It Not "Just Recess" Anymore!

Teachers often heave a sigh of relief when they take their students out to recess. Finally! The children can burn off the pent up energy they had been accruing for the past few hours indoors. But what if we change our outlook on outdoor play time? What if we create an outdoor environment that offered all of the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors? What if children could run out to a well-planned play yard to find experiences in math, science, nature, dramatic play, water, building and construction, sensory activities, physical development, art and music? What if they play yard developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills? The result would be that we wouldn't have "just recess" anymore. We would have The Outdoor Classroom!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fun, Fun, Fun in the Outdoor Classroom!

Oh my, it seems like forever since I last sat down to write a post! Halloween, colds, coughs, birthdays,! Yikes! It all seems to get in the way of blogging!!! So, rather than focus on one great activity, I will give a grand "tour" of what has been going on in our outdoor classroom over the past few weeks. In a nutshell, I have been trying put a more natural emphasis into our "big yard."

As part of this endeavor, we added numerous natural items (pinecones, stones, hay, etc) to the playhouse in our sandbox and dubbed it "The Muddy Kitchen." 

We made an outdoor "oven" using wooden bridges and sanded tree cookies. 

The tree cookies were left over from the tree cookie flooring that we installed this summer and they have made an excellent addition to our collection of loose parts! 

We placed most of the cookies in the yard for free exploration. However, I saved a few of the rough ones and let the children sand them. Though they didn't spend a ton of time at this center, many of the children did enjoy the experience of smoothing down the wood and they commented on the textures and how the sandpaper affected the wood.

Unfortunately, the wall that held the flooring started to fall this past week, so we counteracted by adding a row of large logs along the barrier. It turned out beautifully and has added to the natural feeling of the yard. It has also created a wonderful balance beam for the children to walk across!

I was so pleased with the way these logs turned out! The best part? We picked them up at a firewood stand for about $40.00 and the guys threw in a few tree stumps for free! We finished this project on a "Parent Work Day" and while installing the logs, one of the dads volunteered a bunch more logs to put in our up-and-coming "woodsy" area! Yippee!

Of course, a bit of whimsy is always fun outside, so we added some sheer fabric to the play structure. I was so curious to see how the children would use the fabric! The little ones loved running through it and watching it flutter back into place. The older kids were more interested in taking it down and tying it up to make their own special creations.

We only had a few pieces, but they added a lovely touch of color to the yard. Thankfully, Los Angeles has an entire fabric district, so needless to say, I will be heading there soon to pick up some more splashes of colorful fabric!

I loved the whimsy of the fabric, so we carried the fabric theme a bit further and added muslin triangles to the easel. We set out cups of liquid water colors with the fabric for the children to paint. The effect was color flags that we hung along the canopy of our sandbox!

We started with water color palets, but discovered that Liquid Watercolors were much brighter.

One of the other favorite activities this past week was Pumpkin Hammering. We offered small hammers and golf tees and the children pounded the tees into the pumpkins. They had such fun! Unfortunately, we are nearly out of pumpkins, so we will be pounding styrofoam next week in lieu of pumpkins!


On the patio, I have been introducing the children to famous artists and their art forms. Believe it or not, it all started with an art-based fundraiser we were doing (Original Works)! 

The pre-k teacher decided to make "splatter paintings" similar to the work of Jackson Pollock. Doesn't this just look like a blast??? To be honest, I made one myself and it was FUN!

The children enjoyed studying the artist so much that I decided to introduce a few more artists. We started with Piet Mondrian's "straight line design" concept. 

Using black electrical tape that I picked up at the dollar store, the children taped various shapes and colored in the blocks. They came to this table EVERY DAY to work! 

This week, we added the works of Joseph Stella, an artist who also worked with lines and designs. 

If you have any ideas, comments, added insights or thoughts about the ideas you see here, please feel free to add them to the comment box! We spend a lot of time planning for our Outdoor Classroom and I love to have new and fresh ideas to implement in our yard!

Thanks for reading!


  1. So many great pix to inspire ECE folks. Thanks!

  2. Thank you! It was too hard to decide which photos to use, so I posted them all! ;-)