Place-based learning

Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop strong ties to their community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to service as active, contributing citizens.

David Sobel, Connecting Classrooms & Communities

What is place-based learning?

Pedagogical practices, like place-based learning (PBL), are often used as a framework for teaching in the outdoor classroom. Outdoor classrooms can include built environments like gardens or log circles, as well as natural spaces like fields and forests. Place-based learning in outdoor classrooms subsequently upholds the importance of the local community and environment as starting points for academic learning (Elliot & Krusekopf, 2017). Attention to the interconnectedness of local environmental and ecological phenomenon are embedded in place-based learning, with an emphasis on the importance of time spent in nature to connect children to the biodiversity of their local ecosystems. These efforts build relationships of reciprocity that can attach young people to land in developmentally appropriate ways so they might go forward in life with an ecological identity that allows them to “love the earth before we ask them to save it” (Sobel, 1996).


With thanks to Megan Zeni, content author and Graham Giles, film-maker.


Elliot, E., & Krusekopf, F. (2017). Thinking outside the four walls of the classroom: A Canadian nature kindergarten. International Journal of Early Childhood, 49(3), 375-389. 

Kashin, D. (2014). From Themes to Play-based Emergent Curriculum – Where to Begin? Retrieved from

Nxumalo, F., Vintimilla, C. D., & Nelson, N. (2018). Pedagogical gatherings in early childhood education: Mapping interferences in emergent curriculum. Curriculum Inquiry, 48(4), 433-453. to an external site.

Orr, D. (2013). Place and pedagogy. NAMTA Journal, 38(1), 183.

Osberg, D., & Biesta, G. (2008). The emergent curriculum: Navigating a complex course between unguided learning and planned enculturation. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(3), 313-328. to an external site.

Smith, G. A. (2007). Place-based education: Breaking through the constraining regularities of public school. Environmental Education Research, 13(2), 189-207. to an external site.

Sobel, D. (1996). Beyond ecophobia: Reclaiming the heart in nature education. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society and The Myrin Institute.

Sobel, D. (2005). Place-based education: Connecting classrooms & communities (2nd ed.). Orion Society

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