Outdoor Classrooms as Plan A for Reopening Schools
As states, districts, principals, teachers, and parents are trying to decide if, and when, students should return to school, here is something to consider: What if Outdoor Classrooms were Plan A for reopening schools?
Using the outdoors can provide a cost effective way to assist with social distancing and increase school capacity. Having students utilize outdoor classrooms for at least part of the day has many benefits. It provides a place for social learning and collaboration; fresh air; hands-on learning opportunities; and therapeutic quiet, reflective spaces. The air quality is generally better outside than inside and some studies have shown that “environmental conditions, such as wind and sunlight, may reduce the amount of virus present on a surface and the length of time the virus can stay viable.”(Green Schoolyards)
Opening schools by utilizing the outdoors can also be a way to address the issues of equity; academic and social learning; and mental, physical, and emotional health.
Green Schoolyards, in collaboration with the Lawrence Hall of Science, Ten Strands, and San Mateo County Office of Education’s Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative, are working on a plan to assist schools with reopening by using the outdoors as a way to provide a safer, more engaging, Plan A.
Green Schoolyards is developing resources to assist schools with the logistics of outdoor classrooms. They have downloadable resources such free schoolyard activity guides including:
- Experiential Outdoor Learning in the Schoolyard: Featuring Curricula by Susan Humphries
- International School Grounds Month Activity Guide
- Living Schoolyard Activity Guide
- Playworks’ Safe Return to Play Guide
- Playworks’ Recess Guidelines
The Green Schoolyards website also includes case studies of model programs and a section with multiple news articles related to outdoor learning.
Guides for national and state guidance and policies for COVID-19 planning considerations for reopening schools can be found at https://www.greenschoolyards.org/covid-19-guidance It includes guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Disease Control and Prevention; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; American Camp Association; North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE); California Department of Education; California Department of Public Health; and the Florida Department of Education.
Okay, so we know that getting kids outdoors can be a good thing, but how should schools design their landscape to encourage outdoor learning? Green Schoolyards has launched a new, pro bono landscape design assistance program that partners schools with volunteer designers to assist with the process.
Green Schoolyards also has downloadable tools and resources including Outdoor Infrastructure Planning Overview, Outdoor Classroom Configuration Options, and Outdoor Infrastructure Cost Estimate Tool. https://www.greenschoolyards.org/outdoor-infrastructure
Do you want to get involved with helping to shape the national initiative of Outdoor Classrooms? Green Schoolyards has convened working groups to do just that. The working groups will collaborate to write chapters of what will be a comprehensive, online resource book that will be available as a free download once it is completed.
They welcome teachers, administrators, parents, engineers, companies, non-profit organizations, informal educators, and others to join the initiative by participating in one or more of the working groups. The working groups include the following:
- Plans to ensure equity
- Outdoor classroom infrastructure
- Park/school collaboration
- Outdoor learning & instructional models
- Staffing & formal/nonformal partnerships
- School program integration (with PE, recess, before/after care)
- Community engagement
- Health & safety considerations
- Local & state policy shifts
- Funding & economic models
- Community of practice for Early Adopters
Get involved and help shape the Outdoor Classroom initiative! More information about the working groups can be found at: https://www.greenschoolyards.org/working-groups
Let’s work together to create healthy learning environments!