be suitable for parents and children too – a teaching qualification is not necessary to use of any of the ideas from the website.

Kids looking under logs

The Digimap for Schools team is very supportive of teachers who want to take part in Outdoor Classroom Day. Digimap for Schools subscribers can use it to produce large-scale maps of the school site and surrounding area, and can also add images, text and other information using the suite of annotation tools.

Measuring tools enable some outdoor mathematics with distance and area calculations, and the buffer tool offers the chance to identify areas which are within a certain distance of fixed points. Students could add their own photographs taken with devices, or add those hosted on the Geograph website.

Child with magnifying glass looking at plants

Several years ago, Daniel and I were both part of the Mission:Explore team, winners of the first Ordnance Survey Geovation Challenge who put together a booklet of activities for those teachers and partners needing ideas to support outdoor learning. This can be downloaded from the website.

We have also produced a free Bioblitz book, with ideas for exploring the spaces just outside the door which connect with science and ecosystems.

Kids lesson outdoors

If you're looking to teach your children a thing or two about the world we live in whilst having fun outside, there are a handful of useful outdoor learning kits available from the OS shop.

outdoor learning kits Find out more about Outdoor Classroom Day Explore more outdoor family activities

Edited: 25.08.2021

Alan Parkinson By Alan Parkinson


Alan is a geographer, author, teacher, Mission:Explorer and curriculum maker.

Find out more about Alan Parkinson.