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Be Prepared to Be Flexible

Environment

As an outdoor educator, your plans will get derailed. The weather could change, an activity you budgeted for an hour could take 15 minutes or 2 hours, a student could get lost or sick, or another group could be in the location you planned for. This essentially means you need to have a backup plan for everything. Backup plans don’t have to be elaborate or too thought out, but you should have a few basic supplies and several tricks in mind.

  1. Know a few simple, adaptable games. Games that can be played standing in a circle are great while groups are waiting – during bathroom breaks, solo activities, etc. Things like Earth Eyes, Rhythm Master, and Poison Dart Frog are great to play in small spaces or stopped on the trail. If you end up with some extra time after an activity and have enough space to move around, games like Steal the Bacon, Salad Bowl, and Adaptation Tag can be used as assessment tools and to get students moving.
  2. Art supplies and picture books are your friends. A few sheets of paper and some watercolor pencils take up almost no space in your backpack, and can be a great resource. You can give them to students who finish an activity before the rest of the group, use them as an assessment tool to make scientific illustrations, or simply to make observations and enjoy being outside. They can be used as colored pencils, or students can use water from their water bottles to turn them into watercolors. Before you head out for the day, grab a picture book that relates to your theme for the day. You can always read the story as a transfer of learning, to entertain your students during lunch, or simply to get a group to chill out.
  3. Have a backup route and a backup lesson. Know how to get where you need to go from multiple directions – the short way and the long way. Spend some time thinking about how to accomplish your learning goals or planned activity in a couple of different ways, so you can easily adjust to your students needs or differentiate instruction.
  4. Have EXTRAS. Students will need to use the bathroom in the forest – have napkins or toilet paperor know where the thimbleberries are growing. Someone will spill jelly all over their journal or a bench – have wet wipes. You will forget all the silverware – have a pocketknife you can use to spread peanut butter. A student will drop their pencil somewhere unretrievable – have extra writing materials. Your feet will be soaking after a day in the rain – have dry socks. Ziploc bags always come in handy. Think about contingencies (or learn from experience) and throw a few extra supplies in your bag. You’ll thank yourself later.
  5. Check the weather. Make sure you and your students are ready for it! That could mean rain gear and a warm layer, or sunscreen and extra water. Comfortable students are much more prepared to participate and learn than wet or sunburned ones.
  6. Make decisions quickly, and trust them. You know your students and your resources, if your plans get derailed make a decision and go with it! It will be the right one. If you need to, have your students circle up and play a game while you gather your thoughts.
  7. Decide to be flexible! Nobody is trying to ruin your day, stuff just happens. Deal with it and move on.

If you are prepared for contingences, you will be better able to roll with them. You’ll be able to deal with things when they come up, and not take unforeseen circumstances personally. Once you pack your bag and mentally prepare for the day, you will be equipped to adapt like the flexible educator you are!

As an outdoor educator, your plans will get derailed. The weather could change, an activity you budgeted for an hour could take 15 minutes or 2 hours, a student could get lost or sick, or another group could be in the location you planned for. This essentially means you need to have a backup plan for everything. Backup plans don’t have to be elaborate or too thought out, but you should have a few basic supplies and several tricks in mind.

  1. Know a few simple, adaptable games. Games that can be played standing in a circle are great while groups are waiting – during bathroom breaks, solo activities, etc. Things like Earth Eyes, Rhythm Master, and Poison Dart Frog are great to play in small spaces or stopped on the trail. If you end up with some extra time after an activity and have enough space to move around, games like Steal the Bacon, Salad Bowl, and Adaptation Tag can be used as assessment tools and to get students moving.
  2. Art supplies and picture books are your friends. A few sheets of paper and some watercolor pencils take up almost no space in your backpack, and can be a great resource. You can give them to students who finish an activity before the rest of the group, use them as an assessment tool to make scientific illustrations, or simply to make observations and enjoy being outside. They can be used as colored pencils, or students can use water from their water bottles to turn them into watercolors. Before you head out for the day, grab a picture book that relates to your theme for the day. You can always read the story as a transfer of learning, to entertain your students during lunch, or simply to get a group to chill out.
  3. Have a backup route and a backup lesson. Know how to get where you need to go from multiple directions – the short way and the long way. Spend some time thinking about how to accomplish your learning goals or planned activity in a couple of different ways, so you can easily adjust to your students needs or differentiate instruction.
  4. Have EXTRAS. Students will need to use the bathroom in the forest – have napkins or toilet paperor know where the thimbleberries are growing. Someone will spill jelly all over their journal or a bench – have wet wipes. You will forget all the silverware – have a pocketknife you can use to spread peanut butter. A student will drop their pencil somewhere unretrievable – have extra writing materials. Your feet will be soaking after a day in the rain – have dry socks. Ziploc bags always come in handy. Think about contingencies (or learn from experience) and throw a few extra supplies in your bag. You’ll thank yourself later.
  5. Check the weather. Make sure you and your students are ready for it! That could mean rain gear and a warm layer, or sunscreen and extra water. Comfortable students are much more prepared to participate and learn than wet or sunburned ones.
  6. Make decisions quickly, and trust them. You know your students and your resources, if your plans get derailed make a decision and go with it! It will be the right one. If you need to, have your students circle up and play a game while you gather your thoughts.
  7. Decide to be flexible! Nobody is trying to ruin your day, stuff just happens. Deal with it and move on.

If you are prepared for contingences, you will be better able to roll with them. You’ll be able to deal with things when they come up, and not take unforeseen circumstances personally. Once you pack your bag and mentally prepare for the day, you will be equipped to adapt like the flexible educator you are!

About the Author
Sarah Sklare
Author: Sarah Sklare
Sarah is a native Chicagoan transplanted to the Pacific Northwest to attend graduate school. Before moving to Seattle, Sarah received a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin, worked in National Parks and urban farms on both coasts, and staffed two political campaigns in the middle of the country. Sarah enjoys teaching outside, good books, and long walks on the beach.