22 Ideas for Playful Learning Outdoors

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Lately, I’ve been exploring the great outdoors with my newborn, Savannah. She is so fascinated with real-world learning, such as observing her shadow, feeling dirt, observing animals, or touching plants. I’ve been an educator for over 2 decades. I know right now is her best learning experiences, because she is curious and hungry to discover her world through all her senses. In a few years, she will enter the education system and I worry policies and curricula driven by standards will kill her love of learning. How do we still get students to participate in real-world learning and achieve standards? Below, are a few ideas, including a slideshow to download as a PDF. If you like these ideas then be sure to check out my new book, Hacking Digital Learning Strategies: 10 Ways to Launch EdTech Missions in Your Classroom.

Get your copy of The 30 Goals for Teachers or Learning to Go. Ask me about training your teachers, ShellyTerrell@gmail.com!

Tips and Resources

  • Geocaching is where you find little treasures around the area people create. Others find it through free apps that list hints, the longitude, and latitude. Do a school version where students hide small containers of treasure and their peers find them via their longitude and latitude.
  • Participate in citizen science projects and help scientists find answers to deep questions. Check out ones for exploring the stars or the environment at SciStarter.
  • MIT encourages students to document the nature they see through photos and descriptions in the apps ProjectNoah.org (iOS/Android), Zydeco Inquiry (iOS), and BioKIDS (iOS).
  • Send them on field research. In Texas, I’d take my students collecting water samples with SAWS engineers, bird watching with park rangers, and fossil hunting with a paleontologist.
  • Take them on walks exploring the nature around them.They can create digital books classifying rocks, identifying bugs, naming plants and potential uses, or capturing the sounds of various birds. Try EduBuncee to create your digital scrapbooks.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt! Try these apps and web tools- KlikaKlu app, Goose Chase app,  QRWild.com, and the Qr Treasure Hunt Generator.
  • Get students moving with augmented reality.  PokemonGo (iOS/Android) is a popular free AR game students use to explore outdoors. Find ideas for teaching with PokemonGo in this ESL Library article I wrote here.
  • Ingress is another free iOS/Android AR game.
  • Students can create their own augmented reality experiences to encourage peers to explore the great outdoors using Layar, Aurasma, and Blippar.
  • Send them on photo challenges. See my post with 52 ideas and resources here!
  • Send them on an epic selfie adventure! Find a free template I created to adapt here.
  • Jump rope! Many chants teach literacy, vocabulary, grammar, and math. One example is: “A my name is ALICE, my brother/ sister’s name is AL, we live in ALABAMA and we bring back APPLES. B my name is B___, my brother/ sister’s name is B___, we live in B___ and we bring back B___.”
  • Host outdoor board game challenges!
  • Play sports! Host a field day, an Olympics games day, or teach them different sports popular in other countries, like curling.
  • Students can works in groups to invent a sport. They decide the equipment, create the rules, then teach it to the class.
  • Students can study the math and physics of the slides, swings, or other playground equipment.
  • Students can measure their shadows at different times of the day. Get them to bring in other objects and draw what they predict the shadows will be depending on the time and location.
  • Get them to test different distances and angles with their bodies playing different sports to improve their game!
  • Group students to experiment with designing and testing out their designs for creating kites, paper airplanes, rockets, or ships.
  • Have fun learning with chalk! Learners can draw vocabulary their peers guess, create positive messages around the school then interview students the next day to determine the impact, learn math with hopscotch, or sketch out math word problems.
  • Play I Spy which is in my book Learning to Go! Students take close-up images representing geometric shapes, fractions, etc.
  • If your budget can afford it, get students moving with  wearable technologies like Apple Watches, the Fitbit, and Jawbone. Check out this list of educational apps for the Apple Watch and this awesome Pinterest board. Check out this post with ideas on how to use the fitbit for learning.

Challenge: Try any of these tips to get students learning outdoors.

If you enjoyed these ideas, get your copy of The 30 Goals for Teachers or my $5.99 ebook, Learning to Go.
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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, instructional designer, adjunct professor, and the author of The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching and Learning to Go: Lesson Ideas for Teaching with Mobile Devices, Cell Phones and BYOT. She has been recognized by the ELTon Awards, The New York Times, the Ministry of Education in Spain, and Microsoft’s Heroes for Education as an innovator in the movement of teacher-driven professional development and education technology. Recently, she was named Woman of the Year 2014 by Star Jone’s National Association of Professional Women and awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, the Twitter chat that spurred over 400 teacher chats. She has trained teachers and taught learners in over 25 countries and has consulted with organizations worldwide such as UNESCO Bangkok, The European Union aPLaNet Project, Cultura Iglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, and VenTESOL. She shares regularly via TeacherRebootCamp.com, Twitter (@ShellTerrell), and Facebook.com/shellyterrell. Her greatest joy is being the mother of Rosco the pug.

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