• Heather McKee

11 Ways to Incorporate Outdoor Education in your Curriculum

The benefits of outdoor education are extensive and well-documented. Learning outdoors improves academic performance, health, and childhood development. It can also instill a sense of civic responsibility and empathy and build ties within the community. Finally, getting outside is fun! Students who venture outside during class time cherish these opportunities and remember this part of their education fondly. We’ve put together a compilation of fun and educational ideas for you to get your students into the fresh air.

We’ve tried to include something for everyone – we have ideas for science teachers, humanities teachers, and even art teachers! And these ideas aren’t just for the fall and spring – help stave off cabin fever and try some of our ideas for getting your students outside in the wintertime!


1. Train the next generation of nature photographers and photojournalists. Give your students a shot at capturing their own images around your school. Depending on their level, you can introduce them to the basics of composition and discuss the power of images in our society. If your school doesn’t have cameras for use, consider simply letting your students experiment with cheap disposable cameras. Check out The Guardian to pursue this outdoor educational opportunity. 

2. Paint a mural for your school or community. Reach out to contacts in your community, or check with your administration. Students will take great pride in contributing a work of art to their school or community. Just remember to make sure everyone has a chance to participate and the project isn’t dominated by your most artistic pupils!

3. Let your students express themselves freely by sketching or journaling. A very simple way to get your students outside is to let them quietly reflect and journal outdoors. If you have an outdoor learning center or nearby park, this can be a recurring lesson.


4. Conduct a small-scale biological survey, or “bioblitz.” To get your students interested and invested in biodiversity, consider conducting a bioblitz. A bioblitz is a very concentrated biological survey. The goal is to count as many species from as many taxonomic groups as possible within the set parameters of the bioblitz (for example, in a given park over the course of several hours). National Geographic and the National Park Service have resources to get you started. 

5. Introduce your students to cartography and earth observation systems. Developing your students’ spatial thinking skills will give them an important edge for years to come. Exploring maps and spatial relationships is modifiable and scalable to fit your classroom’s unique identity. Younger students can map storybooks or the playground, while more advanced students can map more abstract ideas (watersheds, historic routes, public perception) and use more advanced technology. Find more resources at National Education Association and National Geographic

6. Participate in data collection or citizen science. Citizen science is all the rage right now, so there are many ways to get involved in scientific research. In fact, check out our blog for tips on forging great science partnerships. Here are several other resources and cool projects for you to consult: SciStarter, California Academy of the Sciences, Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Sleuth, PlanetFour, Whale FM, Zooniverse, and Old Weather

7. Don’t let snow stand in your way! Take advantage of it! Incorporate a snow science lesson into your curriculum. The Montana Science Partnership has resources for you to develop a snow science curriculum (Module 5). If snow is fresh, you can look for tracks.


8. Be tourists for the day, and have your students lead walking tours of your school or community. Use the opportunity to practice public speaking. If your school building is historic, or there is a historic district nearby, you may have your students design and give walking tours. If you are a foreign language teacher, have them give a walking tour of your school or community in your language.


9. Maintain the health of local rivers and streams by hosting or joining a river or beach cleanup. Here in Missoula, hundreds of volunteers get together in April to keep our local river healthy and safe. If you want to host your own cleanup, the Clark Fork Coalition has resources for you to get started. 

10. Build life-long eating habits and awareness by conducting a lesson on nutrition and food systems. Visit a local farm or garden (or plant your own!) and let your students taste truly fresh foods. If planting your own garden is out of the question, reach out to local community gardens. In Missoula, Garden City Harvest runs several neighborhood farms and community gardens. 


11. Try your hand at orienteering! Did you know that orienteering is a competitive sport? However, there is no need to be competitive – this is a great way to build teamwork and develop leadership and problem-solving abilities. Plus, it’s a practical skill for kids who will grow up to be outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen. Here’s an article providing educational materials and resources to get started. 

Teachers – how do you use nature as a classroom? What are your tips for educators who would like to incorporate outdoor education into their lessons?




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