Outdoor Learning Spaces

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You know what’s cool? Outdoor classrooms. How fun do you think it would be to design an outdoor learning wonderland for kids? I would go nuts with nooks and crannies and twigs and stumps and ponds and bits and pieces- in fact many of these ideas can be incorporated into your back yard, if you have one, and are so inclined…

A teacher at my daughter’s school recently received a grant to expand upon an outdoor classroom she had already begun, and the results are pretty wonderful. This space is full of opportunities to incorporate the stimulation from the natural world into the kids’ days, and get them outside of the classrooms for some of their lessons.

log benches in outdoor classroom | Artchoo.com

They have a hand in cleaning up and maintaining the space as well, which of course helps them to take ownership. They adore their space and I’m sure they’ll remember it fondly as a big special part of their grade school education.

pond and bridge in outdoor classroom | Artchoo.com

Ideas for Outdoor Classroom Design:

  • water table
  • musical instrument station
  • obstacle course area
  • school bulb-planting day
  • plant a butterfly garden
  • group seating area
  • willow arbor
  • mini-beast mansion! This is sculptural learning times 1,000
mini beast mansion

Click to check out these cool pdf’s on the BBC site for animal homes/feeders


 Ideas for Outdoor Classroom Art Activities

  • decorate the area with kid-made art. My daughter’s Brownies troop made bowling ball lady bugs 2 years ago, that peek out from the wildflower garden.
  • kids can help design the garden according to native plants and flower colors
  • art class can draw from life, paint what they see: flowers, pond, trees.
  • sculpt with homemade clay and press bits of nature in for nature wads!
  • Andy Goldsworthy-type projects
  • whip up some homemade natural paints and paint rocks. It washes off in the rain.

Resources for Outdoor Classrooms:

The Arbor Day Foundation has a program called Nature Explore, and their goal is to “support your important efforts to connect children with nature.” They offer a wealth of knowledge and resources to this end, including design consultations, products, workshops and conferences.

Nature Art Table

OMG! Nature art table. What an awesome idea!

Giant Tree Blocks

I seriously want everything they offer. These giant tree blocks are made in Vietnam from the discards of sustainably managed paper forests.



Lowe’s is in its 6th year of awarding grants to improve schools- with outdoor classrooms falling perfectly into this category. The deadline for this year is October 12, and you can ask for between $2,000 and $5,000. Lowe’s Toolbox for Education

These two books are fantastic resources for ideas on planning, designing and executing an outdoor classroom:

Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms: Designing and Implementing Child-Centered Learning Environments, by Eric Nelson





Moving the Classroom Outdoors: Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning in Action, by Herbert W. Broda





A few books with ideas and projects for nature art:

Nature’s Art Box, by Laura C. Martin and David Cain (illustrator)






Nature Connection Book

The Nature Connection- an Outdoor Workbook, by Clare Walker Leslie- Definitely go look through this one on Amazon– it is so cool. Yet another workbook for kids that I want for myself…



  1. 09/10/2012 / 11:30 am

    Great idea! I have been thinking about my backyard lately since I just cleared out a bunch of vines. Doing some of these things would be neat!

    • 09/11/2012 / 12:54 pm

      Do all of them! All the kids will swarm to your house.

  2. 09/10/2012 / 11:46 am

    Fantastic photos. Wonderful ideas!

  3. 09/10/2012 / 12:21 pm

    What a great idea! We don’t have that at our school. At the end of the school year, I noticed that a teacher took her class outside and read a book to them. There was only the ground to sit on and they were in full sun but they seemed happy to be outside. I wish we had an outdoor classroom!

    • 09/11/2012 / 12:55 pm

      How cool that a teacher would even take them outside to read a book- the fresh air, natural light and change of scenery is such a great change for them.

  4. 09/10/2012 / 6:15 pm

    What a wonderful idea! I would love to teach my students outside. Although, I teach in the inner city, but still it’s fun to think about.

    Stopping by from SITS

    • 09/11/2012 / 12:57 pm

      Oh my gosh- the city kids need this the most! I wish city schools could all have roof garden classrooms- that would be amazing.

  5. 09/11/2012 / 7:16 am

    What a wonderful post! Love the pictures and the ideas. I can relate with your joy for creating such spaces for kids. We live in a flat so not much scope. But, I really wish to move away someday into the country side and build a home with spacious outdoors filled with natural play elements…
    Thank you for sharing so many rich ideas 🙂

    • 09/11/2012 / 12:59 pm

      H! Thanks for stopping by- I really thought I’d miss the city when I moved away, but you can’t beat spaces like this. It’s so fun to see the kids interacting in the outdoor classroom, too.

  6. 09/15/2012 / 2:27 am

    I’ve just stumbled across your blog – thanks for posting about the benefits of spending time outside. Look at any well-known inventor, artist, author, scientist, engineer and almost all of them value the influence of extended free time outside in their childhood.

    I have a blog called “I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!” http://creativestarlearning.blogspot.co.uk – yes it’s one of those geeky ones but the aim is to encourage class teachers to take 15 steps to the left and teacher the out side of the classroom wall.

    Oh and I agree – OMG Nature Art Table is FAB. I just persuaded one nursery I’m working with to put a bookcase on its side and fill with different materials for sorting and doing interesting natural arts stuff with.

    Best wishes
    Juliet (from Scotland)

    • 09/16/2012 / 2:25 am

      Hi Juliet! Thank you for your awesome comment- I love the idea of the bookcase turned on its’ side. In fact…. I think I might have to appropriate that idea into my back yard for my 3 year old. Off to check out your blog now!

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