This is the second of two posts with ideas that incorporate outdoor learning into remote lessons, without the need for pupils to leave the house. These ideas are not intended to replace time spent outside, but rather to enhance it and to provide solutions for those who cannot easily get out. They offer a different perspective for pupils, are easily adapted for all ages and learning styles, and help to bring curriculum content to life.
In our last blog post, we talked about the barriers to outdoor learning that pupils and teachers face when learning remotely. You can read it in full here. In our discussions with educators, we learned that it is not possible for many pupils to spend a lot of time outside right now. The current restrictions are partly to blame, but of course each family has a different situation that greatly impacts how much time their children spend outside.
Some households have access to a garden and some don’t. Some adults have more time available to help their children with activities than others. Some pupils live in rural areas and others live in urban areas. The list could go on and on. The point is that in order to engage more pupils in outdoor learning activities, we must think outside the box, or the window.
Indoor bird watching
It’s not a new idea by any means, but bird watching is an excellent way for pupils to connect with the natural world from inside their homes. It’s also an inclusive activity that almost everyone can try, no matter where they live. Bird watching can easily be continued as a part of your school’s outdoor learning when pupils return to in-person learning.
Pupils can take control of setting up their bird watching station at home by choosing their spot, making it comfortable with cushions or a favourite chair, and getting the supplies ready. The set up can be just as fun as looking for the birds, especially for younger children who enjoy creating dens and spy spots.
Older pupils can take a more scientific approach to their set up and might consider the vantage point, the direction their window faces and the best time of day to watch to see certain birds.
Luckily, indoor bird watching requires very little in the way of supplies and anyone can take part. Here’s what pupils will need:
- Notepad and pen
- Binoculars (not necessary, but if pupils have some at home they are a nice addition)
- Drink and snacks, for them, not the birds! Bird watching is usually a slow-paced activity that rewards those who stay for the long haul. Your pupils might like to have a snack, put some music on and get settled in.
- Identification guide. There are lots of free ones that pupils can download online. We like this one from the RSPB for pupils of all ages and the visual below for urban birds from the Wildlife Trust’s ‘Wildlife Watch’ website.
Bird Watching Time
To increase the chances of your indoor bird watchers actually seeing some birds and being able to observe their routines, it is a good idea to try this more than once. Bird watching works well as a daily or weekly activity for pupils, and while it is a strong stand alone activity it is also a great foundation for further learning.
Set a minimum time to indoor bird watch based on the age of the pupils and remind them to get comfy and relax. Encourage pupils to open their window if it’s safe to do so and notice what they hear and feel.
Then, it’s time to document what they see. Here are a few different ideas for that:
- Complete a report or diary entry – note the date, time of day, season, weather, what they see and what the wildlife do, and how it makes them feel
- Sketch what they see and label it
- Take a photo or video of the scene to share with the class
- Verbally record what they see and hear on whatever tech they have available
Practical activities to build on the experience
- Make a bird feeder to hang outside – There are some nice ideas here for younger children from the BBC and a good idea for older pupils from the National Trust here using recycled materials. Hopefully, pupils can hang their feeder outside and close to their indoor bird watching window. Feeders can be hung from the window itself, but can be tricky to make yourself. It is possible to use suction cups to hang a homemade feeder. If pupils do choose to do this, here is a helpful article with tips on how to hang them properly.
- Make bird food – Have a look at these recipes from the RSPB. The creations are the perfect filler for any homemade feeders your pupils made and can be easily modified.
- Create a window feature to help birds avoid windows – Pupils can make a simple cut-out to prevent birds from having any accidents. Here is a lovely step-by-step guide from The Wildlife Trusts.
- Practice bird calls – It feels good to be able to identify a bird by its call. Pupils can search for bird calls online and then try to imitate the sound. Perhaps, they could share it with their class and turn it into a guessing game where each pupil chooses a different bird to study. There are a few good apps and web resources out there to identify common bird sounds, including this one from The Woodland Trust.
- Make binoculars – This is best suited for early years and primary school pupils. Using items they find around the house, ask pupils to design and make their own set of binoculars. Cardboard tubes, elastic bands and felt tips will work a charm!
Outdoor Learning Support
We know that teachers are incredibly creative and are doing fantastic work, both in school and online. As we continue to see reports that many pupils are struggling to engage with remote learning, such as this one from June, we believe it is important to continue to share outdoor learning based ideas to support educators. Please let us know in the comments if you have suggestions to add to this article or for future posts.