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Outdoor Learning Spaces

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 |

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 |

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…

What do you think?

Written by Joanne Gonzales

Joanne Gonzales has a passion for getting creative. Whether she is making personalized DIY gifts or taking part in larger arts and crafts projects, she puts her all into making new and beautiful things.

She lives with a group of close friends and believes in the natural way of life. Joanne has built an outdoor arts and crafts gallery that overlooks the countryside in her hometown, which is where all of her creations come to life.

Art started off as a hobby, but over time Joanne has mastered her skills and sold some of her favorite pieces. She works full time as a florist and has done for many years. It helps keep her creative juices flowing and she hopes to one day open her own florist shop with a twist.


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  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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

  4. 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 🙂

    • 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.

  5. 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!” – 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)

    • 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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