NEW CUSTOMERS: USE CODE WELCOME15 FOR 15% OFF

8 Summer Outdoor Classroom Ideas for Kids


Nature offers many opportunities to create memorable lesson plans. Discover 8 outdoor classroom ideas to engage your students and have fun play.

Summer school brings new opportunities to battle teacher burnout and take your classroom out of the building and into the great outdoors. Why should you brave the bugs and heat to take your learners outside? Because outdoor education can help kids develop their curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving skills in brand-new ways. 

Outdoor classroom activities have been shown to help kids build stronger social skills, improve academic performance, and behave more cooperatively in class.

So how do you plan outdoor classroom activities that are fun, engaging, and educational? Simple—just use our list of 8 outdoor learning activities that let you and your kids make the most of the summer while it’s still here. 

Grab your sunblock on this outdoor classroom day, and let’s take your class on a new educational adventure.

Slumberkins big feelings toys

Why is Outdoor Education important?

Outdoor education is more than just an excuse for an outdoor activity. It’s also proven to be beneficial for both physical and mental health—meaning you have a classroom full of happier, more focused kids. 

Numerous studies have found that outdoor classroom activities can:

  • Strengthen social and emotional skills – Kids who attend outdoor education activities show significant gains in conflict resolution, cooperation, self-esteem, problem-solving, motivation to learn, classroom behavior, and peer relationships.
  • Improve physical health and activity levels – A study of 228 5th graders found that kids who participated in an outdoor learning program still spent significantly more time playing outdoors after the program was finished than students who didn’t participate. 
  • Improve mental health and cognitive development – Spending time in an outdoor space has been shown to help with focus, attention, and concentration. It’s also linked to mental health benefits such as reduced anxiety, anger, and aggression.

8 Outdoor Classroom Ideas

Once outside in the fresh air, you’ll want to be prepared to direct the wandering attentions of your little outdoor enthusiasts. Try these ideas out and see which ones your kids resonate with.

#1 Scavenger Hunt

Effective teamwork activities include things like a scavenger hunt. It’s a simple but challenging activity that encourages movement, observation, teamwork, and problem-solving. Plus, it can be adapted to tie into just about any lesson plan or subject. Your scavenger hunt theme could be:

  • Items that start with a certain letter (literacy skills)
  • Items that relate to a science topic (plants, rocks, weather, etc.)
  • Items of a certain shape (geometry)

#2 Learn About Plants and Trees

What better way to make the most of your outdoor classroom space than by teaching students about the living, growing things all around them? Lesson plans could include the following:

  • Plant and tree identification
  • The parts of a plant—roots, leaves, petals, stamen, etc.
  • Photosynthesis and how plants grow
  • Drawing or painting plants
  • Gardening

Plants and trees also make a perfect outdoor class lesson for exploring other topics. For example:

  • Math – Measure the height, width, and circumference of trees around your school. Count the petals, leaves, or seeds of plants.
  • Science – Conduct experiments like placing chrysanthemum flowers in colored water, growing seeds in more or less sunlight, etc.
  • Art – Use plants and trees for arts and crafts materials. Try leaf rubbings, twig sculptures, flower chains, collages, etc.

#3 Chalk Art

Chalk art is an inexpensive and easy outdoor experience that requires minimal planning and materials. Just provide the chalk and a sidewalk or paved area on the playground, and let your students unleash their creativity. 

If chalk drawing doesn’t come naturally, you can also explore their imagination with a book. The book Dragon Dreams and Creates is designed around creativity to help inspire children. Dragon creates by dreaming, trying new things, and being curious—prompting children to put their newfound inquisitiveness to the test with chalk.  

Another way to direct their attention is to provide prompts for inspiration:

  • Dream up an imaginary creature that combines two or more animals 
  • Draw a favorite character from a book, game, movie, or cartoon
  • Draw their family or family tree
  • Draw themselves doing their favorite summer activity
  • Draw a map of an imaginary world or country
  • Play a sidewalk-sized game of Pictionary

#4 Observe Clouds and Identify Shapes

Kids spend more time on screens and consuming media that’s fast-paced and loud than ever before. Cloud watching is the perfect antidote: It’s quiet, meditative, and encourages kids to use imagination and free thinking in their early childhood. 

  1. Get the activity started with a lesson on cloud identification and weather science. 
  2. Next, head to an outdoor setting, stretch out, and relax. Encourage kids to practice identifying the cloud types they see. 
  3. Observe how the clouds move and discuss their different characteristics (white, gray, fluffy, thin, etc.). How do these shapes and forms relate to weather? Which are rain clouds? Can you feel the wind that’s moving the clouds, or is the air current in a higher level of the atmosphere?
  4. Encourage students to let their imaginations wander and find shapes in the clouds. Cloud watching may be a simple activity, but it helps kids practice language skills, communication, and creativity. 

#5 Color Hunt

A color hunt lets kids explore the colors found in nature, while learning about the science of light and color. 

  • Go on the hunt – Give each student a color card or color wheel and ask them to find things that match their color or colors. You can also ask them to find as many shades or variations of their color as possible.
  • Science extension – Teach your students about the spectrum, visible light, and how color is refracted and reflected from different objects.
  • Art extension – Show students the color wheel and talk about color mixing, primary and secondary colors, complementary colors, etc. Give kids primary color paints and try mixing the color of the items they collected. 

#6 Counting Collections

Outdoor classrooms offer endless ways to practice math concepts and skills using natural materials and objects. Engaging the tactile senses like touch, smell, and sight while practicing numbers and operations helps kids make deeper connections with what they’re learning.

  • Let students gather a large collection of mixed items like pebbles, leaves, and sticks
  • Sort by attributes like size, shape, and color
  • Count the items in different categories, add and subtract groups, and so on
  • Older students can even create a table to organize their data

#7 Stick Fractions

Twigs are an excellent way to practice the concept of dividing an object into parts. Let students collect sticks, then break them into pieces while talking about halves, thirds, quarters, etc. Ask questions that encourage deeper engagement with the natural objects, such as:

  • How small can they break their stick? 
  • What is the smallest fraction they can make?
  • Can they add and subtract the fractions?
  • Can they divide their stick equally between different numbers of classmates?

#8 Shape Hunt 

Have students search for different shapes around them, such as circles, ovals, triangles, rectangles, spirals, and so on. You can provide a list and let students complete an outdoor educational activity such as a friendly contest to see who can find all the shapes, or go on a walk together and search for shapes as a group. 

  • Students can try drawing the shapes, counting angles and sides, etc.
  • Look for shapes made around, between, and inside other shapes
  • Talk about shapes found in nature, whether there are shapes they can only find on human-made objects, etc.

Tips to Encourage Kids to Plan Their Lessons

Summer school brings the opportunity to think outside the box and shake up the way you do things in the classroom (or outside of it). Why not bring a new dynamic into your summer lessons by letting your students get involved in planning their activities? 

Here are some tips on how to let your students take a hands-on role in creating their outdoor classroom.

#1 Ask For Their Input 

Start off the summer term with a student survey on hobbies, interests, and favorite activities. What do they like learning about? What are they curious about? This can help you find unexpected connections between lessons and the topics they’re already passionate about.

#2 Give Them Options

Of course, you have benchmarks and required learning outcomes to meet, so you can’t give students entirely free rein when it comes to what they’ll study. But you can let them choose between ways to meet those outcomes. 

  • Students could choose how they want to show their learning outcomes—by creating a painting, writing a short story, giving a presentation, etc.
  • Try providing several activity packets focusing on different skills and let students choose which they want to work on
  • Offer a menu of appropriate activities and let students choose the order in which they’ll complete them

#3 Support Their Ideas 

The ideas your students want to try may not always be practical, but you can still respond supportively. Help shape and guide their initial suggestions with constructive responses:

  • Instead of “We can’t get those supplies,” try “That’s a great idea! Can we think of a way to do it with the supplies that we have?”
  • Instead of “We don’t have time for that,” try “Good thinking! Could we do part of that activity today?”
  • Instead of “That project is too big,” try “Let’s break that down into steps and see how it would work.”

#4 Take a Growth Mindset Approach

Will every activity or project you and your students try work out as planned? Probably not—but that’s okay. As your class works together to plan classroom activities, encourage them to take a curious and open-minded approach to new challenges.  

A read-aloud book about problem-solving like Narwhal, I Believe In You or Narwhal Uses Teamwork can help kids see that learning is all about trying new things, making mistakes, and trying again. 

Enrich Your Classroom With Slumberkins

An outdoor classroom activity may seem like a challenging play space to manage at first. But with a bit of planning, it’s possible that your students will be engaged, energized, and motivated in a different way. You may even notice a decrease in the amount of classroom disruptions with the change in learning environment that nurtures their curiosity. 

Be sure to include plenty of opportunities for your students to get involved in planning their outdoor education time, and you’ll soon have a thriving classroom in the open air. 

For more enriching activities that build social and emotional skills, Slumberkins has an extensive collection of resources for educators. Put our activity sheets, books, and unit plans to work in your classroom today and watch your students learn, connect, and grow.

 

Sources: 

  1. American Institutes for Research. Effects of outdoor education programs for children in California. https://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/Outdoorschoolreport_0.pdf 
  2. Frontiers in Public Health. Getting out of the classroom and into nature: A systematic review of nature-specific outdoor learning on school children's learning and development. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2022.877058/full 
  3. Health Education Research. Grounds for movement: Green school grounds as sites for promoting physical activity. https://academic.oup.com/her/article/23/6/952/551561 
  4. Natural Medicine Journal. Effects of outdoor learning school-based education programs on pediatric health. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/effects-outdoor-learning-school%E2%80%93based-education-programs-pediatric-health 
  5. North American Association for Environmental Education. Residential outdoor environmental education programs can effectively foster nature connectedness and encourage outdoor play. https://eepro.naaee.org/research/eeresearch/residential-outdoor-environmental-education-programs-can-effectively-foster 
  6. University of Wisconsin. Outdoor education: Research summary. https://www3.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/leaf/school-grounds/documents/outdoor%20education%20research%20for%20school%20Grounds.pdf 

Sign Up for Our Educator Newsletter