As parents, many of us encourage our children to spend time outside. We know when our kids spend time outside, it improves their creativity, curiosity and attitude. This does not change when the school year starts. In an effort to support teachers as they provide engaging learning experiences for students, the Parent Teacher Advisory Committee (PTAC) at Mississippi Heights Elementary constructed an outdoor classroom. As you drive by, you will see the green and gold sails on the front lawn of our school. These sails not only show our Storm pride, but also provide shade on a concrete patio, which allows for students to have a space to go for outdoor learning and activities.
This idea was presented to the PTAC by two classroom teachers as a part of the Big Idea Project. The Big Idea Project was initiated by the PTAC as they looked for new ideas from teachers and students that would provide improvements beneficial to all in the school. Mr. Aaron Jurek and Mr. Jesse Jarvi, both 4th grade teachers at the time, presented the idea of an outdoor classroom. They often take students outside for different lessons, and felt having a dedicated learning space outside would be good for the students.
Students are curious and inquisitive about the world around them. They enjoy learning in new places, which makes the outdoors a great learning space option. An outdoor space offers students a different experience from the traditional classroom space. Learning outdoors increases students’ engagement by encouraging physical participation and hands-
on experiences. That kind of engagement increases and solidifies learning and is one reason Mississippi Heights is excited to offer an outdoor classroom.
Furthermore, outdoor learning can be a valuable teaching space, not only for science or nature classes, but also as an inspiration for students’ writing and illustrating skills. We find students truly enjoy reading outside on nice days during the spring and fall. The warmth of the sun and the calming sounds of nature present a quiet and relaxing space for reading, and the space can assist with learning new math concepts or providing teachers access to space when an activity requires more space than the traditional classroom provides. The outdoor classroom allows us to engage in expanded activities, and is great for extending any learning concept.
Research and our own experiences show that spending time outside has a positive impact on student learning. It improves student engagement, solidifies learning concepts and improves overall positive learning behaviors. We are incredibly excited to offer this to students at Mississippi Heights Elementary.