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Outdoor Learning

Occupants vary

Outdoor Learning spaces support learning activities which include but are not limited to environmental education, authentic learning, exploration of senses, hands-on learning, gardening, fitness activities, and using the building as a learning tool. With the right environment, almost any learning activity that takes place indoors can take place outdoors.  These outdoor areas should be designed to promote engagement, exploration, and discovery.


Kinesthetic learning 
Play based learning

Inquiry-Based learning

Design Thinking

Relaxing and reflecting 
Socializing and dining


Outdoor Learning

Extends the footprint of the studios and labs outside to support deeper Project-Based Learning and to encourage self-directed inquiry with movement and being in nature.



Daily Use

Provide Outdoor Learning spaces with universal access from the Small Learning Communities, Café, and Media Resources.

Shared Ownership

Ownership of Outdoor Learning spaces should be shared both by the Learning Studios surrounding it as well as with other groups, such as after school programs or studios lacking outdoor learning.



Please see the technology section under Best Practices for a list of items to use as the start of discussion in the programming phase. 


Access to technology tools and physical learning tools (metrics on the building, sun dial, garden, wildlife pond, etc.) and work tables. Wireless network access, power, seating for 30 (benches, limestone blocks, concrete seat walls, and potential amphitheater), shading device (trees, canopy, shade structure, adjacent buildings, etc.), access to outdoor sink for clean-up, drinking fountain/bottle filler and outdoor lighting for evening community events.


Locate directly adjacent to classrooms for space to serve as break-out space, with a direct connection to the indoor classroom activities including art and science projects, reading, and small group discussion.


Mitigate noise transfer to adjacent spaces and classrooms through screening and buffer planting.

Early Childhood

Detailed information on quality outdoor classrooms Pre-K, TK, and kindergarten 
can be found at, compiled by Eric Nelson. These design criteria are summarized below:

  • Play yards should always be adjacent to the classrooms of the children they are serving, with sightlines between the two to facilitate supervision.

  • Play yards should always be large enough to contain the full variety of activities children require for healthy development of the whole child.  For Pre-K, TK, and K programs, the play yard should be sized at 80-90 sf/child, rather than the code minimum of 75 sf/child.

  • Open space should be large enough for children to run freely, with activity areas placed around the perimeter.

  • Yard layouts need to separate those different types of children’s activities that might conflict with one another where they overlap in order to avoid safety risks and supervision challenges.

  • A wide variety of materials/equipment is needed, with emphasis on items the children can manipulate.

  • There must be adequate outdoor storage to support the full variety of activities children require for healthy development outdoors.

  • Play yards should provide challenge sufficient to support development of the whole child; challenge is defined as ‘reasonable risk’.

  • Nature and a natural environment should be the dominant environment outdoors.

  • The play yards should be designed to support the free and engaged participation of active children.

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