5 Steps for Creating Outdoor Spaces for Diverse Learners
Did you have a favorite place to play outdoors as a child? What were the features of this outdoor space? Did your family grow food in your backyard? Did your special place have wildlife? Did you create mud pies and miniature houses? or did you spend time outdoors with your family and listen to their stories?
I remember, as a child, my parents gifting me my own little garden in our backyard. I chose a little weary looking area. It was in the shade, on the back side of the house, alongside a fence, and off the beaten path. Despite its lack luster qualities, I loved this garden. It felt like my own ‘Secret Garden.” I dug my hands in the dirt and cultivated the soil, not having a clue what I was doing. I can’t remember what I actually grew; however, remember feeling incredibly proud of my first garden.
This first garden experience was an incredible gift. This space became my own outdoor classroom where I explored, observed and took notes. I am pretty sure my parents simply just wanted us all outdoors playing. Needless to say, the idea of allowing me to cultivate my own garden at such a young age was one of the best gifts my parents could have ever given me.
How can we inspire thinking for diverse learners within our Outdoor Learning Spaces?
#1: Understanding Diverse Learners
When I think of diverse learners, I think of the main characters in the Wizard of OZ all dancing down the Yellow Brick Road seeking their own truth.
- The Lion seeking Courage
- The Tin Man seeking a Heart
- The Scarecrow seeking a Brain
- And Dorthy wanting to go Home
To begin our journey we must start from where the children are at, as it is much more enabling.
#2: Expand Options for Outdoor Learning: Diverse Outdoor Spaces
Everyone’s space, time and abilities are unique and different. Therefore, outdoor classrooms come in all shapes and sizes. This is the beauty of this work. In my research, I have discovered that there are 4 types of gardens that all have very different features and elements.
Understanding the Types of Gardens gives clarity for learning and teaching outdoors. It also inspires endless possibilities.
My 4 Types of Gardens are…
Gardens That Attract Wildlife
- Create a certified wildlife habitat
- Turn your yard/outdoor classroom into a haven for wildlife
- Start a schoolyard habitat and get it certified
- Learn how to garden for wildlife
Gardens That Feed
- Often called Edible Gardens or Vegetable gardens
- Focus on teaching children about nutrition and where our food comes from
- Ideally, these gardens connect to teaching kitchens
Gardens That Honor Intergenerational Connections
- Use plants to bridge the gap between generations
- Explore the impact of Intergenerational Therapeutic Horticulture and the lasting link between generations, community, and school
- Create a garden place to share stories and give children access to “living historians”
Gardens Rooted In Curriculum
- Connect curriculum to an outdoor classroom
- Design around themes such as Butterfly Garden, Fairy Garden, Sensory Garden and Alphabet Garden
- Design specifically to connect to classroom activities and specific curriculum, standards and core competencies
#3: Rethink the Way We Teach and Create Outdoor Learning Stations
Outdoor Learning Stations are invitations for learning and exploration. The Reggio Emilia approach calls this a Provocation. What is a provocation? Put simply, provocations and Outdoor Learning Stations provoke! They provoke thoughts, discussions, questions, interests, creativity and ideas. They can also expand on a thought, project, idea and interest. Now imagine rethinking the way we teach and creating provocation as Outdoor Learning Station. Pretty cool, huh?
#4: Change Students Learning Experiences: Curriculum on-the-go Kit
Make Outdoor Learning easy and fun with Curriculum-on-the Go Kits. The secret to successful teaching outdoors is preparation and planning. You can do this with a few tricks. Check out:
#5: Envision Curriculum Differently & Diversify Outdoor Learning
What are you teaching? What can you add outdoors?
- Simple Machines = Arbor with pully system
- Ecosystems (food & water) = Meadow and Woodland Area
- Bug Exploration= Logs
- Balance = Log balance beams
- Ancient Civilization Unit= Archeology Dig
- Butterfly Unit = Butterfly Garden
- Watercoloring = Outdoor Art Area
- Performance = Stage
Now I want to hear from you. What did you think about this article? Share your reflections below in the comments. I love hearing from you.
Do you want to learn more about Designing an Outdoor Classroom? Check out the Teaching in the Dirt: Designing Outdoor Classrooms e-Course.
About Victoria Hackett, M.Ed.
My mission is for every child in every school to have access to an Outdoor Classroom. Therefore, I inspire educators to teach outdoors and lead an on-line virtual community of Natural Teachers all over the world to create their own Outdoor Classroom story.