What is an Open-Air Classroom?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An open-air classroom is a classroom which is located outside, allowing students to come into contact with nature as they learn. Many open-air classrooms are designed for hands-on activities, although potentially any subject could be taught in an open-air classroom. There are a variety of advantages to teaching in an open-air classroom, not least of which is the fact that you can take an open-air classroom anywhere, which can be extremely useful in the developing world.

Open-air classrooms allow students to enjoy nature as they learn.
Open-air classrooms allow students to enjoy nature as they learn.

In the classic sense, an open-air classroom is a classroom where students engage in hands-on learning related to nature topics. For example, an organic gardening class might be held in a garden, allowing students to grow plants while they talk about gardening issues and organic culture in general. Open air classrooms can also be used to teach students about various biomes, and to encourage direct interaction with the environment.

However, an open-air classroom can also be used for more abstract subjects. For example, students could be seated in a garden while they talk about a variety of topics, from philosophy to the history of herbal medicine. Many people find that open-air learning is beneficial, allowing students to learn in a pleasant, healthy environment, and an open-air classroom can encourage enthusiasm about learning and going to school. Many students also learn better with a supply of fresh, healthy air, although sometimes the outdoor environment can be distracting.

In the developing world, many classes are taught in open-air classrooms, often because a community lacks a designated school. The outdoor environment is also sometimes more pleasant than an indoor location, allowing students to take advantage of shade while they stretch out and get a chance to breathe fresh air. The space of an open-air classroom also allows students to engage in a variety of activities without worrying about space constraints, creating a more fluid and dynamic educational environment.

On occasion, teachers in traditional schools may choose to take their students outside for a day in an outdoor classroom. In schools which have appropriate spaces, these days can be great treats for students, giving them a chance to get outside the confining and familiar environment of the classroom to absorb new material which may be more interesting since it is taught and discussed outside. Many workshops and retreats with a natural or holistic focus also offer open-air learning to students of all ages.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - It might be OK, but it's still not ideal. An open-air classroom might seem like just a romantic view of classroom strategy, but it's actually very good for children to be able to learn in different environments occasionally. It's stimulating for them to see new things. It might be a little bit distracting at first, but, honestly, that can actually be a good thing. The minor distractions of leaves blowing in the wind are not going to take away from their ability to learn nearly as much as the complete boredom of a completely regimented room.

Ideally, children should have the room and permission to fidget as much as they like (without disturbing others). And on top of that, as it says in the article, it's often cheaper to arrange open-air classrooms, which can be an advantage in many places.


@pleonasm - You were lucky to have a school where that was even possible. I've definitely seen schools where there simply wouldn't have been anywhere for a class to go if they wanted to learn outside, because there wasn't any natural surroundings nearby.

I think an effective classroom is probably going to have various things inside it that come from the outside, like fish and plants and various rocks and shells and things.

But it's not always going to be possible, particularly for inner-city schools, for the kids to get into the outdoors regularly. And that's OK.


I remember one class in particular when I was a kid, our teacher made sure to try and teach outside at least once a week (if the weather was suitable). It was usually considered to be our "treat" to be able to go outside and learn math or whatever else, although I think she usually used it as a science lesson.

Of course, we also went outside for P.E. and sports and so forth, but there seemed to be something special about having an open-air classroom for a more ordinary subject.

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