Schools around the world are facing the ultimate test as they attempt to navigate COVID-19 social distancing requirements with, in some cases, already overfilled classrooms. Face masks, temperature checks, alternating school days to reduce volume, partitions between workspaces and socially distanced everything is heading "back to school." With plans afoot, NOW is the time to ensure that your child's school takes advantage of one of the safest spaces for learning during the pandemic—the outdoors.
It's only "natural" we should look to the outdoors for learning during COVID. Outdoor space allows for social distancing to happen more naturally. It also provides much-needed fresh air and ventilation. And studies suggest outdoor activities pose a lower risk than those done indoors.
We've gathered these resources to help your school start the process of repurposing the outdoors as a learning space. This list is the best of what we came across from organizations we know (and some we just learned about). We encourage you to share your resources with us in the comments below so we can share them widely and help every child learn in person and safely this fall.
Living Classrooms is expanding its Virtual Nature School program, providing professional training and learning materials to early learning and childcare (ELC) practitioners. This will help them support the delivery of outdoor play sessions for children who usually attend their settings.
Up to 2,000 practitioners will receive training on the Virtual Nature School’s digital platform and about 20,000 families will benefit. The focus will initially be in areas of higher deprivation, where children will benefit the most.
The Virtual Nature School (VNS) is a non-profit program created by Living Classrooms in response to the needs of children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The work is led by Dr Claire Warden, manager of Auchlone Nursery, Living Classrooms and Mind Stretchers Academy.
Green Schoolyards America has done a top-notch job of keeping its COVID-19 pages updated with the latest news, guidelines, case studies, outdoor classroom planning guidelines and resources. Here you'll find some the best resources available online for using outdoor spaces on PreK-12 school grounds. Check out GSA's site design and planning frameworks, cost estimating tools, and other resources to help schools and school districts consider a variety of options for bringing students outside for academic classes, school lunch, and other school programs. And visit this page for links to published guidance from national, state, and local governments and health institutions about how to reopen schools, using outdoor spaces.
Parents, school administrators and educators in the US should definitely take a look at AAP's “COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry.” In their guidelines, AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school.” Note that one of the three higher-priority strategies for all students is to utilize outdoor spaces when possible.
UK-based Learning through Landscapes (LtL)has been training and equipping educators to lead curricular linked learning in the school grounds for 30 years. LtL works across all ages from early years to 18 and can offer training and support across lots of platforms including in-person where possible, training both online and across social media. One of the most solid resources we’ve seen, their Learning to Return Outdoors course is aimed at all teaching staff in schools, to support them as they transition into new ways of working. This is a higher level two-day training program available for whole-staff teams or representatives from school clusters/academy chains. It will take teachers through the challenges of having pupils outdoors every day. The training and resources will equip a minimum of two teachers per school to foresee the challenges, train and resource colleagues, and support a culture to sustain the use of outdoor space for a full term.
The International School Grounds Alliance recently hosted a webinar called “Designing school grounds to support children's mental health and wellbeing” focused on how school grounds can be designed and used to support mental health. The presenters presented research, policies and practices that can be implemented in schoolyard design to benefit children and youth's mental health. You can access the recording on the new website of the Children & Nature Network, Finding Nature.
Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education. Their COVID-19 resource, “The Potential of Garden Classrooms to Help Schools Reopen Safely” outlines the potential for outdoor classrooms to provide much-needed, extra “classroom” space; allow for social distancing between students; and provide strategic and cost-effective tools for improving academic, mental and physical wellbeing as schools reopen.
This advisory group, made up of outdoor education experts, created this position statement on outdoor learning "that is rooted in current understandings of the COVID-19 virus and a review of the literature on child development, the benefits of nature-based learning, and mental health resilience."
In addition to these resources, nature-based education training for educators or homeschool parents is an excellent investment in the health, education, and wellbeing of your child. The evidence is strong that kids who learn outdoors have significantly less stress, reduced ADHD symptoms, more resourcefulness and creativity, enhanced sensory perception, lower rates of physical and emotional illness and obesity. Take a look at our list of workshops, courses and programs to learn the basics of nature-based education.