Classrooms without walls; safe in person learning during COVID-19  

Can outdoor learning be the answer? 

When we think of education in a pandemic, we certainly all sit back and go ‘we can’t believe we are all living through this…’

Starting in 2020, we have all been witness to, and a part of, a shift in the way educators have used online tools and technology. Classrooms have moved to online platforms like Zoom & Google Classroom. This certainly was the quickest solution to education, while our kids were stuck at home. 

BUT, virtual learning isn’t the solution we hoped it would be as it has its limits. Particularly, for younger age groups, online learning has never really even really an option. Our littlies are unable to operate computers/ tablets/ phones without supervision. What about the kids with an erratic internet or no internet connection at all?

Present challenges, like social distancing, sanitation, and e-learning has increased screen time. So, with schools now back to a new form of “normal” are perhaps outdoor classrooms our answer? Research shows that outdoor learning boosts physical and mental health.  Cognition, attention, and engagement are all improved when playing outdoors.

Outdoor classrooms are not a new idea, in fact first ‘school’ experiences in our history were more outdoors than in. There are many benefits that have been proposed and tested over recent years. This has resulted in more schools trying to include outside time as part of the regular school day. The chaos of Covid-19 has sped up the pace of this shift toward outdoor learning. This does however take a mind shift on the part of us as teachers. We need to learn how to effectively use outdoor classrooms for all types of learning that has traditionally become limited to a school building.

What are the benefits to learning outdoors? 

  • it develops reflective and inquisitive thinking 
  • it develops problem-solving skills 
  • it encourages holistic development 
  • it develops resilience and adaptability 
  • it creates awareness and ability to identify hazards and risks
  • it develops a love, appreciation and respect for nature and all that is living
  • it develops an understanding of how we can look after the environment
  • it develops self-awareness, confidence and self-esteem
  • it develops collaborative-working and communication skills
  • it provides positive health benefits – both physically and mentally 
  • it assists gross and fine-motor development
  • it develops a lifelong love of the outdoors
  • it assists children with ADD & ADHD to better manage and regulate their emotions.

So what do we need consider when creating outdoor learning spaces? 


The South African sun can be harsh, especially with summer around the corner. Consider shade, whether it be from a tree, tent or other canopy-like structures. If it is raining, can you move the outdoor classroom time indoors to a larger area such as a hall or gymnasium?


The outdoors can be messy, especially for younger kids. They want explore different textures and materials outside. It is worth considering when this outdoor time will be. Will it a specific day (or more) in a week? Or is it a time slot a few times a week? What will children wear? Do they have easy access to bathrooms or change rooms, to wash up afterwards?


How you choose to use outdoor time will help you decide what supplies you may need. Do you need clipboards for worksheets or good shoes for a hike?  Are you going to making use of outdoor equipment such as Jungle Gyms, Swings and Climbing Frames?  

What is important about Outdoor Education?

Montessori preschools are an example of schools that include outdoor education effectively. Children discover the world through their senses – seeing, smelling,, feeling, touching and tasting. Nature brings basic and pure lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Interacting with the outdoors, encourages kids to use their creativity to solve the “problems” they face e.g how start climbing a tree. 

How do we implement this learning outdoors? 

Outdoor play can be as simple as:

  • Letting kids play on age appropriate playground equipment
  • Transferring objects (e.g. sand from one sandpit to another)
  • Weeding
  • Weaving
  • Care of plants
  • Care of animals
  • Balancing on a balance beam
  • Identifying Smells
  • Listening Walks 
  • Texture Hunts

Activities can also be constructed to focus on specific learning areas: 

Language Ideas:

  • Have a conversation while on a nature walk
  • Storytelling from a group about items they have collected 
  • Texture/sound hunt
  • Letter creation e.g. trace letters in the dirt or create with sticks
  • Team obstacle courses & physical activities to encourage communication.
  • Parts of speech game (e.g. when I say a noun, hop on one foot. when I say an adjective, sit down.”)

Math Ideas:

  • Measuring plant growth
  • Counting objects
  • Symmetry of objects such as leaves
  • Estimation games 
  • Graphing nature items collected on a walk

Science & Engineering Ideas

  • Build objects that can move using natural objects
  • Observe and discuss animal lifecycles 
  • Plant seeds
  • Climb, balance or swim 
  • Take pulse before and after an activity
  • Shadow drawing
  • Make a Sun Dial
  • Birdsong identification
  • Observe and measure wind direction & speed
  • Observe weather and clouds
  • Build a dam
  • Balance rocks

Geography Ideas

  • Discuss and study animals in their habitats and ecosystems
  • Hours of daylight
  • Orienteering 
  • Land, air, & water
  • Collect, explore, & study rocks and minerals in your area

Art & Music Ideas

  • Nature Collage
  • Painting with natural objects
  • Observational drawings
  • Study the sounds and rhythms of nature
  • Make musical instruments from natural objects
  • Rhythmic movements 
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