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Taking Education Outdoors: Instructional Programming

Students learning outdoors wearing masks

Teaching and Learning 

Teaching in the outdoors doesn't mean you have to teach about the outdoors. However, there are opportunities to teach about the environment in every subject area. Take a look at the Wisconsin Standards for Environmental Literacy & Sustainability for some ideas. Schools across Wisconsin integrate environmental education across all subject areas from pre-K to high school.

School Story: Indian Community School in Franklin takes a seasonal and cultural approach to their curriculum. Check out all the community stories

Professional Learning

Whether you are an experienced classroom educator new to teaching outdoors or an experienced outdoor educator, there is always more to learn! The list of opportunities below is NOT an exhaustive list for teaching outdoors but highlights resources developed specifically for this time. Stay up to date on events with the environmental education professional development calendar.  Submit your PD opportunities for inclusion on the DPI calendar.

Teaching Resources

Educators, schools, and other organizations are creating resources to support learning outdoors specifically during the pandemic. The resources below are NOT an exhaustive list for teaching outdoors but instead highlight resources developed specifically for this time. If you are looking for additional resources, please visit WISELearn,, or email Victoria Rydberg. If you have a resource that you'd like to share, use this form to submit a resource from your organization.

  • EEK! Environmental Education for Kids website has a Connect, Explore, Engage blog series for students to explore outdoors. 
  • Stevens Point Area School District's Boston School forest has created a Backyard Habitat Series for families to learn about their own backyard and to take steps to improve their backyard for critters in the neighborhood. Teachers can use these activities with e-learners to improve place-based learning for students learning from home. Activities include sensory learning, sit spot, mapping, surveying, creating, and reflecting on an outdoor space.
  • Beth Mittermaier, EarthUnlimited, offers 

    BookTreks nature exploration guides that are designed for parents, teachers, and other educators. Each guide focuses on a different topic (e.g., patterns in nature, rocks, or trees). Starting with books, the guides encourage outdoor exploration through cross-curricular activities. The guides will eventually be part of an exploration kit that will contain items needed to do the activities. They are being offered now to educators as free downloads during this time of uncertainty.

  • The Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education provides guidance for their energy and forestry programs to adapt to physical-distancing and for virtual learning. 

Please note: a classroom-level implementation toolkit is currently under development.  A link will be shared here when it is available. 


School Libraries

The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative offers this for school libraries (used with permission): 

Library programs serve their entire school community, and manage resources that need to be shared by everyone at the school. How can school libraries keep their services available during the COVID-19 pandemic, with physical distancing measures in place to protect school librarians and their students? Many library functions can be moved outdoors. Here are a few initial ideas:

  • Book check out: Set up a no-touch book check out system, where students reserve their chosen library books online (or via email). The school librarian may then be able to assemble the chosen books on a cart that is specific to each class, and bring the cart outside for students to use during their session.

  • Reading areas: Instead of meeting indoors in the existing library, schools can set up outdoor spaces for students to gather to read their books and meet with the librarian in the fresh air. Classes might meet at picnic tables under shade umbrellas, or under the shade of existing trees, sitting on simple, portable seat cushions, benches, or chairs.

The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative is gathering a group of school librarians to work on additional ideas for taking library programs outside. If you would like to join the conversation with fellow librarians, send them an email.

Special Education

Taking learning outdoors needs to be accessible to all students. We are currently developing resources to help schools address this need.

Meanwhile, find ideas for accessibility in "Exploring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts of Wisconsin Environmental Education Centers" from University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point or check out the resources available (including loans of outdoor wheelchairs with a trailer) from Access Ability Wisconsin

Nature Centers as Partners in Education

Wisconsin's nature centers and local naturalists are poised to support outdoor learning at school sites with adults who know how to teach and know how to manage kids outdoors. They also can support virtual learning with resources and by providing families safe spaces for their children to learn.

  1. Nature centers are often equipped with Internet access and classroom space. Schools could partner with these centers to provide community learning hubs for cohorts of students who need this access on days when they are not in the school.
  2. Nature centers often have access to large outdoor spaces. These spaces could be used to support physical distancing or nature study.
  3. Educators at these centers and other state organizations, such as FIELD Edventures or Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education have a depth of experience for teaching outdoors and could serve as facilitators of learning on the school grounds or serve as coaches and supports to classroom educators.
  4. Environmental educators want to teach about the environment and are ready to support classroom educators and families in many different ways—from providing virutal field trips to creating outdoor lessons to providing "independent learning day" options.

Find a nature center near you

For questions about this information, contact Victoria Rydberg (608) 266-0419