Ideas For Taking the Classroom Outdoors

Many children learn better with the help of practical exercises and experiments. Through tangible demonstration and participation, concepts become clearer and theories finally make sense.

Kids love experimenting indoors, but taking the classroom outdoors is an even better way of ensuring they enjoy the learning process. Weather permitting, head outdoors to the school yard or playground to teach subjects such as science and art.


In a way, teaching art within the classroom is putting children in a box, making them rely on the materials available. Outdoors, this box is much bigger (though a safe environment cannot be limitless). Encourage creativity by teaching art outdoors.

Children could be making collages out of leaves, sticks and rocks, or designing jewellery. Let them collect their own materials both in the school yard, and by asking them to bring some along from their own gardens or parks they've visited with friends and family.

Energy and Sustainability

Our current dependence on unsustainable natural resources to feed our growing energy demands needs to be combated. While governments are gradually beginning to invest in sustainable power production, awareness among citizens is still low. For the industry to develop faster, society needs to put pressure on its elected rulers.

If children are equipped with this knowledge and awareness at a young age, they will take care of teaching their parents and their own children, and so it is passed on from generation to generation in an unforced way, and becomes intrinsic to general social awareness.

Science education is one of the best ways of fostering awareness with a hands-on approach. By performing experiments, building tools and devices, and playing science-related games, children learn to appreciate the world, how it works, and how to look after it.

And where better to learn than in the great outdoors where there is unlimited space, fresh air, and tangible substances that form the world as we know it. Outdoor lab ideas that focus on sustainable energy include building a solar cooker. This is an activity made for middle and high school students. Ask the school cook to donate some food for cooking in the sunshine.

Another idea is to speak to the school principal about turning the school playground into a temporary power station. Let the children create energy on the swings, see-saws and merry-go-rounds.

You could also gather outdoors to produce fruit batteries. One of the most common fruits for the challenge is the lemon. The teacher will need to bring some elements from the classroom.

Visit websites such as PlanetSEED for detailed instructions on taking your classroom outdoors to learn science.

What Makes a Teacher Effective

Bertrand Russell said, "No man can be a good teacher unless he has feelings of warm affection towards his pupil and a genuine desire to impart to them what he believes to be of value."

Being a teacher in today's society is a difficult yet rewarding job. Not everyone is suited for teaching. Aside from having a love for working with learners, teaching is a career like no other. Effective teachers are hard to come by nowadays. For a teacher to be effective, each and every student in the class has to feel comfortable. Effective teaching requires a conscious effort to ensure that the material being taught is absorbed by the students. Learners learn in different ways, hence it is important to deliver the lecture in different formats to ensure that every learner is given the maximum opportunity to learn.

Effective teachers are determined persons. They are in their classroom early and ready to teach. They are warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring. They demonstrate a commitment to their profession. They work hard to mastering the skills necessary for effective communication and learn how to motivate the learners. They encourage the students to ask questions in the classroom and they spend the necessary time to ensure that all the students have grasped the knowledge. They ask questions requiring students to reflect, evaluate and connect ideas. They provide clear and specific responses to the students' comments. They follow a correct response to a question with another question. They solicit formal and informal responses from students during the semester and use this information to improve their courses as they are being taught. They also invite observations and suggestions from colleagues.

They have some certain personal attributes such as:

    Treating students with respect
    Being compassionate and confidential
    Having a sense of humor
    Acting in a just and fair manner
    Being friendly but firm

They are the teachers who teach more than subject. They teach to live in the world, "enhancing the capacity to live fully and deeply" with an open mind and critical consciousness. They teach to hold our convictions with firm justifications based on thoughtful rationales and evidence. They provide challenges that the learners do not think they are capable of. They bring the learners to the edge of great risks with a belief in their ability to span the chasm of doubt and ignorance. The influence of such a teacher extends beyond a given semester and is clearly remembered in future learning experiences.

Stingy in Teaching

Kusuda, a young doctor in Tokyo went to see a friend from college, who had been studying Zen.

"I am unable to tell you what Zen is," Kusuda's friend said, "but one this is sure; if you understand Zen, you won't be afraid of death."

"Fine", replied Kusuda. "I am going to try Zen. Where may I find a teacher?"

"Go to Nan'in, the master," his friend answered.

So the young doctor went to pay a visit to Nan'in. He took a nine and half inch long dagger with him too, in order to test if the teacher was afraid of death.

As soon as Nan'in clapped eyes on Kusuda, he said: "Hello there, friend. How have you been? It's been a long time since we saw each other!"

Kusuda, who was mightily confused, replied: "We never met each other before."

"Correct," said Nan'in. "I mistook you for a different doctor who is studying here."

With that start, Kusuda had missed his chance to test the Zen master. With reluctance, he asked if he could be taught by the master.

Nan'in said, "Zen is not a hard undertaking. If you are a doctor, treat your patients kindly. That's Zen."

Kusuda went to see Nan'in three more times. Every time Nan'in gave him the same instructions. "A doctor shouldn't be wasting time here. Go back and look after your patients."

"It was not yet obvious to Kusuda how this teaching would remove fear of dying. On his next visit he complained to Nan'in, "My friend said that when someone who studies Zen will have no fear of death. Every time I come, all you teach me is to look after me patients. I already know that. If that's all Zen is, I will not visit here again."

"I have been too strict with you," Nan'in smiled, "let me show you a Koan." He handed a copy of Joshu's Mu (No-Thing) to Kusuda. This is the first mind enlightening problem in 'The Gateless Gate'.

Kusuda set his mind to the problem of Joshu's Mu for two years, and at length he considered he had come to a resolution of mind. However, his teacher, Nan'in told him, "You are not there yet."

Kusuda continued to concentrate on the problem for another year and a half. Over this period his mind became calm, his problems evaporated, and Mu (No-Thing) became the truth. He looked after his patients with kindness, and without even being aware of it, he was free from fears about life and death.

When he went to visit his teacher, the old master just smiled.

Morgan Park juggles a busy career and family life and keeps on an even keel by practicing meditation every morning and evening. She shares her tips for meditation techniques at Stories on Zen. There you can enjoy classic and more modern Zen stories from Japan, in Sand and Stone, a collection of Zen stories.