Overcoming Challenges and Teaching Outdoors

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.

Overcoming Challenges 

Teachers often face seeming obstacles when planning and facilitating outdoor learning. These include weather, adult-to-child ratios, and timetabling (Salmi et al., 2016). The aforementioned are all challenges I have encountered as a teacher, and through experience, I have come up with solutions to most logistical problems.

As a class teacher, I planned one formal, weekly outdoor learning session into my timetable. This allowed me and my learners to get into a familiar routine and made it easier to arrange parent helpers for trips outside the school grounds.

I have read in various educational research journals that teachers may use weather as an excuse for not engaging in outdoor learning. I have had experiences teaching children in wet conditions and seeing their enthusiasm and interest wain. However, if there’s an established culture and history of outdoor learning present in a school, learners will get used to working in different weather conditions from a young age and, with the appropriate clothing, will accept these conditions and even thrive in them.

When discussing the weather with children, I have also found that if you have a positive reaction to the weather, they will often mirror your behaviour. Negative experiences I have had facilitating learning on wet, cold or hot days have often resulted from a comment or conduct from myself, another teacher or an adult helper rather than from the students. Therefore, speaking to the adults involved in your lesson about the importance of the words they use and how they react to learning situations is essential.


Learners build a den for their stuffed toy.
Modern Attitudes to Risk

The concern that children will be harmed while participating in outdoor learning is often a key consideration for teachers when planning activities (Ross et al., 2014). We live in a risk-conscious era, so teachers’ attitudes towards outdoor learning can often be rooted in their response to risk (Waite, 2010). These attitudes are typically formed early in a teacher’s career, and they’re highly influenced by the countries in which they have worked and trained. As a counterexample, however, in the Netherlands, there is generally a healthier attitude towards risk. An article by the Telegraph newspaper (2017) stated that the Netherlands has some of the happiest children in Europe due, in part, to a culture of allowing children to take risks and play freely (Acosta & Hutchison, 2017).

Class Management Outdoors

Often, teachers who keep the boundaries of the lesson more open (Glackin, 2016) and incorporate time for children to explore and discover during the study find notable success with outdoor learning (Mannion et al., 2013). However, as with classroom learning, children respond well when they clearly understand the expectations.

It can be challenging for children who don’t have experience working outdoors to know how they can get the most from the learning experience and stay safe. This is why I always share my expectations with the children before lessons, and I have different ways to do this, including presentation slides and circle time. However, I have found that the most effective strategies are the ones that give the learners an active role in setting and demonstrating expectations. These days, I like to use different scenario cards where the children must act out or create freeze frames of situations they may encounter when learning outside. I often refer to the Instagram account Good Morning Ms Foster to find creative and effective ways to manage class behaviour that can easily be transferred to outdoor contexts.

It can also be challenging to get learners’ attention when working outdoors. However, I’ve found that using a fun way to get their attention often works well. For example, I use a duck whistle or a wolf howl as an attention grabber.

Additionally, learners often require a clear sense of working boundaries during outdoor lessons (Glatkin, 2016). A few resources I have found particularly useful when marking outdoor working boundaries for children are black and yellow hazard tape and a set of small orange cones, which can be carried in my backpack.


Valuable resources for class management outdoors.
Confidence and Knowledge

Confidence can be an initial barrier to facilitating outdoor learning. Reduced confidence could be due to a lack of knowledge about outdoor learning pedagogical approaches (Christie et al., 2015). As I discussed in my first blog post, you can use your interests and strengths to help build the foundation for your future practice. Humans learn by connecting the past with new experiences (Boud, 1993). Developing a pedagogical approach that suits you will encourage a comfortable and sustainable future use of outdoor learning (van Dijk-Wesselius et al., 2020).


Developing confidence takes time and practice.
Feeling Supported

Collaborating with other teachers to plan outdoor learning can also help build confidence, not to mention the usefulness of sharing resources and ideas. Therefore, working with other enthusiastic colleagues when planning outdoor learning is beneficial. However, it is essential to note that to create an outdoor learning culture within an organisation effectively, the school’s management team must nurture and support their teachers’ energy and enthusiasm (Ross et al., 2014). I have been lucky enough to feel supported by my school organisation and allowed to use my enthusiasm to develop an outdoor learning programme for my learners.

Thank you for reading my post. If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can send me a message through LinkedIn. My next post will discuss how outdoor learning can complement and extend sustainability education.

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Acosta. R., & Hutchison, M. (2017). They raise the world’s happiest children – so is it time you went Dutch? The Telegraph.

Boud, D. (1993). Experience is the base for learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 12(1), 33–44.

Christie, E., Higgins, P., King, B., Collacott, M., Kirk, K., & Smith, H. (2019). From rhetoric to reality: Examining the policy vision and the professional process of enacting Learning for Sustainability in Scottish schools. Scottish Educational Review, 51(1), 44-56.   

Glackin, M. (2016). ‘Risky fun’ or ‘Authentic science’? How teachers’ beliefs influence their practice during a professional development programme on outdoor learning. International Journal of Science Education, 38(3), 409–433. 

Higgins, P., Nicol., R. and Ross, H. (2006). Teachers’ approaches and attitudes to engaging with the natural heritage through the curriculum. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned.

Mannion, G., Fenwick, A., & Lynch, J. (2013). Place-responsive pedagogy: learning from teachers’ experiences of excursions in nature. Environmental Education Research, 19(6), 792–809. 

Salmi, H., Kaasinen, A., & Suomela, L. (2016). Teacher professional development in outdoor and open learning environments: A Research-Based Model. Creative Education, 07(10), 1392–1403. 

van Dijk-Wesselius, J. E., van den Berg, A. E., Maas, J., & Hovinga, D. (2020). Green schoolyards as outdoor learning environments: Barriers and solutions as experienced by primary school teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1–16. 

Waite, S. (2010). Losing our way? The downward path for outdoor learning for children aged 2–11 years. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 10(2), 111–126.