Updated: Apr 21, 2019
Outdoor environmental education is a brilliant way to engage students with hands-on science and ecological understanding that reinforces classroom learning.
Teachers and environmental educators alike can always benefit from adapting their teaching approaches, tools and methods to maximize learning in outdoor settings.
Check out our Top 10 Tips for Outdoor Environmental Teaching below! We hope you find them helpful!
Top Tip #1 Adopt a Dynamic Teaching Approach
Outdoor environmental educators adopt a dynamic and adaptable approach to teaching that flows with the natural setting. In other words, don't force it. Identify opportunities in nature to relate ecological concepts and ideas to.
Things outdoors rarely go quite to plan, so it's important to embrace the uncertainty and enjoy the surprises that nature throws your way!
Tip #2: Embrace Unpredictability
Teaching outdoors is unpredictable. If your environmental learning activity is interrupted by a foraging deer or a bird of prey spotted circling in the sky, make a valuable teachable moment out of it!
Living things in nature are always on the move, so don't worry if your lesson gets side-tracked. That's where the excitement of outdoor learning comes in - often the best outdoor teaching is off the cuff!
Tip #3: Always Set Your Boundaries and Expectations
Always set area boundaries at the outset of your activity e.g. “For this activity we'll stay in the grassy area in between the trees. Do not go on the road or bridge.”
Similarly, always set clear learning and behavioral expectations for your group from the beginning. Ensure students understand the consequences of endangering themselves or others due to unacceptable behavior.
Tip #4: Nature is a Collection of 'Teachable Moments'
There are tons of 'teachable moments' in the natural world. Try walking through the woods with your students. Everything from a nibbled leaf to a spider’s web is an opportunity for your students to learn and connect with nature.
Tip #5: Share the Awe and Wonder of Nature!
You don’t need to be an expert in ecology to facilitate environmental learning. Explore nature as a fresh learner and share the awe and wonder with your students.
What sounds can you hear? What signs of animals can you see? What can you smell?
Tip #6: Talk with a Focal Point
Rather than waving your arms around aimlessly, talk with a focal point. It could be a view or an object. This directs the learner's attention on what you would like them to focus on while you teach.
Tip 7#: Explore Nature Through the Senses
Getting children to use all of their senses is essential for outdoor and experiential (hands-on) learning.
Try picking up a pile of decomposing leaves. Ask your students to smell it up close. What does it smell like? Why? What likes to live in dead leaves?
Tip #8: Avoid Naming and Labeling Things
Don’t get hung up on the names or ecological aspects in your teaching. Students often find that long names act as barriers and can prevent any actual connection with the learning.
Tip #9: Relate, Reinforce and Reward (the 3R’s)
Relate outdoor learning to the real-world through hands-on experience
Reinforce understanding by linking to wider environmental concepts and processes
Reward learners for actively engaging and participating in the learning process
Tip #10: Avoid Playing '20-Questions!'
Asking closed questions about the environment turns education into a guessing game with the teacher in a position of power.
Avoid playing '20-Questions!' Instead ask carefully-considered questions at opportune moments to support engagement and reinforce what your students are learning.
e.g. What (if any) signs of human disturbance you can see in the forest? How might humans impact on wildlife living in woodland habitats?
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