Planning the Outdoor Learning Environment for PreK and Elementary Schools

The outdoor learning environment is much than a place for kids to exercise or to let loose. It is a space that allows them to grow physically and intellectually.

An outdoor learning space does not mean that kids will have “lessons” outdoors. Rather, it means that educators plan the outdoor space as carefully as they plan the indoor learning space. The outdoor learning space allows kids to grow, learn and develop to their fullest.

Does your outdoor learning space include these 5 kinds of play?

Nature Play includes trees, vegetables, and ground textures. Pets can also be included. Nature play engages all senses. Plants, for instance, give kids a chance to observe, listen, smell, touch, and even taste.

Adventure Play invites kids into activities they may not be able to do in their more structured indoor environment. Things can get messy, and it is appropriate! Adventure play allows kids to dig, hammer, saw, and construct (with supervision, of course!).

Kids can use their imagination as they build, playing in a cooperative spirit and developing a sense of responsibility to the environment and each other.

Active play provides play opportunities to meet kids’ active needs at various developmental stages. Different surfaces can accommodate a lot of activities. Hard surfaces for tricycles, wagons, grass for running, ball play, etc.

Sand is a softer surface that doubles as a good play material for digging, sifting, etc. Introduce a bit of water and texture change, and play increases.

Active play promotes motor activities to the fullest. The equipment includes varied climbing and plays structures promoting physical and perceptual coordination, fantasy play, and spontaneous games.

Quiet learning brings many indoor activities outdoors. This area should have tables, easels, patio sets, shade structures that allow reading, writing, and arts and crafts. This area is a good place to eat lunch or snack or have class meetings, storytime, or group time.

Quiet play is encouraged with playhouses, benches, and loose parts to support role-playing, watching, talking, and other fantasy play activities. It is also a place for kids to get away from peers and engage in solitary play or just swatch the clouds or listen to the birds.

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