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Friday, 13 May 2016

Summer Countdown Blog Hop

Teaching in a self-contained classroom, I use recess time with my students to teach them how to play games and sports and interact with peers.  This is a natural time of the day for them to engage in these activities and it is the time of the day when we have access to neurotypical peers.  But towards the end of the year, my students want to stay outside longer and with this beautiful weather, who can blame them? So to avoid wasting time dealing with behaviours, we spend more instructional time outside.

1.  Sidewalk Chalk

I love using sidewalk chalk outside with my students!  It's cheap, easy and quick to make learning materials to use when teaching skills outside.  The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ways we use sidewalk chalk during outdoor lessons.  

We love playing "Hop On" games using colours, shapes, letters, numbers and words.  These games are simple and fun!  Simply draw a bunch of your targets (shapes, letters, etc.) and tell the student to "Hop on ..."  This is a great way to target receptive identification.

We also love to play different math games using stones, leaves, or pinecones we find in the yard and chalk.  Staff draw ten frames, number lines or math mats (circles or squares) with the sidewalk chalk and the students work on counting by placing the correct number of counters (stones, etc.) on their ten frame, number line, or math mat. 

I should mention that at my school, we have a fenced in area on the asphalt that we use for these activities so that it is easier to keep the students focused and safe.  I do have a couple of runners and our school yard is huge!!!

2.  Scavenger Hunts

There are several ways to have scavenger hunts with your students.  The most traditional ones involve students having to find a variety of items in nature from a list.  I use these with my students to work on matching picture to object, expressive vocabulary; "I see a ...", "I found a...", etc. and counting; "Find two leaves.", "Find three stones.", etc.  We have also used nature scavenger hunts to work on generalizing colour identification by having the students find a nature item in a specific colour.  For example, when instructed to find something green, they might find a leaf, or grass.   When using nature scavenger hunts with my students, I find it helpful to have them put the items they find in a paper bag, or take a photo of it with an iPod and check it off of their list.  This way, we can review and discuss what they found again in the classroom.

We also have scavenger hunts by hanging colour, shape, letter, number or word flashcards on the fence.  Students have a list of items and go around the yard looking for the flashcards and then scratching them off of their list.  We mix  this activity up for lower level students by giving them flashcards or manipulatives to match to the flashcards on the fence.

3.  Centers

It's fun and easy to re-create your center time outside!  This works especially well if you use a system where students rotate through the centers.  When I run centers outdoors, I usually only do this with literacy centers.  This is simply because I find it much more portable and easy to do.  When we do this, we run it the same way as in the classroom with 3 different centres that incorporate components of the Daily Five.   So, we will usually have a Listen to Reading Center, where myself or an EA reads a book to the students.  A Writing center where students use sidewalk chalk to practice writing letters, words, or sentences.  And a Word Work center, where students use large foam or magnet letters to spell words, match letters or copy words that the person running this center has written out in sidewalk chalk.

When running centres outside, we use the same visuals with as we do inside.  Each student has their center rotation card, and they receive a clothespin after they complete each center.  Once all three centers have been completed, they receive their reinforcer.

4. Gross Motor Skills

Usually, my students work on gross motor skills during recess or Phys. Ed. class. But, when the warmer weather arrives, we like to work on gross motor skills outdoors.  To keep the students organized, we set up a circuit of gross motor skills for them to complete.  We set up the gross motor circuit in the same way we set up centers, with each station in the circuit containing a different activity.  When we run gross motor circuits, however, we have 5 different stations, instead of 3 as in literacy.

We switch up the stations each time, but usually we work on throwing and catching balls, throwing into a target, kicking balls, riding a bike, stretching, and cardio (jumping jacks, etc.).  If it's really hot outside, we will use water balloons or those splash balls to practice throwing and catching.  As with our literacy centers, each student has a schedule of the circuits and when they are finished all five stations, they receive a reinforcer.

5.  Community and Safety Skills

Unfortunately, I don't have a budget for transportation for community outings and staff aren't allowed to transport students due to the liability insurance.  So, we have to rely on the warmer weather to go on community outings.  Fortunately, there is a park, convienence store, ice cream shop and restaurant within walking distance of our school.  These all provide great opportunities to work on community and safety skills.

While walking to the above mentioned destinations, we work on walking while holding hands with an adult, learning to cross the street safely and staying on the sidewalk.  Students also learn how to read and identify different road signs.  At the park, we work on staying within boundaries as indicated by adults, learning how to swing independently, climbing the jungle gym and stairs and how to be safe on the slide.

At the store, restaurant and ice cream shop, students learn how to read menus and order items they want (expressive language), and pay for what they ordered (money skills).  They also learn how to behave in these places; waiting in line, using manners, and speaking quietly.  Visiting these locations is also great for generalizing skills, such as remaining seated when eating, using utensils and napkins and using different washrooms.

A Few Notes...

I think it is important to note that when teaching any of these skills outside, we take into account the safety of our students and make any necessary accommodations we need.  I have two students who are high flight and safety risks and therefore, we plan ahead when teaching outside.  For the one student, that means that he sits in a wagon with a seatbelt when we go on scavenger hunts in the big yard or on community outings.   The other one rides her adaptive bike, which also has a seat and chest belt. 

To ensure all the students' safety and to ensure that they are organized and focused for lessons, we bring the structure and organization that we use in the classroom, outside.   That means, we use mini visual schedules, working for boards, first/then boards, timers and reinforcement.  The students need the same level of structure outside, just as they need inside.  Often times, this is forgotten and that is why the students struggle during outdoor recesses or Phys. Ed. classes.

I wanted to end this post with a freebie for you to use during your outdoor lessons and was hoping to make a scavenger hunt list or outdoor schedule and choice board, but this week was rough and I ran out of time and energy.  So, instead, I have a summer themed interactive book that you can use inside or out with your students during literacy centers.  I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear how you take learning outside with your students!  Leave me a comment below!   And don't forget to click below to hop to the next blog!

Until next time,


  1. I love taking the classroom outside. It's a great way to keep kids motivated at the end of the year!

  2. Great ideas! I love spending time outside with my students! Unfortunately though this time of year our temps here in the desert tend to keep us inside!

  3. I love taking the students outside this time of year! Great ideas for keeping students motivated this time of year!

  4. I love the idea of taking the class outside! It's always nice to get some fresh air!

    Classroom Action with Ms. Jackson


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