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Take the class outside

Every day should be Outdoor Classroom Day!

Alan Parkinson By Alan Parkinson

Geographer, teacher and GetOutside Champion, Alan Parkinson, explores why our kids should be learning outside every day.

Child writing outside

As a geography teacher, I find myself staring out of the window regularly, particularly when the weather is fine, or the light is perfect for photography... and then return to the business of teaching and the artificial light from my interactive screen with a sigh.

The ‘wallpaper’ on my screen is a view of the city of Ely where I teach, taken from the lofty vantage point of the Cathedral tower. The school buildings and grounds are laid out in the foreground, and in the distance is the golf course, with fields and Fenland beyond, stretching to the horizon. These offer plenty of potential for saying to the students “put down your pens, we’re going outside!”. The temptation is strong, and as often as I can, I fail to resist it and get outside.

“Put down your pens, we’re going outside!”

Child planting flower seeds
Child looking at snail through magnifying glass

There are plenty of opportunities for taking groups beyond the four walls of the classroom, even if only briefly. Cloud watching, exploring the albedo of different surfaces, investigating infiltration after rainfall, or searching for evidence of weathering of the school buildings are all recent short trips I’ve taken.

My colleagues in the pre-school part of the school are outside far more than we are, as active play encourages risk-taking, the development of relationships, critical thinking and problem solving, as well as the sheer joy of being outside when the weather is fine.

There are also campaigns out there, which encourage learning outside to happen in a more organised way.

Outdoor Classroom Day

Twice a year, we have Outdoor Classroom Day, which was originally established in 2012, as a way to celebrate outdoor learning. A group of London teachers started a campaign: founded by Anna Portch, and originally called Empty Classroom Day.

Within three years, over 600 schools were involved, from 15 different countries, and the campaign teamed up with the ‘Dirt is Good’ team, to expand its reach. It is a reminder to schools to encourage students to spend time outside every day, both at school and beyond.

The Outdoor Classroom Day campaign has also released its Muddy Hands report, which confirmed that spending time outside is vital for well-being.

Girl spotting leaves outside from chart

You can of course take your classroom outside any day of the year, but this forms a good basis for getting started, and if you share what you are up to in the school newsletter it can also help publicise the fine work in your department, or whole school to parents and even the local press.

A few years ago, my colleagues Dan, Helen, Tom and I produced a special booklet of our Mission:Explore missions to add some creative ideas for activities with students of all ages. Download it here and for outdoor classroom ideas to use any day of the year.

Kids looking at flowers through magnifying glass

Schools are important catalysts in this process, as teachers are likely to be the ones who choose who students spend their day. Teachers also need to spend time outside too of course.

A recent report by leading geneticist Steve Jones even suggested children should be given Vitamin D as they are spending so little time outside compared to previous generations.

The next Outdoor Classroom Day is 7 Nov 2019, and you can sign-up here. And if you need even more proof that the outdoors is good for you, give this short film by Project Wild Thing a watch.

Child map reading

Wildlife Trusts

UK Wildlife Trusts also encourage individuals, schools or workplaces to sign up to their 30 Days Wild campaign which runs throughout June. A pack of materials can be requested or downloaded.

Digimap for Schools

Don’t forget to print off a bespoke map to take with you using Edina’s Digimap for Schools service and perhaps mark on your own personal responses to the places that you find yourselves in.

Map reading for kids

Map reading isn't just for grown ups. There's so many great skills that children can learn by exploring with a map and understanding the environment around them.

Here's some top ideas, inspiration, resources and games for getting children of all ages interested in using maps.

Alan Parkinson By Alan Parkinson


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

Find out more about Alan Parkinson.