Does Learning Have to Stop Just Because it is Summer?

When school is out, learning does not  stop. We often think that the “school year” ends in June and begins in September. We forget that summer is filled with many new adventures and experiences. These opportunities equal lots of learning.

When I worked in child care, summer was my favorite time of year. One reason was, I didn’t have to worry about before and after school pickups. Another reason was because it was a time the children could be outside exploring the outdoor classroom.

There were days that we seldom stepped foot in the building. However, it didn’t mean that children just ran outside all day. Proper planning made sure children had wonderful learning experiences.

Outdoor Summer Time Means Educational Exploration

Think about each part of a child’s day, besides nap and bathroom routines. There is not one thing you couldn’t do outside. For example, large groups can take place under a big tree or on a walk. I remember many conversations talking about the plants around our building. We asked what plants needed to grow and why some were doing better than others. Additionally, we also talked about all the pieces and parts of a plant.

Centers were set up outside on blankets or beach towels. Dramatic play always had something to do with outside. One theme was bird watching and the children wore vests with magnifying glasses and binoculars. They also had books to identify birds. Can you imagine the conversations between the teacher and the children as she lead them to talk about birds? She could point out similarities and differences.

Science was endless because you did not have to worry about a mess. Many days a snack table was set up outside and on some occasions, lunch would be outside. The fact is, children learned more during these months. What a child saw, felt, and heard outside allowed for rich conversation.

Ways to Prepare for Outdoor Summer Learning

Outside is not at all perfect. First, you have to watch the heat index, bugs, and possibility of sunburn. Secondly, you should always have water available, have parents bring sunscreen. And finally, spray your play area before the season gets started to help with those unwanted critters.

Safety Tips for Outdoor Classrooms

  • Spray your play area ahead of the season with child friendly bug repellent.
  • Make sure you watch for signs of dehydration or heat stroke. Red faces, sweating, and vomiting are all indicators. Notify 911 immediately and contact parents. Make sure all of your staff have had first aid and CPR.
  • Set up a water station that children can get water as needed. In the family setting, I had parents bring water bottles for the children. I kept the water in a cooler each day and took it outside for easy access. Children loved having their own water bottle and it gave them some independence.
  • On days that are too hot to go on the playground, try a 15 minute story under a tree. You can also go for a nature walk to collect items for your nature center.
  • Have parents bring a beach towel. Children will take it home to wash on Friday. Use this for children to sit on when in a group time or for a private play space outside.

Outdoor Dramatic Play Ideas

  • Bird Watching- described above
  • Day at the beach- umbrellas, sand castle materials, water, different kinds of seashells (use your sandbox) Talk about the size of the shells, color, and texture.
  • Picnic – picnic supplies, pretend foods from other cultures. Talk about other cultures.
  • Travel agent – brochures from other countries or destinations, maps, use boxes for boats, planes, trains, or cars. Talk about transportation, other countries, etc.
  • Gone Fishing – rods with pretend fish, boxes for boats, tackle box. Talk about fish, how they travel in groups, colors, size, etc.
  • Be creative! There are so many more ideas and so many more opportunities for conversations between the teacher and the children.
  • Picnic outside for snack or lunch.
  • Blocks are great outside! Children can add sticks and stones to their building design.
  • Art- use sticks and leaves to paint instead of brushes.

The outdoor classroom is endless. Please share your ideas with us!

Janet Burke is the Director of Child Development Services at ChildSavers, a nonprofit organization that believes that all children can be safe, happy, healthy and ready to learn.  She manages six core programs that support this belief; Child Care Aware of Central Virginia, Child Development Training, Child Development Associate Certificate Program, Virginia Quality Central Region, Voluntary Registration for the Central Region and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. 

Janet joined ChildSavers in 1992 where she has worked as a trainer, supervisor, coordinator, program manager and director.  She has been a Master Rater and Master Trainer for Virginia’s Quality and Rating Improvement System since 2007 where she was trained in the first cohort of trainers.  Along with 36 years of experience of working in early care and with early care professionals, she has a Certificate in Early Childhood and a Certificate in Supervisory and Leadership and has taken many other child development and business classes over the years. This includes being trained by the authors for CLASS, Environmental Rating Scale, Here, Now and Down the Road, MyTeachingPartner and DECA.  She holds current certifications as a CLASS Observer, CLASS Trainer, and Environmental Rating Scale. Janet is an alumnus of the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders in Richmond.     

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top