Solutions to reopen schools since outdoor transmission of virus is known to be much lower than indoor transmission
It may seem like the summer just started, but back-to-school mention is in full-swing. While preparing for the new school year typically can elicit groans from students, this year may be different. After ending the previous school year at home and dealing with modified summer plans, children of all ages may actually be excited for schools to reopen. Despite the excitement, the debate and question of how schools can reopen safely is extremely widespread. Many educators and proponents of returning to school in the fall have tossed out the idea of outdoor learning in order to resume in-person education. It has been done during past outbreaks and with proper planning and resources, can be done at the current time as well.
Advocates Say Outdoor Spaces are Essential
Many groups are quite outspoken about school districts implementing outdoor learning spaces in an effort to have students return to classrooms instead of continuing with distance learning. Surrounded by nature, these locations will nurture hands-on learning and allow for the distancing needed to keep staff and students safe.
The increased natural air flow and freedom from space restrictions are extremely conducive to conducting classes outside. The key to being able to legitimately operate outdoors is to recreate an actual classroom as best as possible. This may require seating to be placed outside, along with any instructional materials that the teacher uses. Provided that there is covering from the sun and other elements, it is realistic to believe that school can move forward in-person for the next several months.
Comfort and structure are essential for promoting an environment that students will thrive in. While some schools may seek to proceed with an outdoor learning initiative that would have everyone seated on the grass, this wouldn't be sufficient on a long-term basis given the lack of ergonomics, protection from the sun or rain. Ceilings are imperative for this reason, since they would not only provide barriers from mother nature, but also allow for furniture to be set-up and left outdoors without being damaged.
Proponents of outdoor learning suggest that the spaces should be used to the full extent. If adequate setups are configured, they can be repurposed once school resumes as normal. This includes outdoor lunch spaces, and outdoor classrooms for special occasions or nature-related lessons. Additionally, any play spaces like jungle gyms or courts should be available to children from the start, with constant cleaning and social distancing.
Benefits of Outdoor Classrooms
The North American Association for Environmental Education, along with countless other organizations, recently stated that "experiences in nature and greater access to the outdoors is associated with reduced stress, greater mental and physical health, and well-being." Learning outside can also deepen the appreciation for science and nature.
Outside of the confines of a four-walled classroom, children may feel more at peace. The outdoors is generally considered to be more therapeutic than indoors. Being back at school, engaged with classmates and teachers, away from home where they have been for months, is critical for students' social-emotional health and engagement with curriculum.
There has actually been a growing number of outdoor learning environments regardless of the current circumstances. Maybe this proves that outdoor classrooms have longevity, making the investment to adjust allocated space worthwhile for the future. It is possible that the pandemic could be the catalyst to shape the way students learn in the years ahead.
Lastly, besides the positive effects on education, there are other benefits to running outdoor classrooms. Assessments of feasibility, available space, and budget are necessary, however, changes to the budget to include new structures can be offset by many things. Electric costs will decrease without the need for lights in each classroom. There will be less reliance on extremely rigorous, time intensive cleaning and sanitation initiatives, or individual plexiglass for students that lose relevance once normalcy returns.
Back to School is Almost Here – Create Your Safe Spaces for Learning Today!
Help staff and students stay healthy by utilizing the outdoor areas around your school building as learning environments. Contact us today (888-270-3546) to discuss ideas that can help your school reopen with live learning during this unprecedented time.