Creating Inclusive Outdoor Learning Experiences for Diverse Learners

Picture of Calum


International Primary Teacher and Outdoor Learning Specialist, with over ten years experience. I hold an MSc in Outdoor Education and PGDE in Primary Education.

Discover how outdoor learning can be used and adapted to embrace and support diverse learners’ unique needs and abilities, providing an inclusive educational environment. This blog will spotlight the versatility of outdoor learning, highlighting its benefits and the various strategies that make it accessible for all students. From sensory activities to kinesthetic tasks, we’ll explore various outdoor learning ideas that cater to different learning styles and needs. Learn how the natural world becomes a classroom that adapts to each child, fostering a space where every student can thrive and connect with the curriculum meaningfully.


Playing and discovering in nature is beneficial for children’s well-being.


Outdoor Learning Benefits

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the benefits of outdoor learning. People are beginning to realise that the natural environment can be an excellent way to facilitate children’s education. This interest has been fueled by an increasing societal concern for the environment and a growing unease about how much time children spend indoors, glued to screens.  (Ward, 1994).

The benefits of outdoor learning are well documented. Waite (2011) and Blair (2009) were two papers that I found particularly helpful, and I’ve included them, among others, in my reading list below. The benefits discussed in these papers include freedom, fun, authenticity, autonomy, and physicality. They highlight that outdoor learning activities can improve self-esteem and self-confidence. These authors also go into depth about the cognitive values of outdoor learning.

You can learn more about how outdoor learning benefits children’s social, emotional, and physical well-being by clicking on the article below.


Developing the Wellbeing of Children Through Outdoor Learning


Meeting Children’s Diverse Learning Needs Outside the Classroom

Today, the focus on diversity is a fundamental value position for educators worldwide. UK schools are required by its steering documents (Equality Act 2010) to ‘promote equity and equality.’ Outdoor learning, then, is not an exception to this. They are also rooted in the Diversity Act, which dictates that diversity must not be seen as a problem to be fixed but rather as an opportunity for diverse learners to thrive (Miles & Ainscow, 2011).


Nature can provide children with a well-deserved brain break.


When planning and organising outdoor learning activities for students with neurodiverse needs, I implement strategies similar to those used by regular classroom teachers. I ensure that the timetable for the day’s learning is clear and that students understand the expectations and boundaries for the lesson. I also use visual aids, simple language, and nonverbal cues to help students with English as an Additional Language (EAL) and dyslexia needs. To make my teacher slides more accessible, I always use the Comic Sans font, which is known to be the preferred font for dyslexic children.

As I work internationally, I must mention that some children I teach have no experience working outdoors. Outdoor Learning is not a common educational practice in some countries or cultures, and children from places with dangerous plants and animals may feel fearful of working outside. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure these children feel comfortable and safe in their new learning environment.


It is essential to set clear expectations before outdoor excursions. I find it beneficial to use positive language and give children ownership of their responsibilities.


Some valuable resources for boundary setting and class management outdoors. The duck whistle is a great attention grabber as it is distinctive but adds a little fun and enjoyment to class management.


Please look at the blog post below to learn more about effective strategies for managing outdoor classes.


Overcoming Challenges and Teaching Outdoors


Outdoor Learning and ADHD

Providing opportunities for children to engage in learning and physical activities outside can improve attention span while helping the child regulate their mood (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005). Within the context of my work, I teach children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). While observing children with ADHD, I have noticed that they find it easier to focus when completing tasks outside the classroom. Natural environments are reported to be an effective learning environment for students who experience overstimulation. Open spaces offer children with ADHD a calmer working environment (Harris, 2017).


Sensory-Rich Experience of the Natural World

Most children are more interested in using their senses to explore what they see (Edgington, 1998). For example, infants often explore things by putting them in their mouths; this way, they learn the texture and taste. Being a fundamental characteristic of young children, outdoor learning ideas can be perfectly attuned to them because they emphasise activities that heighten observation skills and sensory-rich tasks, allowing diverse learners to engage in hands-on learning experiences. Incorporating sensory experiences into lessons helps engage and include children on the autism spectrum (Dupuis et al., 2022). This is easy to plan through an outdoor learning framework as sensory experiences are all around.

Before planning sensory tasks for children on the autism spectrum or with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it is important to take note of their preferences and aversions towards certain textures and materials. This way, you can avoid using materials they do not like, such as mud. If a child dislikes a specific texture, they can use gloves or alternative materials or work with a partner to help them complete the task.


Learner enjoys playing and being creative with natural materials.


Outdoor Learning and Cognitive Development

Besides enabling the children to get involved in careful observation and sensory-rich experiences, outdoor learning can stimulate and strengthen both sides of a child’s brain. An example activity encapsulating these outdoor learning benefits is the leaf drawing and description of the project. In this activity, children are grouped into small teams and given different plants to describe and draw their physical features. They also record the leaf texture, colour and size. The drawing process strengthens the right side of the brain, while the research and analytical aspect strengthens the left side (Harrington et al., 2017).


Providing Diverse Learners Real Life Experiences

Books and the internet can provide valuable knowledge but cannot fully replicate real-world experiences for children. Outdoor Learning is a great way to complement classroom education for diverse learners by providing real-life examples of what they are learning (Beames & Brown, 2016). This could be especially beneficial for children with EAL needs.

During a KS2 EAL lesson, we learned about different foods and drinks popular in the Netherlands. We planted mint leaves outside the classroom to make our mint tea, A drink commonly consumed in the Netherlands. The children planted and looked after the mint leaves and wrote detailed instructions for the rest of the class on how to look after the plants. Allowing children to be part of the kinesthetic planting process made it much easier to remember key vocabulary and the correct sequence of events needed to write successful instructions.


Children enjoy taking ownership of the class mint plants. Growing mint in tyres is an easy way to introduce children to growing and planting. Mint grows quickly and can be picked regularly to make fresh mint tea.


Creative Outdoor Learning for Diverse Learners

 In this section, you will find two activities that, in my experience, are often popular with all children and inclusive to those learners with neurodivergent needs. These activities can be differentiated for early years, KS1 and KS2 children. Additionally, these tasks can be completed statically or on top of surfaces, making them accessible to learners with mobility challenges.


Weaving Activities

Weaving activities like making bird nests outdoors can provide an engaging sensory-motor experience for diverse learners, including autistic children. As visual or pattern thinkers, this activity can help them explore and discover natural materials, identify different shapes with grass, and experience different textures and colours (Grandin, 2009). Weaving activities can also benefit children with ADHD, as the various colours and textures in nature can capture their attention and improve their focus. I have also found that incorporating a toy bird into the lesson and creating a story around it can increase engagement. In addition, children who may be overstimulated can hold the toy bird to feel calm.


KS1 learners weave sticks and use leaves to create a duck’s nest.


Wood Carving Activities

Harris (2017) reported that children with ADHD tend to perform better on tasks that involve repetitive kinesthetic movements. Thus, carving can be a fulfilling and engaging learning experience for them. In contrast, autistic children are usually detail-oriented. The precision required in carving, including the fine details needed for decorating, can make it a highly enjoyable activity for them (Grandin, 2009).

One of my favourite carving activities to teach is making a mouse. You will take the children outdoors to collect different sticks for this activity. Once they have collected the sticks, children can use carving tools, sandpaper, screwdrivers, and acrylic paint pens to create their mice.


A KS2 learner made the field mouse carving.


Involving Children in Assessing Risk

Before beginning an activity such as carving, I always involve the learners in a risk-benefit analysis similar to the one below.


I completed This benefit/risk analysis with KS2 children before a carving activity. I introduced a safety coin initiative. Learners lost coins for not following the rules agreed upon in the Being Safe column. I also use Comic Sans for my font as it is easier for dyslexic children to read.


When working with diverse learners, it is important to set clear expectations and involve them in making the expectations with the help of clear visuals. This is a crucial factor in ensuring a safe and successful lesson.

 With the Year 6 learners, I now offer carving as a morning activity. They have now developed the confidence and skills required to use the carving tools safely and independently.


A tray of carving activity equipment sits on my desk so the children can do independent morning carving. It allows the children to slow their brains down and be calm before lessons start. Better than a fidget toy!!


I welcome you to contact me via email at or DM me on LinkedIn, or Twitter for advice on supporting children with diverse learning needs outdoors.


Related Posts

What Is Outdoor Learning?

The Importance of Outdoor Play



Beames, S., & Brown, M. (2016). Adventurous learning: A pedagogy for a changing  world. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Blair, D. (2009). The Child in the Garden: An evaluative review of the benefits of  school gardening. The Journal of Environmental Education, 40(2), 15–38.  

Burdette, H. L., & Whitaker, R. C. (2005). Resurrecting free play in young children: looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 159(1), 46-50.

Dupuis A, Mudiyanselage P, Burton CL, Arnold PD, Crosbie J, Schachar RJ. (2022). Hyperfocus or flow? Attentional strengths in autism spectrum disorder. Front Psychiatry.

Edgington, M. (1998). Developing a sense of place. 1998, 3-3.

Grandin T.  (2009). How does visual thinking work in the mind of a person with autism? A personal account. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 27;364(1522).

Harrington, G., Farias, D., Davis, C., & Buonocore, M. (2007). Comparison of the neural basis for imagined writing and drawing. Human Brain Mapping, 28.

Harris, F. (2017). The nature of learning at forest school: practitioners’ perspectives. Education 3-13, 45(2), 272–291.

McCurdy, L., Winterbottom, K., Mehta, S., & Roberts, J. (2010). Using nature and outdoor activity to improve children’s health. Current problems in pediatric and adolescent health care, 40 5, 102-17.

Miles, S. and Ainscow, M. (2011) Responding to diversity in schools. London: Routledge.

Ward, C. (1994). Adult Intervention: Appropriate Strategies for Enriching the Quality of Children’s Play. Young Children, 51, 20-25.

Waite, S. (2011). Teaching and learning outside the classroom: personal values,  alternative pedagogies and standards. Education 3-13, 39(1), 65–82.

Woodward, E. (2018). Reconnecting Children with Nature: Biophilic Junior Level Learning Environment Design.