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Some Schools Take Classrooms Outdoors in COVID-19 Era

Posted by Churchich Content Team Content on October 6, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic changed much of American life, especially when it comes to education over the last 18 months.

While the days of remote learning have ended for most students, some school districts are looking for new ways to educate including a movement towards outdoor classrooms.

“Seeking ways to teach safely during the pandemic, schools across the United States have embraced the idea of classes in the open air, as Americans did during disease outbreaks a century ago,” wrote Amelia Nierenberg in The New York Times last fall. “The efforts to throw tents over playgrounds and arrange desks in parks and parking lots have brought new life to an outdoor education movement, inspired in part by Scandinavian “forest schools” where children bundle up against frigid temperatures for long romps in the snow.”

Could Open Air Classes Be Here to Stay?

While most school districts have returned to the status quo of fluorescent lighting, linoleum floors, and metal school lockers that come with indoor learning, some are championing the idea of keeping the learning the great outdoors, especially as the coronavirus Delta variant has hit some younger age groups.

“We say our purpose is to make outdoor learning Plan A,” Sharon Danks, CEO of Green Schoolyards America, told the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Green Schoolyards is one of four organizations – along with Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley; San Mateo County Office of Education; and Ten Strands – that came together to form the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.

A treasure trove of tools and resources for outdoor classroom enthusiasts has been collected by a nearly 300-person volunteer force of educators, public health officials, landscape architects, and others on behalf of the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.

“If restaurants were able to find space by converting parking spaces and sidewalks into dining space, there’s no reason schools can’t do the same,” said Craig Strang, associate director of learning and teaching, Lawrence Hall of Science.

Schools Already Have the Outdoor Space for Learning

The good news is that most schools already have outdoor space for learning thanks to their playgrounds and recreation areas.

“Most schools and school districts begin their planning process for outdoor learning by considering the spaces available on their own grounds, right outside their classrooms,” says the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. “School grounds are a logical first choice for many schools, since they are conveniently located close to teaching supplies, Wi-Fi, meal service, and other resources that are stored inside the buildings.”

The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative says every school ground has the opportunity and constraints for becoming an outdoor classroom with the following logistics to consider:

  • Emergency access
  • ADA compliance
  • Traffic flows
  • Microclimate

Other tools to help schools plan for outdoor classrooms:

Key Elements for Outdoor Classrooms: Seating, Shade, Storage

When it comes to the key elements of outdoor classrooms, just remember the letter “S” as in:

  • Seating and work surfaces
  • Shade and shelter
  • Supplies and Storage

Address all of these “S” needs, and your outdoor classroom will be welcoming, comfortable, and functional.

“Open-sided shelters make outdoor spaces more comfortable and protect classrooms from sun and rain, increasing outdoor time,” says the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.

One option are pre-engineered outdoor shade structures, which are permanent fabric-on-frame or clear tension structures designed to protect students and teachers as well as outdoor classrooms from exposure to the sun’s dangerous UV rays and other weather elements.

Churchich Recreation and Design can help schools design park structures to custom requirements with shapes, colors, ornamentation, roofing, and other special features all chosen by the client.

Contact Churchich Recreation and Design today to learn more about how we can help you create the perfect outdoor classroom and recreational meeting space.