How to Take the Daily Routine Outside

by HighScope | June 24, 2020

The foundation of HighScope’s approach to educating young children is active learning. As active participants in their own learning, children gain knowledge and skills by playing in an intentional learning environment. In the outdoor environment, children have many opportunities for hands-on, active learning: nature provides them with many manipulatives, choices of ways to move their bodies, and opportunities to be seen and heard in ways that walls can restrict. Outdoor learning provides amazing platforms for HighScope’s emergent curriculum and teacher planning based on children’s interests and what’s happening in nature.

Tiny Trees Preschool — an all-outdoor preschool in Seattle, Washington — is sharing how they conduct all aspects of the daily routine outside.

Here is how it works:

Greeting time: Each classroom has a circle of logs or special tarp to gather on. When it rains, we pop up a canopy or gather under one of the park’s picnic shelters. We talk about what to expect for the day and any changes to the daily routine. Tip: Our message board gets affected by the rain. Grease pencils instead of whiteboard markers resist the rain and are more reliable in less than- fair weather.

Small-group time: Yes, we do small-group time outside! On dry, warm days, children have access to paper, paints, glue, and more project materials for open-ended art possibilities. Pattern blocks, small toys, games, loose parts, and other manipulatives also become part of our small-group activities. Natural materials such as pine cones, rocks, dirt, and sand are paired with tools like magnet wands, containers, forceps, and magnifying glasses.

Our small-group activities take advantage of wide-open spaces and sometimes take us quite far afield. Children are provided with baskets for collecting and then invited to sort nature’s treasures by size, shape, color, texture, and more. They search for letters and numbers on signs in the park and journal by the wetlands to capture their experience.

Plan-do-review: Work time outdoors is full of so much potential! Beyond offering traditional preschool materials such as blocks, toy people, markers, cars, kitchen tools, and more, we also supply baskets of pine cones, rocks, and sticks. Children have the freedom to work on fairy-sized leaf homes or to engage in big body play like running, wrestling, climbing, jumping, and rolling.

Our interest areas also vary from traditional settings. Our house area features a stick fort with fabrics and mud for use with bowls and whisks. Instead of a sand table, we might have a mulch pit or sand box. Our building area not only includes blocks but also large sticks for forts and planks for building catapults and balance beams.

Large-group time: Children and adults come together for our movement and music just like inside. One of our favorite activities is “The Sleeping Bears,” where children get to choose an animal to pretend to be. We decide where they sleep and what they do when they wake up. Many of the children’s choices are inspired by animals we see in the park. Did you know that squirrels sleep in nests called dreys? Our preschoolers do.

Outside time: What does outside time look like when you’re already outside? We call it “Explore Time” or “Hike Time,” which is essentially a time for us to explore a different part of the park each day. This includes hiking to the nearby pond to observe ducks and explore “sink and float,” or going to the park’s community garden to dig, grow, and harvest. The opportunities for play during this time involve a lot of big body movements and time to connect with what’s happening in the community within and surrounding the park.

Our days at outdoor preschool, framed by a high-quality curriculum like HighScope, create a unique opportunity for children to develop confidence, skills, and joy in learning and in life. Educators can honor children by increasing their time outdoors, even by the smallest bit.

HighScope is here to offer educators and programs best practices in early childhood education and child development. Programs operating during the COVID-19 pandemic should follow CDC guidelines.

Here are a few tips:

  • Create smaller child use areas when using large spaces to keep children from gathering outside of their group.
  • Stagger times for outdoor play or gym time, if possible.
  • Consider eliminating use of water and sensory tables, playground equipment and frequently touched objects
  • If common spaces remain in use, clean the space in between groups.

Excerpted from “The (Outside) Daily Routine,”  by Rachel Franz, MEd, The Active Learner, Spring 2019.
Rachel Franz is the director of education and former founding lead teacher of Tiny Trees Preschool in Seattle.

Tiny Trees Preschool is an all-outdoor preschool in Seattle, Washington, that serves more than 300 children each year. Class is held in public parks around the Seattle area, where children spend four hours in urban or forested spaces in their neighborhoods. Tiny Trees was founded in 2016 with the mission to provide greater access to high-quality preschool education for families through a joyfully muddy childhood. For more information, visit Tiny Trees at