Outdoor Classrooms, Labs & Habitats

Studies have shown that integrating the curricula with hands-on learning opportunities creates top-performing students.  Outdoor classrooms and living laboratories are the perfect forum to provide teaching and learning opportunities across many academic disciplines.  From the simplest outdoor seating structure to multi-faceted schoolyard habitats, gardens, restoration areas, outdoor labs, weather stations and more, there are endless possibilities to create (and keep creating!) outdoor settings that are functional for teachers and engaging for students. 

Tip: Be sure to also visit our National & State Green School Programs page to learn more about local and national Green School programs and resources to help you to continue to improve the health and sustainability of your school indoors and out!

Before You Start

Form an Action Team

Overview: Project Planning Basics

Why Naturalize Outdoor Learning Environments?

Time Out: Using the Outdoors to Enhance Classroom Performance

Outdoor Classroom Users Guide (Boston Schoolyard Initiative)

Nature Play & Learning in Early Childhood: Tips & Resources

Design and Preparation

Conduct a School-Wide Healthy Living Audit

Conduct a Schoolyard Habitat Audit

Conduct a School Grounds Site Assessment

Consider Design Options:

  • Schoolyard Design Guide (Boston Schoolyard Initiative)
  • Outdoor Classroom Design Guide (Boston Schoolyard Initiative)
  • Planning, Constructing & Using School Courtyards*
  • Affordable Settings & Elements: Cost Effective Ideas
  • Top 10 Activity Settings: Natural Learning Initiative
  • Create Outdoor Labs: Wildlife Habitat Projects
  • Plants in the Schoolyard
  • Install Features for Observation & Discovery
  • Pinterest: Search for Creative & Easy Outdoor Classroom Ideas
  • Also See: Resources Section (products, project photos, etc.)

    Project Design & Preparation Basics


    Create a Healthy Living Action Plan Sample Action Plan

    Create a Healthy Living Action Plan Blank Action Plan

    Create a Schoolyard Habitat Action Plan (K-5) Sample Action Plan

    Create a Schoolyard Habitat Action Plan (K-5) Blank Action Plan

    Create a Schoolyard Habitat Action Plan (6-12) Sample Action Plan

    Create a Schoolyard Habitat Action Plan (6-12) Blank Action Plan

    Project Implementation Basics


    The Green Desk: Dynamic Question & Answer Resource


    Project Maintenance Basics

    Using Your Project

    Overview: Using Your Project

    Acorn Naturalists: Science, STEM & Environmental Education Supplies

    Fostering Outdoor Observation Skills-Citizen Science K-8 (AFWA)

    Eco School Sustainability Pathways Lessons & Resources

    Eco School National Standards & Curriculum Alignment

    Project Learning Tree Curriculum Offerings

    Eco Schools Green STEM Initiative

    Sharing Your Project

    Overview: Sharing Your Project

    Schoolyard Infographics: Children & Nature Network

    Resource Center

    Project Resource Library: Learn More!
    Nature Explore
    Nature Explore: Learning with Nature Resources
    Natural Learning Initiative
    AHS National Children and Youth Garden Symposium
    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Schoolyard Habitat Guide
    Eco Schools USA
    National & State Green School Programs
    EPA Learning & Teaching About the Environment (awards, resources, more)

    *Digitally accessible version for disabled users available from MSDE Facilities