5 Legitimate Reasons to Take Your Students Outside

This time of year, I often have PE teacher envy.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to coach softball, or problem-solve a soccer rotation… I just want to be outside all day like they are! But PE teachers shouldn’t be the only ones who get to enjoy the beautiful spring weather. There are a wide variety of legitimate reasons your art class could be better served by meeting outside.

A literal change of scenery can be very inspiring, so why not move your art class outdoors?

Here are five ideas for outdoor art activities to help you and your students survive the last weeks of school.

1. Color Match Challenge Game

  1. Divide your class into several teams and give each team an empty egg carton.
  2. Instruct them to fill six slots in the carton with natural items of six different colors.
  3. Then, have the teams exchange cartons.
  4. The goal of the game is to find six totally new items most closely matching the colors of the original.

color matching

2. Elements and Principles Photo Scavenger Hunt

  1. Borrow iPads, digital cameras, or let students use their own devices (depending on your school policy).
  2. Break the class into groups or allow them to work individually, depending on how many “camera ready” devices you have access to.
  3. Review the elements and principles you have covered in class. You could even provide a handout or checklist to focus their efforts.
  4. Give the kids a predetermined amount of time to take photographs illustrating each element or principle.

When finished, print the photos to create an interesting end of the year display to keep the hallways looking great all summer long!

3. Chalk Drawing Challenges

  1. Share artwork by experienced chalk artists, such as Julian Beever. His works appear to be 3-D when viewed through a camera or phone. His website, http://www.julianbeever.net, is a wonderful resource!
  2. Challenge students to use value and shading to create a chalk object that looks three dimensional on the school pavement.
  3. Facilitate a discussion (while you are outdoors, of course!) about site specific or public artwork. Explore the idea of chalk art vs. graffiti.

chalk challenge

4. Textural Scavenger Hunt

  1. Provide each student with a handout listing many different textures.
  2. Ask them to explore their environment to find the listed textures. Have them draw an example of each type they find from observation.

Note: This activity can be adapted for your youngest artists by letting them make a crayon rubbing of various textures, rather than drawing them.

5. Traditional Outdoor Drawing with a Twist

  1. Give each student a hard surface (clipboard, book, or piece of cardboard), paper, and drawing pencils.
  2. Ask them to sketch a landscape from observation, then add a “twist.”

Here are a couple of exciting “twist” possibilities…

  • Transform the sky to show a different time of day, á la Renee Magritte.
  • Insert a fantasy element into the realistic landscape. For example, a student might draw Godzilla descending on the school yard.
  • Make one portion of the drawing into an “x-ray view.” For example, a student could show ants living inside a flower, complete with their media room and Jacuzzi.
  • Convert the drawing to show alternative extreme weather like a tornado or a snowstorm.

No matter which outdoor activity you pick, there are a few things you should consider to ensure success…

  • Review classroom rules and expectations that will still apply in a new setting before heading outdoors.
  • Plainly define the area students can explore, giving clear physical boundaries so students know where they can be.
  • Ideally, choose a location on school grounds that includes both grass and pavement. This way, students with allergies have an easy option when choosing a place to sit.
  • Let your front office know where your class will be working. If they need you or a student, they will be able to find you!

things to take with you

  • Even though you are still on school grounds, take your cell phone in your pocket, so you can call the front office in an emergency. Remember, when you are outdoors, you can’t just press the intercom button!
  • If you plan to repeat your activity with multiple classes, bring sunscreen for yourself so you don’t get a burn over an extended period of time!

In the French Impressionist tradition of plein air painting, consider abandoning your classroom during the final days of school in exchange for an outdoor art experience. This unexpected change of scenery will motivate both you and your students to end the year in a creative and productive way!

What outdoor art activities have you tried?

What other ideas do you use to motivate your students during the final weeks of school?

Lindsey Moss

Lindsey Moss is an elementary art teacher in Yorkville, Illinois. She enjoys art history and finding creative and artistic solutions to educational challenges.


  • Mr. Post
    • Lindsey Moss

      That looks like so much fun!

  • Rebecca Mazzella

    Students really do like to go outside, but I would be careful … sunscreen is not enough. They need “Sunglasses”. This will be my sister’s 3rd cancer surgery (not including reconstruction) on skill around the eye. Doctor asked what do you do when sitting in the sun “She read” the doc said that is why you have cancer. Reflection of sun on white paper back to eye. The 3 did not include reconstruction. Now she is looking at 30 days of radiation.

    • Lindsey Moss

      Rebecca- I am so sorry to hear that. Thank you for that tip, it is something we all need to be aware of.

  • Johan Abelson

    Photo Scavenger Hunt is a very fun game! ;)
    I published a guide recently for those interested.
    Feel free to share and use as a reference if you want.


  • Rebecca Micucci

    I have had success with doing bottle cap mosaics on the pavement. We talk about being green and re-using the caps over and over- no glue. The kids can make mandalas or animals or there own ideas.

    • Lindsey Moss

      Rebecca- this is a neat idea! So, is it a temporary mosaic? The bottle caps are like building blocks, and get removed/repositioned?

  • Klair

    I love to show videos of Andy Goldsworthy, then bring kids outside to try their own nature sculptures. We do nature mandalas, trace our shadows in funny poses, make “nature people”, and do color hunts, too: