Outdoor Classroom Day

Did you know there is an international day to celebrate taking day care, pre school and school kids outside to learn? Outdoor Classroom Day is on September 7th every year, and this year Bunduluk Bush Playgroup took its activities to a local preschool to celebrate. As the activities were inside the school playground, many can be adapted for your playgroup outdoor areas!

Outdoor Classroom Day started in the UK as Empty Classroom day in 2011, and has now grown to 2 million children internationally. The concept was to empty the classrooms, and take kids outside to learn. As a bush playgroup, we do all our activities in the bush, rain hail or shine so it was interesting to visit a preschool on a cold windy Canberra day and convince the teachers to take the kids outside. However once we got both the teachers and students (and a couple of parents) outside, everyone got into the spirit of the day. 
The three activities that we did could be easily done in any outdoor space around a playgroup venue, or if you don’t have access to an outdoor area you could always bring some of the craft inside to bring some nature play into your hall.
When collecting materials for Nature play be mindful of where you take the items. Nature reserves and National parks and beaches are protected so best to stick to parks, street trees and backyards. Being the bush capital ask parents to scout around in their backyards, you might have someone with a Sheoak or Banksia tree, which will be dropping seeds that might have ended at the tip! (I received all of my materials from a friend’s garden makeover.)

Activity 1:
Sand Treasure Hunt and Play dough Printing:

  • natural coloured playdough (e.g with no food dye)
  • Sandpit
  • Bags or containers to collect items
  • Seed pods, rocks, small sticks about 6-7 items per kid. 
  • Big tray to put playdough in to sit around, or a flat surface to roll out on (footpath)

The idea for this came from Mighty Movers CBR with some adaptations. (Check out fb.me/MightyMoversCBR for more inspiration.) First hide some stones, seed pods (big seeds work best) sheoaks, banksia seeds, small sticks etc into a sandpit. We hid painted stones that we had used for an Easter themed hunt.

Give each child a bag to collect in. (We have homemade Joey pouches that we use each session but you could use plastic containers as well.)

Tell a story about an Australian animal who is a bit cheeky and likes to hide treasures for children to find. Choose one with a pouch. (Kangaroo or if you want to introduce a new animal a Bettong. Google Bettong Buddies, it’s a local programme about Bettongs found near Gungahlin.) You can ham it up. This only works if your own child didn’t see you hide them during playgroup prep. (Whoops!)

After they have filled their bags and containers with treasures they can come back to the picnic mat where you have rolled out natural coloured playdough.
Show them how to do imprints in the playdough with the seedpods and rocks and make patterns.
Or as the students did at Outdoor Classroom Day make some creatures with the nature items and playdough. We had banksia seeds turned into Snowmen, fairy gardens with sticks, elephants…be creative.

If you don’t have a sandpit, then hide the treasures around your play equipment or hall and follow the rest of the activity from there.

Activity 2:
Bark Dot Painting:

Materials needed – Bark (paperbark works well), sticks with smooth ends (you can saw them off or snap cleanly, small is better), paint (we used reds, yellows, brown and whites but any colour would do.)

Our second activity for Outdoor Classroom Day was dot painting on bark. Set up the bark and the pots of paint and sticks and let the kids create! A lovely book to go with the activity is “Ernie dances to the Didgeridoo” by Alison Lester as there are references to collecting bark for painting.

Activity 3:
Charcoal drawing.

Equipment needed: Charcoal leftover from a campfire, bits of cardboard cut into A4 sizes, bulldog clips, A4 paper.

Our last activity was drawing with charcoal left from a campfire. And the bonus is you get to have a backyard campfire with your family and toast marshmallows to prepare the charcoal for playgroup! 
You can make cheap clipboards by clipping paper onto A4 cardboard with bulldog clips and then they can draw without the need for a table.
Give the children a piece of charcoal and see what they can create.

It was so much fun taking what we do at Bush Playgroup into a formal pre school setting and the teachers and students loved it.  And after we left (naptime was calling) the kids apparently stayed outside for the rest of the day, returning again and again to the playdough station to make more creatures, or to add to their bark paintings and drawings.

If you are interested in starting your own outside playgroup, stay tuned to ACT Playgroups for more information on how to start one up.


An initiative provided by