Outdoor Learning Activities You Can Enjoy Together at a Safe Distance
It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that here we are again singing praises for time well spent outside - we have always been HUGE advocates of outdoor learning!
Now that everyone is back at school, we really hope that you are enjoying taking advantage of your playground and outdoor learning spaces.
We are here to help you - and we’d like to share some great ideas for outdoor learning activities that you can enjoy together, naturally helping children to maintain a safe social distance in these difficult times.
We all know that it is pretty impossible for young children to socially distance - it goes against the grain of who they are - and the whole concept of teaching without getting close to children is as viable as brushing your teeth while eating digestive biscuits!
However, there are plenty of things that you can do outside as a class group to get everyone out in the fresh and free-moving air, enjoying their learning and keeping active, and not having to crowd together in one space.
Here are just a few of our favourite ideas for you to try with your class:
1. Mindfulness and Yoga
Spreading positivity right now is essential. The charity Mind stresses the importance of looking after our mental health at all times, and particularly during this pandemic. Everyone is under a lot more stress and pressure - different reasons for different age groups - but anxiety can creep in and take over.
Bringing nature and the outdoors into our everyday lives can really benefit both our mental and physical wellbeing. It can help to improve mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, and make us feel more relaxed.
Mindfulness is a way of giving our full attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and yoga. It’s meant to help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, they become easier to manage.
At the peak of lockdown, when we were limited as to how much time we were allowed to spend outside, we all really felt it. It was so difficult for families with children - they wanted to be allowed outside to burn up energy and enjoy the fresh air without restrictions, and to be trapped inside was unimaginable.
So to spend time outside together at school, practicing some Mindfulness as part of a daily or weekly routine, can be a really beneficial way of letting go of some of those feelings of anxiety - enjoying being outside in nature, simply breathing the fresh air in and out and holding on to that feeling of being relaxed and in the moment - it’s an important part of bringing some calm into the day and helping children to cope with everything that’s going on.
It’s very simple to facilitate too - head out into the playground, and find somewhere comfortable to spread out and sit down. If the weather isn’t great you can shelter under a canopy or in your Outdoor Classroom.
2. Football and Foot Golf
Football is a great game to get everyone running around outside, having fun and getting some essential exercise!
Adapt the rules slightly to avoid direct tackles and ask players to try and stay two metres apart from one another.
This can be done more easily by making it a part of the game - spread your arms out as you run, like an aeroplane, and don’t invade another player’s wingspan!
Focus on kicking and passing and putting a limit on the amount of time a player is allowed to keep the ball before passing. This is a great game for improving teamwork skills and learning how to communicate and work together too.
You can use a football for lots of different active, outdoor activities. Set up your MUGA with cones and hoops to set up courses and focus on individual dribbling and passing skills - easy for children to take it in turns and stay distanced.
Footgolf is becoming popular too - it combines the skill and accuracy of golf with all the fun of football. Children use their feet to kick a ball into a target. The target can be any shape or size - a hula hoop, a bucket on it’s side or a section of wall. Have a look at our Goal Ends and Ball Chutes and Playground Markings for ideas.
You could set a course of ‘holes’ around the playground or MUGA and encourage children to keep a tally of how many kicks it takes them to get around the course. Make it easier/harder by using different balls of different weights and sizes - tennis balls, foam balls, even ping pong balls.
3. Drama, Dance and Aerobics
Children need to move and to express themselves - and somehow being outdoors they naturally lose some of their inhibitions, feel more relaxed and able to let themselves go.
They need this at the moment! Your outdoor environment is a great place to get children engaged in some fun, physical, confidence-boosting, arts-based activities.
If you have an Outdoor Performance Stage, now is the time to put it to work! Spread out for aerobics activities such as jumping jacks, jogging on the spot, stretches and lunges.
Bring some music outside for creative dancing and let them sing along! It’s good for the soul. This kind of moderate physical activity during the day helps to improve self-esteem, improve concentration, improve sleep, and can reduce depressive symptoms.
Charades is a perfect drama-based game for all age groups and it’s easy to do and maintain social distancing. Children can take it in turns to act out a favourite book for their friends to guess.
4. Follow the Floor!
Your playground surface itself can be the most fantastic resource for physical outdoor learning activities. With room to spread out in the fresh air it’s the best place to be.
If you don’t already have playground markings it’s a good time to consider getting some - we have a huge and innovative range of floor based mental and physical challenges for all year groups and to suit all budgets, which you can view Here.
You can also encourage children to use their imaginations and get creative and active with chalk. Can they design a hopscotch or number snake for their friends to follow?
A good obstacle course will challenge children to think and plan before they move, and master their gross motor skills by hopping, skipping and jumping their way through.
Keep it simple and use your Daily Mile Track for daily walking and running, or spread out along the length for Simon Says style aerobics!
5. Reading and Storytelling
Reading outdoors is a lovely activity to enjoy at any time of year and the weather doesn’t have to stop you if you’re well prepared. Being outdoors in more natural surroundings somehow brings a book to life, and allows children to absorb themselves in the story. And what better time to get lost in a good book?
You could set up a Communication and Language Zone in a corner of the playground or school field - not just for reading, a fabulous place to support any cross-curricular and topic learning outside, and a welcome change of environment from the classroom that can be really helpful for many children and especially children with particular Special Education Needs.
Turn your Gazebo into a sheltered reading space for the wetter weather - you could hang colourful and patterned shower curtains to create a theme and keep light rain and wind out at the same time.
Lay out cushions to make a comfy reading den and take advantage of the additional space for children to take their books outside for guided reading.
Enjoy creative storytelling games here - ask children to sit around in a circle and select one person to start as the storyteller.
The storyteller begins by making up a sentence, then the children around the circle take it in turns to add on their own sentence. When you get back to the storyteller, they have to retell the story as a whole!
6. Outdoor Art
During lockdown, we saw so many wonderful pieces of artwork that children had created to cheer up their neighbourhoods - thanking key workers with beautifully coloured rainbows, painting pebbles with clever designs and positive messages for other people to find, and creating local displays - this was something really special.
Your whole school can come together to brighten up the school grounds with their amazing artwork:
- Create themed pictures to post on the fencing for passers-by to enjoy. This is a lovely thing for parents and families to see at a time when they are staying out of schools and meetings are difficult, and the children love the experience of being part of a bigger project. Using natural resources from your school grounds - dried leaves to create autumn scenes or friendly hedgehogs - can work really well.
- How about creating a School Snake with painted pebbles? Set the children a homework task to go for a healthy walk in the outdoors and find a pebble to bring in to school. They can use outdoor paints (or a layer of varnish) to paint their pebble in their own style, with pictures or messages. Lay all the pebbles out in snake formation in a suitable place within the school grounds for everyone to admire when it’s their turn to use the playground - how far will it stretch?!
We’ve been designing outstanding playgrounds for schools and nurseries since 1998, turning playground dreams into reality for over 20 years! We have developed new ways to conduct playground consultations safely, and we’d love to help you get the most out of your school grounds. Contact Us here for more information or to book a visit, and we will work around you.