Outdoor Education

Bring teaching outside- use your school’s outdoor classroom! 

The Boston Schoolyard Initiative offers a number of e-resources at schoolyards.org to support teachers using the outdoor classrooms. Contact BPS Sustainability & Environmental Resources Manager Katherine Walsh if you would like a hard copy of the Outdoor Classroom’s User Guide, Story Book, or Education Program Guide.

You should also consider joining and/or following the BSI legacy non-profit Friends of the Boston Schoolyards.

Any educator can tell you that outdoor education and exploration, whether it’s in the students schoolyard or on a local field trip, can open children’s minds to the way the world works and create a fascination with nature. Since documenting the impacts of outdoor education can be difficult, the University of Chicago was commissioned to conduct an independent study of Boston’s Science in the Schoolyard (SSY) initiative. The survey results (from science teachers) highlighted the power of having outdoor classrooms on school sites and targeted training programs for educators.

Some of the findings of the Science in the Schoolyard Evaluation were:

  • Students who go outdoors for science indicate greater interest and confidence in science.
  • Students who go outdoors for science are more likely to report that they observe, investigate, use science vocabulary, and demonstrate independence and curiosity.
  • Teachers report particular benefits of outdoor science education for English Language Learners and students with disabilities, including vocabulary development.

From 1995-2013, the Boston Schoolyard Initiative (BSI) transformed Boston’s schoolyards from barren asphalt lots into dynamic centers for recreation, learning, and community life. School-by-school, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, BSI connected children, families, community members, and teachers with vibrant outdoor spaces for increased physical activity and creative new approaches to using the schoolyard for teaching and learning.

The 35 Outdoor Classrooms built and 88 Schoolyards revitalized over almost 20 years provide urban schools with varied natural eco-system features, weather stations, vegetable and herb beds, and safe play spaces. The Schoolyards promote physical activity for students and the Outdoor Classrooms provide outdoor learning spaces that nurture an awareness and stewardship for the natural environment. BSI also developed outdoor lessons and professional development for teachers.

BSI accomplished their work through a public-private partnership between the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Schoolyard Funders Collaborative. 

Read more about BSI’s accomplishments in the The Atlantic and about how “Boston Leads the Way  Outside” in the fall 2014 Foss Newsletter. Explore a wealth of schoolyard and outdoor classroom design, maintenance, curriculum and more at schoolyards.org. For a school-based example, follow updates from the Everett School’s outdoor classroom.


The Outdoor Classroom User Guide is designed to help you understand how to best use and steward your BPS outdoor classroom. For additional information, please visit www.schoolyards.org.



In 2014, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (Commission) approached BPS about collaborating on Green Infrastructure/Low Impact Development (GI/LID) pilot projects to coincide with BPS’s comprehensive Educational and Facility Master Planning process (BuildBPS).

GI/LID is a stormwater management approach that mimics nature. In the natural world, rainwater soaks, or infiltrates, into the soil. Unfortunately, rainwater can no longer infiltrate into the ground because of buildings, pavement, sidewalks and other urban surfaces. GI/LID features capture raindwater runoff and filter the stormwater through plants and soil before it returns to the groundwater system. Learn more on the Commission’s website.


The Commission and BPS selected five schools throughout Boston, schools that are in areas of high pollutant (phosphorus) loading. The five GI/LID pilot schools are: the Washington Irving Middle School (watch the ribbon cutting ceremony), Rafael Hernandez K-8 School, David A. Ellis Elementary School, Jackson/Mann K-8 School and Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers (Fenwood location). The Commission, with the help of an engineering firm called Horsley Witten Group, designed the GI/LID features to include rain gardens, bioretention areas, bioswales, tree pits/tree trenches, stormwater chambers, and more!

The Commission also worked with a former BPS curriculum writer and the Charles River Watershed Association to author stormwater/GI curriculum for 5th and 7th grade, in accordance with the new MA Science and Technology/ Engineering Standards, to accompany the five pilot projects. Contact the BPS Science Department for more information.

BPS teachers Nicole Ruttan (Umana Academy K-8) and Kris Grymonpre (McCormack Middle School) were awarded the 2019 Massachusetts Secretary's Award for Excellence in Energy & Environmental Education for their “Stormwater Management Curriculum integration pilot program”, using the Irving Middle School's green stormwater infrastructure to teach the BPS GSI curriculum. Congratulations, Nicole and Kris!

2019 Massachusetts Secretary's Award for Excellence in Energy & Environmental Education

BPS teachers Nicole Ruttan (Umana Academy K-8) and Kris Grymonpre (McCormack Middle School) were awarded the 2019 Massachusetts Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Energy & Environmental Education for their “Stormwater Management Curriculum integration pilot program”, using the Irving Middle School’s green stormwater infrastructure to teach the BPS GSI curriculum. Congratulations, Nicole and Kris!


  • The Holmes Innovation School won a 2018 “If I Would I Could” Grant from the Beker Foundation to build a schoolyard garden. Led by the school’s library teacher, grade three teachers, paraprofessional, and students, the Holmes planted herbs, vegetables, and flowers, learned about the growing process, composting, and bees, and enjoyed the results of their garden during a celebratory feast.
  • Led by Science Teacher Teresa Strong, Dante Alighieri Montessori School students began composting food and yard waste in fall 2018. Students learned about the composting process and mixed the finished product into existing schoolyard deadpan soil. Students learned that food scraps and leaves can improve soil, providing nutrients for plants and soil creatures, and they learned how students play can play a role in the process.
  • Boston Green Academy is a Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center multi-year partner school. Every year, all of BGA’s middle school grades stay on Thompson Island for an immersive fall 3-day outdoor environmental science learning adventure and a spring 1-day team building and leadership experience. 
  • Additionally, BGA’s entire 8th grade class visits the White Mountains in New Hampshire every spring for a 3-day, 2-night outdoor leadership experience with A Mountain Classroom (part of the Appalachian Mountain Club). Here students split into smaller groups, hone their leadership skills, and climb the nearby peaks. A Mountain Classroom provides inspiring outdoor settings and experiential methods to engage students and their teachers in learning.
  • BPS Science, Technology, and Engineering Department, Museum of Science, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and Friends of the Boston Schoolyards collaborated on a PD opportunity for teachers “Science in the Schoolyard – Teaching Science Standards with Outdoor Spaces” and utilized the Mission Hill and Alighieri schools’ outdoor classrooms for the PD. 18 teachers participated in the PD, held in May 2019.
  • BPS partner CitySprouts is currently at 9 BPS schools. The CitySprouts mission is to cultivate wonder for all children with hands-on learning through urban gardening.


BPS and Green City Growers won a $100,000 2019 USDA Farm-to-School Implementation Grant

Green City Growers, in partnership with the Boston Public Schools, BPS Facilities Management, the BPS STRIVE program, and Friends of the Boston Schoolyards, is the recipient of a 2019 Farm-to-School Implementation Grant from the USDA.

Thanks to this generous grant, Green City Growers will work in collaboration with BPS Facilities Management to provide BPS STRIVE special education students with hands-on vocational training. Skills taught to the STRIVE students will include building agricultural infrastructure, crop cultivation, and landscape maintenance. BPS STRIVE students, ages 14-22, from C.A.S.H., English High School, Charlestown High School, and East Boston High School, will construct four 4’X8’ raised garden beds at C.A.S.H., Mission K-8 School, Edwards Middle School, and Umana Academy, respectively. The STRIVE students will also design, plant, and maintain these spaces as agriculturally productive school gardens.

The garden spaces will also be used by the host schools, with each school receiving teacher training and hands-on education sessions focused on gardening and farming. This program will engage 60 STRIVE students and 500 elementary students within Boston Public Schools over the 2-year grant timeline. 

To read the full USDA press release, click here.



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