An outdoor classroom, also sometimes referred to as a schoolyard habitat or community restoration project, is a space set aside for the development of natural habitats in which students and community members can learn about science and the outdoors through a hands on experience. Although most of what is done in an outdoor classroom relates to the environment, it is also an interactive opportunity for students and adults to learn how math, literature, history, art, and music are influenced by nature and our natural resources.
Outdoor classrooms help to peak the interest of students in the world around them and the importance of wildlife and natural resource conservation. The classrooms also help to encourage citizens and other community leaders to be involved in education and the environment through the donation of labor, materials, specific instruction or financial support. This new setting for the classroom provides boundless educational activities for teachers and students that would not be available in a conventional learning space. The outdoor classroom becomes a sanctuary for abundant species, as habitats that suit their basic needs are created. Students are able to learn what types of plants and habitats are needed by specific animals and can use this knowledge to help design the classroom space based on what species they want to attract. Student involvement in the initial design and future upkeep are essential to the future success of the outdoor habitat.
Outdoor Classrooms can come in many different shapes and sizes depending on a group's resource and space constraints. Something as simple as a flower or vegetable garden or as intricate as a pond, aquatic investigation site, or weather station can be built as an outdoor classroom. Other ideas include butterfly gardens, forest trails, gardens with particular themes (art gardens), amphitheaters, courtyards, bird sanctuaries, and animal tracking boxes. Creativity is crucial and will make the outdoor classroom experience a delight for all involved.
Types of Outdoor Classrooms:
- Ponds, streams and wetlands
- Butterfly and wildflower gardens
- Agriculture gardens- vegetable etc.
- Bird and squirrel sanctuaries
- Composting and recycling areas
- Arboretums with native trees, shrubs, plants and nursery areas
- Weather stations
- Amphitheaters, shelters, nature trails and other structures
- Art gardens - sculpture, oriental, artist specific gardens (Monet- water lilies; Van Gogh sunflowers)
- Oyster gardens