Starting Your Outdoor Classroom

A diverse group of elementary school children are outdoors near a wetland. They are doing research for science class.

Transform your teaching with an outdoor classroom. Here are some simple steps to get you on your way. 

Do your homework. Go visit some nearby schools with outdoor classrooms and talk to the teachers that use them. If possible, ask for some pictures of the classrooms in action. Then put together a brief presentation outlining the benefits of the space, not just for you but for the rest of the school as well. 

Seek approval. Now that your presentation is ready, schedule a meeting with your principal and facilities manager and help them to see the benefits. If they are on-board, have another meeting with teachers to build interest and show them how they can enrich their students’ learning. Schedule meetings with both groups to begin planning your classroom. 

Site evaluation. Talk to your principal to see what sites are available for an outdoor classroom. Seek assistance from your school’s science teachers as well as Extension representatives and natural resources conservationists. Take an inventory to determine what plants and natural features are already present and then start a list of what you want to add. The Beepods master gardener will help you figure out what plants will support pollinators in your area. 

Make a Green Team. If your school doesn’t have one already, form a Green Team consisting of administrators, teachers, parents, volunteers, and PTA/PTO members. Look outside your school for help from environmental organizations including your local Project Learning Tree coordinator and U.S. Forest Service Conservation Education Coordinators. The team will work to develop and properly maintain the space. 

Find funding. Put together a wish list of plants, trees, benches, and other items your team wants. Approach local garden centers for donations, offering to put signage in the classroom. Include a timeline of your project as well as the overall vision including a sketch of the proposed classroom. Look into getting a grant from organizations such as Project Learning Tree (see link below). 

Don’t let another school year go by without taking advantage of your school’s outdoor space. With a little planning this fall, your students will be having fun, staying focused, and learning to appreciate nature come spring! Go to to determine the next steps to develop your classroom. 


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Bill Polacheck

Bill is a teacher, environmentalist, and freelance writer. If he's not out in nature, he's happy to be writing about it.'

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Bill Polacheck
Bill is a teacher, environmentalist, and freelance writer. If he's not out in nature, he's happy to be writing about it.

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