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Creating an outdoor classroom is easier than you think

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Taking learning into nature is an enduring education trend. With Australia’s great weather, diverse fauna and flora, the psychological and physical benefits of being outside for teachers and students, plus the backing of researchers, curriculum bodies and education departments, it’s not hard to see why outdoor classrooms are so popular.

Fortunately, setting up an outdoor classroom isn’t difficult. You don’t need a dedicated set of outdoor furniture or even a permanent space, just a few materials, some flexible furniture items from your classroom, and some inspiration.

As supporters of hands-on, experiential learning, we’ve put together the following brief guide to make it easy to plan and deliver successful outdoor learning experiences.

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What to consider before you head outside

Outdoor classrooms are simply spaces outside the built classroom where learning for almost any subject can take place.

They can be a specific place for a stationary class – like a fully-or partially-covered area – or somewhere students are surrounded by nature and able to move about to explore, examine and collect information and inspiration from their natural environment. Educators can create outdoor classrooms when spaces meet a couple of characteristics:

  • There are structured activities that students can participate in, including those traditionally done indoors e.g., direct teaching, creative writing, music, mathematics or science exercises.
  • Students can see and interact with nature, even if it’s just feeling a breeze, watching the trees, listening to birds or touching the grass.

Whether you’re trying to connect your class with nature or provide a fresh learning environment to reengage students, you’ll need to consider the following when planning your outdoor lessons.

  1. Can you take a multi-sensory or cross-curricular approach?
    Think about how you can incorporate structures, activities and resources that engage as many of the senses as possible such as nature-based materials, art projects, mindfulness practices, and musical instruments. Can you get students to do physical exercise to collect scientific evidence or walk along a maths trail using trees or natural markers?
  2. How can you get students excited about the experience?
    Model your enthusiasm for outdoor classes and talk about why it’s a great idea to learn outside. You can even get dressed up in hiking gear and bring binoculars to set the mood. Get students involved in planning, too – talk about which materials they’ll need and give them responsibilities for collecting, moving and setting up resources and furniture.
  3. Is the space the right size, and is it safe?
    Teachstarter recommends checking if:
  • your class will be protected from the elements e.g., sun, wind or rain.
  • there is adequate space for the activity you have planned.
  • you are likely to disturb another class or vice versa.
  • if there any flora or fauna nearby that will cause issues.

What resources you’ll need for an outdoor classroom

This will vary depending on what subject you’re teaching, what furniture and materials already exist in the space you’ve chosen and the weather. However, generally you’ll need:

  • Hats, suncream and insect repellent.
  • Writing materials and a writing surface.
  • Firm surfaces for writing on.
  • Lightweight seating or a ground coverage.
  • Sturdy tubs and carts to carry resources. It can be handy to pre-pack an outdoor classroom box that you can grab when the weather is good.
  • An inspiring lesson plan – you can find some great ideas and ready-to-use lesson plans on the Outdoor Classroom Day website and at CoolAustralia.
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Flexible furniture for outdoor (and indoor) classrooms

Instead of lugging heavy desks and chairs outside invest in flexible furniture that can be used inside or outside in a range of settings or use similar items to the BFX Furniture listed below that you have already.

Sensory table
Featuring a powder-coated steel frame, wheels and a durable, scratch and impact-resistant laminate top, these tables come in three designs with different numbers of removable STASH storage trays sunk level to the work surface.

They’re great for tactile activities like water-based learning, collecting and sorting natural materials, STEM activities, art materials and even musical instruments which can assist in emotional regulation allowing learners to maximise their potential.

They’ve been specially designed with height adjustable capabilities, giving learners of any size or physical ability easy access to meet their physical, emotional and sensory needs to learn.

Zen Rest
Learning outside is great for students’ minds and emotional well-being, but without proper support for their learning materials, it’s not always great for their bodies.

The Zen Rest is a stackable, lightweight and portable surface that gives students a non-slip place to rest laptops, tablets, reading books or notebooks. It prevents slouching and improves posture for greater comfort, spinal health and concentration as it forces their trunks and necks up and forward. Students sit on the base to keep the table steady either on the floor or on a bench seat or lounge.

They’re also easy to transport outside in a purpose-built trolley or cart.

Cozy Bag Chairs
These comfy bag chairs are ideal for quiet individual activities like observation or journalling or reading. Filled with squishy foam pieces, the chairs are more comfortable than a bean bag and are lighter for students to move around.

Cosy Bag Chairs are made from colorfast, water-resistant fabric that prevents fading making them ideal for undercover educational spaces. The strong PVC-backed polyester is also easy to sponge clean and the highly durable foam filling helps them hold their strength.

SmarTables
These flexible tables have castors on all legs, durable laminate tops and welded powder-coated frames to withstand the rigours of the classroom or undercover areas. BFX’s SmarTable range is designed to suit students from kindergarten to year 12. 

They can be adjusted to five heights with a student-friendly self-locating locking device. These tables come in a range of different shapes including carved, square, wave, rectangle, and circle so you can make multiple configurations to suit different lesson plans.

Dynami Stacker Student Stool
This stool is a convenient seating option for outdoor classrooms. It’s lightweight, compact and easy for students to grab and go.

With a seat height of 425mm, the Stacker is suitable for both upper primary and high school classroom age groups.

They stack up to 15 stools high and are easily transported on the Universal Trolley. The seamless design makes them durable enough to withstand demanding environments and students.

Fanfare Mobile Porcelain Whiteboard

If you’re planning to move lecture-style class outside, or conduct a briefing before an outdoor activity, a whiteboard is a must. 

This mobile whiteboard has storage totes at the bottom of the frame to carry markers, erasers, magnetic learning tools and other materials outside.

Best used in undercover areas, the Fanfare whiteboard has locking castors and a durable steel frame so you won’t have to worry about safety when using it outside.

A major benefit of this whiteboard is the easy height adjustment feature. Students can record observations and participate in activities on the whiteboard surface at a height that is ideal for them.

The bottom line?

Getting your class outdoors is simple, and once you’ve got yourself set up, it’s easy to take your class out when the sun is shining. BFX’s Education Furniture Consultants can help you choose the right flexible outdoor furniture that will make learning in any environment engaging and comfortable. Contact us to day to chat about your needs.

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