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How to Design an Outdoor Education Curriculum: Start With "Why?"

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

In the ever-evolving field of education, outdoor learning has emerged as a powerful tool for enriching academic experience. It offers a breath of fresh air and an escape from the conventional classroom, enabling students to connect with nature, stimulate creativity, and develop a deep understanding of the world around them. But to unlock the full potential of outdoor learning, we must be deliberate and strategic in our approach.

Outdoor education Biology lesson
An outdoor science class linked to the academic curriculum

As an experienced practitioner in the field of outdoor learning, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of designing a well-thought-out outdoor learning curriculum that aligns with your school's unique needs and goals. Building an outdoor learning programme without a clear scope and sequence can lead to an aimless collection of activities that lack depth and meaning. Here, I'll explain why it's crucial to avoid the trap of an unstructured approach based solely on local attractions or personal educator interests, and instead, focus on a progression-oriented, student-centred curriculum.

1. How to Design an Outdoor Education Curriculum: Start with "Why?"

A successful outdoor learning curriculum begins with a well-defined scope and sequence. This means having a clear understanding of your educational objectives, a roadmap for reaching them, and a structured plan for students' growth and development over time. It is vital to align outdoor activities with your school's curriculum and educational standards.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle - Start With Why
Simon Sinek's Golden Circle from his popular book "Start With Why"

By establishing a scope and sequence, you ensure that students engage in a variety of experiences that build upon each other, fostering continuity and progression. Always start with "Why?". Identify the purpose of your outdoor learning curriculum including your broader educational goals. Are you aiming for improved environmental awareness, building character and resilience, or better teamwork and leadership? Next figure out how you plan to get there. Create your process by engaging with educators, mapping your curriculum, and assessing your local resources. Finally decide what outdoor activities you want your students to experience and create a clear sequence.

Once you have your objectives in place, you can create a sequence of activities that gradually introduce new concepts and challenges. This progression is key to meaningful learning experiences and ensures that students are well-prepared for more advanced outdoor activities.

2. Avoid the Unstructured Approach

It's easy to fall into the trap of building an outdoor learning curriculum based on what's readily available in the local area or the interests of educators in the school or organisation. While local attractions and personal interests can be great starting points, they should not be the sole driving force behind your curriculum. This unstructured approach can lead to a disjointed collection of activities that lack cohesiveness and depth.

Instead, focus on a curriculum that carefully selects activities, locations, and experiences that align with your scope and sequence. Ensure that these activities are not just exciting but also educationally enriching. This approach keeps your outdoor education curriculum focused on the needs of the students, promoting true learning and personal growth.

Children kayaking as part of their outdoor education programme.
Carefully select outdoor activities, locations, and experiences that align with your scope and sequence.

3. Student-Centred Learning

One of the most significant benefits of outdoor learning is that it allows for student-centred education. It fosters self-discovery, independent thinking, and an appreciation for the environment. By keeping the needs of your students at the forefront, you create an educational experience that is meaningful and impactful.

Encourage students to take ownership of their learning. Allow them to choose and plan activities within the structured framework you've created. This not only enhances their sense of responsibility but also ensures that the curriculum caters to their interests and needs. One of the most exciting things about outdoor education is there isn't a national curriculum for outdoor learning that educators must guide students through to pass exams. This means there is huge scope to think outside the box, innovate and shape the future through outdoor learning.

Shaping the Future

The beauty of outdoor learning lies in its ability to inspire, engage, and educate. To harness this potential fully, we must design a curriculum that is purposeful, progressive, and student-centred. Avoid the temptation to build an unstructured programme based solely on local attractions or personal preferences. Instead start with a clear scope and sequence, align your activities with educational goals, and prioritise the needs of your students.

Remember, as educators, we have the privilege and responsibility to shape the future through outdoor learning. By following these principles, you can empower your students to connect with nature, discover their potential, and embark on a journey of meaningful learning experiences that will last a lifetime. Embrace the great outdoors and watch your students thrive!


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