The Essential Elements of an Outdoor Classroom - All Inclusive Rec
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Four elementary school students run out of the school to an outdoor classroom

The Essential Elements of an Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor classrooms have become very popular, and it is not hard to understand why. Regardless of age or grade, students and instructors gain many benefits from taking the classroom outdoors that include improved health, increased creativity, decreased stress, improved retention and environmental awareness. And in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are also embracing outdoor learning as a natural way to practice social distancing and enjoy the fresh air.

There is so much to learn and explore in the great outdoors! There are five key elements to an outdoor classroom, which we will explore below. This includes:

  1. Location and Size
  2. Shade
  3. Seating/Tables
  4. Flooring
  5. Classroom Tools

If your school or facility is planning to create an outdoor classroom, you do not need a huge budget in order to make a big impact. All Inclusive Rec can help you factor in comfort, safety and functionality, in order to maximize learning opportunities.

5 Things You Need to Create an Outdoor Classroom

1. Location

Not just ANY location can be used for an outdoor classroom. First, there needs to be enough room for a class to gather comfortably. This area will ideally have some natural separation from noisy distractions, including a busy road or the recess playground.

Schools and other public facilities must also keep accessibility in mind for learning areas created outside of the traditional classroom. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes important guidelines, such as allowing for a minimum 5-foot clearance on walkways and behind seats. This is the amount of space required to safely accommodate wheelchairs and other assistive devices.

If you need help navigating the ADA and other accessibility guidelines, we can assist you and share our experience in inclusive design.

2. Shade

Sun protection is a MUST if you are planning to spend more time outdoors. Teachers and students need shelter from the sun for safety and comfort. A permanent or semi-permanent shade structure can be enjoyed for all kinds of activities: from reading and gardening to lunch, recess and more.

There are several different ways to add shade to your class area:

  • Natural shade from a building structure or trees.
  • Fabric shades which are cost effective and offer up to 98% UV protection.
  • Pergolas create a semi-shaded area which is ideal for a school or community garden.
  • Pavilions and shelters offer year-round protection from the elements.

Remember: You need sun protection in your seating and learning areas. Make sure not to position chalk or dry erase boards in such a way that students will be staring into the sunlight!

Read more about the benefits of adding a shade structure to your outdoor area.

3. Seating/Tables

Your outdoor classroom is not complete without a place to sit. Seating can also be used to help with social distancing by showing students how to spread out.

Throughout the pandemic, many facilities used creative solutions to adapt quickly to new challenges. Some facilities used donated trunks from local tree trimming companies as seats — and while this budget-friendly solution might work in a pinch, there is no denying the lack of support for the neck and back areas which could quickly become a problem.

We offer a variety of tables and benches to help create your ideal classroom environment. For accessible learning, consider a square table with three seats and one open side, with room for a wheelchair to roll up. You can also choose single seats to set up in a custom arrangement.

4. Flooring

Most of the time, the best flooring is the kind you do not notice. If you bring a group of young students on rocky ground or try to sit on the grass after a heavy rain, you are likely to have problems. This is why choosing the right flooring should not be overlooked.

  • DO: Pour a concrete slab or use an existing asphalt area. If budget allows, you may also consider other stable and unitary surfacing, such as rubber or artificial turf.
  • DO NOT: Set up your classroom in the grass. Heavily trafficked areas will destroy the grass and can quickly turn into a mud pit. You should also avoid using mulch and avoid areas with uneven terrain.

Take a look at different types of outdoor flooring to find the best candidates for your project.

5. Classroom Tools

Site furnishings can help take your outside class area from ordinary to extraordinary! Add bright pops of color and functional classroom tools to help create a fun and welcoming new area for people of all ages to enjoy.

Complete your learning area with:

  • Instructional boards from Elephant Play, including the Simple Drawing Board and Double Drawing Board.
  • Planters for your class flower or vegetable garden.
  • Hand sanitizing stations to help stop the spread of germs.
  • Basket trucks which help transport supplies from inside.

Read more about how to use site furnishings to transform your outdoor space.

Create the Perfect Outdoor Classroom with All Inclusive Rec

An outdoor classroom is a worthy investment with many health and educational benefits, but how do you create an outdoor classroom? Where do you start? At All Inclusive Rec, we are passionate about helping people find creative solutions to enjoy spending more time outside. We believe nature helps kids build strong minds and encourages healthy habits. And if your school or childcare facility is looking to embrace outdoor learning, we would be thrilled to help you create a solution to meet your needs and your budget.

All Inclusive Rec has local representatives in three Midwestern states: Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. Contact us today to discuss your project goals. Submit a contact form on our website or give us a call at: (573) 701-9787.

To view photos from our projects and installations, take a look at our Project Inspiration gallery.