An outdoor class room and nature learning spaces are great ways to encourage learning outside for your kids and engage in outdoor sensory play. Create your own nature play and learning spaces outside to meet your outdoor classroom goals. Try these Montessori ideas with nature based learning stations, summer outdoor room spaces and outdoor education resources. Creative ideas for promoting motor skill development, too!
AWESOME IDEAS FOR OUTDOOR CLASS ROOM AT HOME (OR ANYWHERE ELSE!)
When creating an outdoor classroom, nature outdoor spaces, or play space, think about adding spaces that allow for quiet time, manipulatives, physical activity, nature exploration, social play, outdoor Montessori activities, and even art projects.
How do you create an outdoor learning environment?
What are examples of outdoor learning?
- Set up a designated outdoor learning area: You can create a specific area in your backyard or garden that is solely dedicated to outdoor learning. This could be a shaded spot with a picnic table, benches or a canopy tent.
- Create a nature area: Encourage kids to explore nature by creating a designated area in your backyard or garden where they can observe and interact with plants, insects, birds, and other animals. You can add bird feeders, butterfly gardens, and even a small pond.
- Build a raised garden bed: You can teach kids about gardening and sustainability by building a raised garden bed in your backyard (it’s an easy way to garden with kids!). They can help with planting, watering, and harvesting, while learning about different types of plants and vegetables. You can do a vegetable garden or a flower garden!
- Set up a mud kitchen: Kids love to get messy, so setting up a mud kitchen is a great way to encourage outdoor play and learning. You can create a simple mud kitchen using old pots, pans, and utensils.
- Install a sandbox: A sandbox is another great outdoor play area that can also be used for learning. You can add different materials such as shells, rocks, and small toys to encourage exploration.
- Use natural materials: Incorporate natural materials into your outdoor learning environment such as tree stumps, logs, and rocks. These materials serve multiple purposes and can be used for seating, balancing, doing lessons, reading nooks, and physical activities (balancing, etc.).
- Create an outdoor art station: Set up a table or easel outside and provide kids with art supplies like paint, markers, and chalk. Encourage them to draw or paint what they see in nature.
- Provide learning materials: Provide materials like books, educational games, and puzzles that are specifically designed for outdoor learning and meet your lesson plans and academic performance needs. Keep them in a cabinet near your learning space and protected from the elements.
- Install a weather station: You can teach kids about weather by installing a simple weather station in your backyard using STEM activities. Kids can learn about temperature, precipitation, and wind.
- Set up a sensory station: Create a sensory station using materials like sand, water, dirt/mud, rocks and different textures from nature. This can help stimulate their senses and improve their cognitive and social skills.
- Use outdoor technology: Encourage kids to use technology in an outdoor learning environment. For example, they can use a tablet to explore nature and learn about different plants and animals or a mini microscope like this to get a closer look at their nature finds, the natural world, and easy access to living things.
- Provide shade: Ensure that your outdoor learning environment has adequate shade for hot days. This will encourage kids to stay outside for longer periods of time and protect them from the sun.
These are all great if you’re wondering how do you set up an outdoor environment in childcare, need ideas for nature schooling, or want to create cool nature learning spaces at home, or make school outdoor learning environments early childhood!
KEEP SCROLLING for outdoor environment examples, outdoor activities for homeschoolers and kids, and outdoor classroom pictures for inspo.
Importance of Outdoor Learning
Anytime the weather is nice, we find ourselves moving more and more to outdoor class room ideas and learning spaces.
We’re lucky to have a great covered back deck that we’ve lined with outdoor curtains like this.
In the spring, summer, fall (and even sometimes in winter months), it allows us to stay out there and work even when there is a gentle, warm rain.
But, I’ve been looking for some more outdoor education activities, great ideas for outdoor classrooms, and outdoor classroom activity ideas.
So, why do I want to add more outdoor learning activities at home (and what is needed in an outdoor environment for kids activities)?
Because, according to the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA):
Children today spend less time outdoors than any other generation, devoting only four to seven minutes to unstructured outdoor play per day while spending an average of seven and a half hours in front of electronic media.
We’ve definitely been guilty of this during some head-down, hermit times of homeschooling.
And, indoor and outdoor learning environments both have their pros and cons!
Before we get to outdoor classroom architecture and building, let’s cover the outdoor classroom definition and some common questions.
What is an outdoor classroom?
An outdoor class room is a nature-based learning space. It encourages kids to spend time outside in unstructured play and in different nature learning stations exploring, using imaginary learning, and trying new things associated with nature and the outdoors.
What should be in an outdoor classroom?
An outdoor class room should encourage nature play. Outdoor classroom activities and outdoor classroom materials can include a mix of furniture and play items… or even just items made from nature finds!
Outdoor classroom equipment can include:
- Mud table
- Water table
- Sand table
- Art center using items found in nature
- Music center using items found in nature
- Insect houses
- Bird houses
- Bat houses
- Obstacle courses
- Flower and planting table
- Fairy garden pots
- Nature weaving loom
- Sensory path
- Rock painting station
- & MORE!
What are examples of outdoor activities?
Outdoor classroom activities ideas and outdoor learning activities kids will love!
Ideas for outdoor space themed activities:
- Plant seeds and grow flowers or a garden to learn about plant cycle
- Observe a bug house
- Swing, jump, and run
- Have a bubble station with different sizes of bubble wands
- Make shadow drawings with different items
- Have different art stations (and then hose down after!)
- Create nature sensory stations
- Braid grasses for baskets
- Make and decorate fairy garden planters
- Get fit with stretching and workout stations (think fun thinks like hopscotch, hula hoops and more!)
- Play outdoor education games
- Have quiet nature journal time (observe, write, and draw)
- Create chalk art or drawing walls (on a wood fence that you can rinse off after is great!)
- Do an outdoor learning scavenger hunt (get a free printable!)
- Make a sprinkle obstacle course with water hoses, sprinklers, buckets and wet sponges and more
- Create a mud pie bakery
- Pop up a tent, fill it with pillows, and make an outdoor reading area
You can adapt these outdoor learning activities early years, as outdoor classroom ideas for preschool, elementary, or middle school and up!
Also, get your kids involved in creating a back to nature learning space. Ask them what they would like to do in their nature space!
DON’T MISS OUR FULL LIST OF OUTDOOR CLASS ROOM IDEAS BELOW. KEEP SCROLLING!
Why is outdoor learning so important?
What are the benefits of outdoor learning?
Not only can being outside improve mood and develop an appreciation of nature, it can also help with a variety of factors like fine and gross motor skills.
ChildMind.org states, “most of the studies agree that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.”
What are the benefits of an outdoor classroom?
Outdoor classroom benefits:
- Improves sensory skills
- Helps motor skills
- Improves fitness and helps kids stay healthier
- Increases attention spans
- Improves memory
- Sun exposure to Vitamin D helps many body processes
- Helps foster creativity
- Helps develop executive function skills like planning, troubleshooting, prioritizing, multitasking and more
- Fosters an appreciation of nature
- Relieves stress
- Helps with mental health
Factors To Consider When Setting Up An Outdoor Learning Environment
Setting up an outdoor learning environment can be an exciting and rewarding experience for parents / educators and students alike.
However, it is important to consider several factors to ensure that the environment is safe, stimulating, and effective for learning.
Some of the key factors to consider when setting up an outdoor nature learning / nature play area:
Safety: The safety of students should be the top priority when designing an outdoor learning environment. Consider factors like uneven surfaces or sharp objects. You want both safe indoor and outdoor learning environments for children (whether you’re doing outdoor learning spaces for schools or home!).
Durable materials: Do some planning on what materials will and won’t work best for your nature space. Do you need wood chips or will a dirt path be OK? What kind of outdoor furniture will work best? What supplies will endure the elements and lots of play? What will create the most comfortable environment for in-person learning or outdoor education program play? What will help with outdoor learning activities kids will love?
Comfort: Students should feel comfortable in the outdoor learning environment and want to have fun! Add comfortable seating areas, shade, and some protection from the elements.
Learning objectives: The outdoor learning environment should be designed to support the curriculum and learning objectives. For example, if the focus is on science, provide plenty of opportunities for exploration and investigation and include things like binoculars, magnifying glasses, and measuring tools.
Maintenance: Once you build it, you’re going to need to maintain it. (Sorry.) Regularly check items so that they remain safe, comfortable, and effective for learning. This may involve tasks such as cleaning, repairing equipment, and replacing materials. Teach the kids the importance of cleaning up and putting away tools and outdoor classroom supplies after using the space!
By doing these things, you can easily create a safe, stimulating, and effective space for students to explore, learn, and grow!
How much does an outdoor classroom cost?
Your out door classroom will depend on your needs and wants. You can easily add a few learning with nature items using materials you find for under $100 (or even free from online exchange groups). Other people build elaborate outdoor classrooms to meet the needs of large groups and can easily cost from a few hundred dollars into the thousands.
Your outdoor classroom design can cost as little or as much as you need! Also, you can start small and continue to add materials and learning stations as your budget allows and you come up with more outdoor classroom ideas.
Your outdoor classroom design ideas can be easy to keep within a budget by using natural elements and recycled items / upcycled items for outdoor classroom ideas design. (It’s a great idea to look for items in local online groups!)
You don’t need to be a landscape designer to build an out door classroom for outdoor classes!
OK! Let’s get to our outdoor learning space ideas and how to create an outside classroom your kids will love!
8 CRAZY AMAZING Outdoor Class Room Ideas and Nature Learning Space Ideas
Best Outdoor Learning Area Ideas
Creating outdoor classrooms or learning space (no matter where you live or learn) is a must! (You can even create some balcony outdoor learning spaces!)
Need some ways to get your outdoor classrooms started? Check out these awesome ideas and get started ASAP!
These ideas are perfect for at-home learning, an outdoor preschool, or even an outdoor class room for schools for outdoor classroom day (and they work for early childhood nature learning / younger students or for older students!).
Here’s how to create an outdoor classroom space or give the outdoor learning classroom you have a refresh and tips for enhancing your outdoor learning spaces!
NOTE: We use variations of outdoor classroom spaces, but it can be a homeschool space outside / Montessori outdoor environment, for a school class for learning in the outdoors and outdoor curriculum, for creative play childcare for daycare playground ideas, or even just for a nature play area at home (natural backyard playground ideas)! We mean anywhere for outdoor play and learning and outdoor experiences and education to children to take your lessons outdoors!
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #1: Start with Amazing Outdoor Classroom Furniture.
You’ll definitely want to start your outdoor class room with some awesome outdoor classroom furniture. I like the things that allow movement (or swings like Hammock Chair Macrame Swing or Platform Swing).
Be sure to have something to shield them from the sun some of the time like one of these pop-up canopy tents (that you can store away when not in use) or at least one area that has tree cover from the heat and sun.
If you’re on a budget and can’t spend a lot on outdoor furniture (or you’re working with a small space and don’t have the room), just spread a couple of blankets and outdoor pillows underneath the trees and they’ll rearrange how they want to use it for learning or hanging out.
Outdoor Class Room Furniture Ideas / Outdoor Learning Spaces Ideas:
- Tree stumps: Large, sturdy tree stumps can be used as chairs or even as a desk surface. They’re the perfect place for learning in outdoor areas!
- Boulders: Heavy, flat boulders can be used as table surfaces or as seats.
- Wooden logs: Cut wooden logs can be used as chairs, benches, or as a surface for writing or crafts.
- Hay bales: These can be stacked to create seating or used as a base for a makeshift table.
- Pallets: Wooden pallets can be stacked and used as seating or as a surface for a makeshift table. (Bonus: You often see people or businesses giving these away for free or super cheap on online marketplaces!)
- Tree branches: Thick, sturdy branches can be used as a base for a makeshift desk, or even as a seat.
- Rocks: Flat rocks can be used as a surface for a desk or on top of a log for a seat.
Remember, you’re creating FUN learning spaces to get your kids outside and in nature. So, outdoor classroom seating doesn’t have to be expensive!
It doesn’t need to be perfectly matched or make complete sense to you! (Think: logs for benches or tree stumps for seats or desks or flat slate rock for lap desks!)
If you give kids outdoor classrooms, they’ll pick (or make) their own favorite learning spaces— whether it be to read, work on their laptop, or play and nature school! So be flexible with your outdoor educational experiences and spaces!
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #2: Make Some Noise with an Outdoor Musical Wall
That’s why adding a musical wall to your outdoor learning space classroom walls is one of the best ideas ever.
Children who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills, so why not take it outside, too?
To build a music wall, just attach some musical instruments and noisemakers to a fence (wood or chain link) or piece of plywood.
If you don’t want to create an entire music wall, just provide some musical instruments for outside. Our favorites are musical instrument kits that can be packed away after use.
(But, really, go for the wall if you can.)
You can also make a quick musical wall by grabbing an affordable trellis and using zip-ties to secure the musical instruments against it.
With the trellis, you can move it around the yard to different locations.
(And, BONUS, it’s great for a balcony if you don’t have a yard and you’re creating a balcony learning space!)
How To Make An Outdoor Music Wall
- Choose a location: Select an area that is safe, easily accessible, and has enough space to accommodate the music wall. It can be a existing fence or you can use a inexpensive trellis to attach the instruments.
- Gather materials: Collect materials such as wooden boards, PVC pipes, metal pots and pans, metal trash can lids, metal pipes, plastic containers, and other items that can create different sounds.
- Attach the instruments: Attach the instruments to the frame, using screws, bolts, and other hardware to ensure they are securely attached. Make sure the instruments are at a height that is comfortable for children to play. Make some of the instruments permanently attached (like a metal trash lid), but others that they can take down (drum sticks, maracas, etc.).
- Create labels: Use paint or markers to label each instrument with its name and a picture to help children identify them.
- Experiment with sounds: Allow children to experiment with the different instruments and sounds they can create. Encourage them to work together to create music.
- Incorporate lessons: Use the music wall as an opportunity to teach children about sound, rhythm, and music theory.
- Encourage creativity: Allow children to express themselves creatively through music, and encourage them to create their own songs and rhythms.
- Maintain the music wall: Regularly check the music wall to ensure it is safe and secure. Repair any damaged instruments or parts to ensure the music wall continues to be a fun and safe activity for children.
Music is great for dramatic play and group activities for outdoor lessons for music!
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #3: Add a Barefoot Sensory Path.
I think this is one of the coolest things you can add to outdoor classrooms: a barefoot sensory path for outdoor teaching activities / outdoor nature classroom / outdoor homeschool activities.
Not only is this sensory path beautiful and functional, but it is also a great sensory learning tool to add to your outdoor learning space or garden.
It works like this:
You create a stepping stone or part of a path with different materials.
Maybe one stepping stone is smooth.
Another stepping stone is bumpy with small pebbles.
A different stepping stone or section has grass.
One part of the path is made with cut out tree circles.
Another part of the sensory path is just dirt.
Part of the sensory path has fragrant flowers by it.
And so on…
You can get creative with the type of materials you use in the path, just mix it up for different sensory effects.
Play At Home Teacher has a really great example of a cool sensory path over on Pinterest.
Sensory play builds brain nerve connections and helps complete more complex learning tasks!
You could also add a sensory play tent that you can move around your outdoor space and fill with different items each week!
SUPER FUN outdoor ideas at home classroom ideas or nature classroom theme!
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #4: Include Nature Discovery Centers.
Discovery for kids is one of the best parts of moving your learning outdoors!
And, an outdoor learning space wouldn’t be complete without some nature discovery centers!
Have fun by including some nature discovery centers in your outdoor classrooms like:
Don’t be grossed out, but things like a “bug hotel” or a bat house because they are a great ways for kids to learn about the outdoors, insects, animals, and biodiversity.
If you don’t want to buy a bug house or bee house, you can easily build them using cheap wood pallets of any size that will affordably help you make one large or small.
Did you know building a bat house to attract bats can help reduce mosquitoes in your yard?
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #5: Plant a Garden.
A garden provides so many learning opportunities!
14 Benefits of Gardening with Kids:
- Engages senses.
- Allows them to practice fine motor skills.
- Teaches them responsibility.
- Allows them to learn about nutrition and healthy eating.
- Provides examples of the cycles of life.
- Promotes calm moods.
- Helps kids understand where food comes from.
- Introduces science.
- Incorporates family time and working together.
- Creates a better connection with nature.
- Helps them to understand the importance of plant life for humans, animals, and insects.
- Can create an interest in cooking what they grow.
- Bridges into learning about animals and insects.
- Helps with executive skills like planning and prioritizing.
If you don’t have a yard and can’t plant a garden, don’t worry!
You can easily plant a container garden on your balcony, patio, or deck and enjoy the same benefits. You can also plant a fairy container garden (which is super fun to go with creative play for outdoor environments!).
These are are fun gardening ideas for learning in the outdoor environment!
TIP: Research NATIVE PLANTS for your area and be sure to plant some of those to help the insect, birds, and wildlife found in your area! Great unit study for outdoor learning areas, too!
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #6: Add a Water Table, Sand Table or Mud Table.
What would outdoor learning be without a little water or sand or mud?
(It’s fun to get dirty!)
My best childhood friend and I used to spend countless summer hours making mud pies when we were kids. Then, we would create a store or a restaurant and “sell” them.
In my opinion, these are a must for outdoor play spaces and they’re inexpensive to add!
Did you know that mud helps boost a child’s immune system?
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #7: Create an Outdoor Obstacle Course!
Even if you don’t, obstacle courses and climbing walls are all the rage right now!
And, even kids are getting into the action.
Adding some natural obstacle courses to your learning area is not only fun, but helps encourage exercise, practicing gross motor skills, get in physical education, and MORE outdoor activity fun (without them even knowing!).
(They’re great for PE outdoor activities for schools play environments!)
You can create an awesome outdoor classroom obstacle course, but it doesn’t really have to be hard. Add some big logs, rocks, ropes from tree limbs, etc. to make some fun obstacle course options.
Fun For Outdoor Play Space:
- Big logs become balance beams
- Limbs or boards become small hurdles
- Old tires can be used to jump in and out of (or even sit on / sit in for nature journaling!)
- Large, flat rocks or wooden boards create a stepping stone path for kids to follow
- If you have the space, install a zipline (you can get them in kits like this)
If you can’t do anything big, bulky, or permanent, try a pool noodle obstacle course!
Creating Outdoor Classrooms #8: Offer Outdoor Art Centers.
Art centers are great outdoor classroom additions because they appeal to a variety of ages, stages, levels, and interests.
You don’t have to confine art to the a canvas and easel indoors. Taking art outside and incorporating nature into art is such a great learning experience.
Incorporating one of these cute art centers or outdoor chalk boards to your outdoor learning area will give your budding artists plenty of inspiration from nature in the outside environment!
More Ideas for Outdoor Classroom Art Centers:
- Get a indoor/outdoor Plexiglass Art Easel
- Hang twine or laundry line with clothes pins to hang drying art
- Paint a wall, part of a fence, or piece of wood with chalkboard paint and provide chalk
- Make an easy nature weaving loom
- Provide large flat paving rocks, paint brushes, and buckets of water. They can paint the rocks and then when it dries they can start over again!
- Hang an old white sheet or table cloth from the clothes line. Fill spray bottles with liquid watercolors and spray away to create some abstract art on the sheet!
The best place for messy art and creative hands-on activities is outside, right?
CONTINUE THE FAMILY NATURE FUN AND CHECK THIS OUT NEXT: All About Camping As A Family Guide (Even If You Hate Camping with Kids)
What are your favorite outdoor space ideas, outside play environment, or ideas for outdoor learning environment?