Spring is here, and everyone is excited to get into the outdoor classroom.  To make the most of your class time outdoors, Edna Chirico, the Executive Director of our Carolinas Region, shares some great tips!

  • Remember to treat your outdoor space as a classroom.
    • Ensuring students are holding their composition books, pencils, and other learning tools helps remind students they’re here to learn.
    • Before heading out, instruct students on where to assemble to receive class instructions and what they are to accomplish while outside.
    • Many schools choose to work with students to develop garden rules and post them outside.
    • Leading the class in an outdoor classroom pledge gives students another cue that the space is to be treated as a classroom
    • Be sure to point out landmarks students are not to go beyond.
    • Check out other outdoor classroom management techniques on our online Coaching Center.  On the lesson menu, under Type, search for Classroom Management.  (email arisso@realschoolgardens.org if you need help logging on)
    • Our friends at Boston Schoolyard have some more great tips.
  • Students and adults alike are excited to get to work, which can create a flurry of unfocused activity that ends up not producing results
    • Pay attention to planting and seed instructions.  Not only will your plants be more successful, but students can learn so much from informational text.
    • Soil temperature can be measured. Just because it feels warm to you doesn’t mean the seeds will thrive. Use a soil or compost thermometer to gather even more data.
    • Look at days to maturity and compare to your school calendars.
      • Lots of fruits and vegetables mature in the summer, but who will be there to harvest them?
      • We’ve had lots of great luck with radishes because they mature quickly.
        • Here’s a delicious Radish Leaf Pesto recipe, courtesy of the Carolinas Region Nutrition team!
        • 1 cup, packed radish leaves; ¼ cup olive oil ; 1 clove garlic; 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Place all ingredients into a blender, and blend until smooth. Drizzle over quartered radishes.
  • Research how to enrich your soil with organic fertilizer or compost.
  • Think about companion planting to maximize resources like sun and water, and minimize pest and weed issues.
    • Certain flowers like Daisy, Marigold, Clover, Bee Balm, and Coneflower are good companions for vegetable gardens.
    • Learn more here.
  • A manageable learning garden can’t feed a whole class, so look for high-impact plants where every kid can get a little taste of success.
    • Consider growing herbs like rosemary, basil, oregano, chives, parsley, sage, thyme and mint.
    • Be careful with mint, thyme and oregano, because they can be a bit invasive.  Plant them in clay pots if you want to keep them in check, or go ahead and let them take over an unused area.   Then students can pick as much as they like!
  • Prepare for visitors, both pollinators and pests
    • Tracking Monarch Butterflies from Mexico through the Carolinas.  It’s an amazing lesson in life-cycles and geography.
    • Have milkweed and other food and nectar sources in your garden and teach children about habitats
    • You may find other visitors to your garden as well – mice, rabbits, birds, etc.
      • Watching for signs of pests and other visitors can be an impactful lesson.  What circumstantial evidence can students gather to determine what types of animals are using the space?
      • Schools that have issues with rodents should make sure there are no food scraps in their compost.

Good luck, and enjoy using the outdoor classroom!

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Out Teach, formerly REAL School Gardens, provides professional development for elementary school teachers. Out Teach prepares them to use school gardens, outdoor classrooms, and green schoolyards to improve instruction through three-dimensional project-based learning, and outdoor experiential inquiry-based education. Professional learning with Out Teach improves hands-on science and STEM education through instructional coaching and digital education resources and improves 21st Century skills.