Dirty Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Outdoors By Juliet Robertson

Research consistently tells us that being outside is good for our health, both mental and physical. We are not meant to spend our lives contained within four walls and neither should our children. Why limit education to the indoor classroom when the great outdoors has so much to offer?

When I worked at a play based preschool we lived by the Scandinavian motto, “There is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes.” With the exception of severe weather situations children should spend time outdoors each and every day. They need fresh air and the ability to run, explore, experiment, and create outdoors.

If you are new to using the outdoor classroom Dirty Teaching is an excellent resource. It offers inspiration for games, activities, and experiences for outdoor education. While the book targets educators working with children six- to twelve-years old so much of the advice is relevant to teachers working with all age groups and many of the activities can be easily adapted for preschool aged children.

The book begins with Robertson asking the reader to first examine their own beliefs and values that determine how they teach. She shares her own experience which have led her to take a sustainable and rights-based approach, value unstructured play, provide a nurturing, natural environment, and to develop children’s creative capacities. The first chapter of the book goes into detail about what that looks like in practice.

Next Robertson addresses the challenge of getting outdoors which isn’t always so simple.  In many cases when getting outdoors is not already a part of the school experience there can be push back from the children and resistance from adults. She explains that it takes time to develop a new habit (21 days according to research!). There are many barriers that can prevent you from spending time in the outdoor classroom- access to an outdoor space, appropriate clothing and shoes, and understanding how to guide young children outdoors. Robertson addresses these barriers and has tons of tips and ideas help you prepare for your initial outdoor experiences. She even included a handy ‘Before You Go Outside Checklist’ for your reference.

This book is rich with ideas from whole group activities to small group and individual explorations. I love that there is a thoughtful list of experiences to help children be ‘alone’ and focus on their own thoughts and observations. The book covers activities that support...

  • Thinking, Reflecting, and Reviewing

  • Creating and Constructing

  • Adventure

  • Mapping and Finding

  • Caring for the Natural World

From a practical standpoint, I appreciate that Dirty Teaching not only address obstacles but has many ideas for getting the most out of the situation. From what to do if your school is in a ‘concrete jungle’ to addressing nagging doubts, fears and worries that are common to teachers and children when learning to be outdoor explorers. The activities suggested also only require a little planning and little to no materials which means taking the plunge is low cost both from a financial and time perspective.

I would recommend this purchase for teachers just beginning their adventure of taking children’s learning experiences outside. This book would also be beneficial for schools where outdoor learning is already a big part of your curriculum as an addition to your resource library.

Prices below reflect the price at the time this blog post was written.

Dirty Teaching on Amazon $26.95

Dirty Teaching on Barnes and Noble $19.56

Other Outdoor Education Resources

Outdoor Education Research Summary

Nature and the Outdoor Learning Environment: The Forgotten Resource in Early Childhood Education

Nature-Based Mindfulness for more Calm & Peaceful Kids

A Natural Choice: Learning Outdoors

Outdoor Learning: Supervision Is More Than Watching Children Play