The concept of outdoor classrooms is gaining popularity in both suburban and rural school districts across the United States. Research continues to tell us that outdoor learning and play is a vital piece of a child’s education and development and should be incorporated into their daily routine.

The Benefits of an Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor classrooms are not an extension of the playground. They are a separate area structured to provide various learning opportunities in a natural setting. They may include project-based stations, observation areas, and gathering spaces for discussion. Outdoor classrooms provide methods of learning not possible in a traditional indoor classroom.

The ability for children to move freely is a natural and powerful form of learning. The open-space design of the outdoor classroom lets educators take advantage of what comes naturally to children.

A wide variety of concepts may be incorporated into the outdoor classroom, such as math, art, science, literacy, English, and music. It can also provide social benefits and brain/cognitive development. Typically, outdoor classrooms are used by pre-K through middle school students.

What Should Be Included in an Outdoor Classroom?

Gathering area. Most outdoor classrooms include a gathering place for collaboration, which might include a table, benches, or logs.

Shade. A shade structure over your gathering area is a good idea, or position it under a natural shade source, such as trees. This keeps students cool and dry and protects your equipment.

Surfacing. Any existing surfacing will work for your outdoor classroom; however, we find artificial turf to be the best surfacing for this setting. Artificial turf keeps your outdoor classroom cooler than concrete or gravel, it enhances the natural effects of being outdoors, and it drains and cleans easily so you don’t have mud puddles or debris to work around.

Open spaces. You’ll want to include an open area for theatre play, messy or large art projects, storyboards, water play, building blocks, etc.

Garden and nature area. Include an area for planters and growing boxes, butterfly houses, trellises, natural balance beams and steps.

Other themed areas. Depending on your space and budget, a variety of other special learning areas can be included, such as water and sand play, musical play, art easels, math and science exploration stations, and dramatic play structures and vehicles.

What Does an Outdoor Classroom Cost?

Each project is different, and we’d be happy to provide an estimate based on your space, budget, and needs. Outdoor classrooms are typically more affordable than building a playground; you can add as many or as few amenities or learning sections as you wish. In addition, outdoor classrooms do not require special surfacing, saving the school significant money.

Grants are sometimes available through natural resource districts. Consider contacting your local natural resource district office to see how they might assist you in the creation of an outdoor classroom.

Utilizing Our Outdoor Play Experience for Your Benefit

Building an outdoor classroom takes considerable planning. We draw on our understanding of child development, play, and safety from serving the outdoor play industry to help schools design and implement outdoor classrooms where teachers can provide fun, hands-on learning opportunities for children.

Curiosity makes our brains more receptive to learning. It is much easier to engage children in an outdoor setting than behind a desk surrounded by four walls. Let us put our knowledge and experience to work for the benefit of your children. Download our Outdoor Classrooms Ideas Booklet or call us today at 877.537.3470.

Sterling West is a park, playground, safety surfacing, and outdoor fitness representative company based in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Our mission is to experience the joy seeing people of all ages have fun and stay fit, knowing we have enriched the lives of others. For more information or for a free consultation, call Sterling West at 877-537-3470 or check us out at