Schools Are Considering Outdoor Learning as Reopening Model

Teaching Outdoors: The Future of Education?

Around the world, school years are winding down with remote learning suddenly becoming the new normal. But as schools prepare to move into summer break everyone is wondering how schools will look in the fall when the new year begins. The biggest obstacle to overcome will be finding a way to keep students apart in the time of social distancing, but Scotland thinks they may have found a solution.

The nation has already invested plenty of time and resources in transforming their child care facilities partly or completely outdoors, now officials are looking into how that program can be expanded to help with the issue of social distancing. Scotland’s Children’s Minister says in times like these, every alternative needs to be explored.

“This model could have many benefits for maintaining physical distancing and minimising risk of transmission as part of the transition from lockdown back into early learning and childcare and school.”

-Maree Todd, Children’s Minister of Scotland

Scottish officials have committed to doubling the funding given to child care this year, and they plan on using that funding to vastly expand their outdoor programs, where they say children are experiencing several benefits including improving eyesight and resilience. 

“When you’ve got the natural world at your fingertips, you don’t need so many toys, which means fewer surfaces where the virus can be passed on.

-Zoe Sills, Earthtime forest school nursery manager

The ability to social distance and the reduction of contact surfaces are definitely two major advantages to moving outside, but Scottish officials are finding the benefits go well beyond that. By letting children explore on their own it’s not only allowing students to be more creative but it’s increasing their physical activity as well. In Denmark, where schools have also started exploring teaching outdoors, they’ve noticed similar advantages as well. 

Scotland and Denmark aren’t the only places where schools are looking at outdoor teaching as a possible alternative. A recent study here in the United States showed that children that were taken outside for one of their classes had a higher level of engagement for all of their other classes throughout the day. The study was done with third-graders but researchers say the results were so overwhelming that it’s worth exploring for other grade levels as well.

Of course, outdoor teaching has its drawbacks as well. In Scotland, officials admitted the weather has been on their side recently so it’s been easier to transition some classes outdoors, but that won’t always be the case. In colder climates, teaching outdoors would be almost impossible in the winter months. You can just imagine trying to multiply fractions as snow falls on your calculator. But researchers say you don’t need to stay outside all day to get the benefits.

“Kids are so starved for nature that…even this pretty small, pathetic dose helps them function remarkably better”

– Dr. Ming Kuo, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Even colleges are looking into moving outdoors as the pandemic continues to linger over education. Stanford University is considering holding their classes outdoors in tents but admits that plan is in the early stages and could only be an alternative when the weather cooperates. Weather is definitely one of the largest hurdles many schools would have to overcome before they could move outdoors on a consistent basis. And while teaching subjects like biology and physical education would be a natural fit to take place outdoors, other subjects like language arts and math would be a little trickier to adapt.

It’s safe to say that whatever happens going forward, the school day is going to look drastically different and may change permanently in some respects. How schools adapt and change to new rules and regulations will be something everyone will keep a close eye on this summer, but it’s clear the early results on teaching outdoors are promising enough to move forward with.

At least until it starts snowing. 


Schools Are Considering Outdoor Learning as Reopening Model

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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