Outdoor Learning and Social Distance Design - Inspirational Design Ideas for the Pandemic and Beyond
Updated: Sep 10
Blog Series #2
How to safely reopen schools in the fall is a top priority for school districts across the country and all over the world! There are so many things to think about to make sure kids are safe and secure on school grounds. Social distancing will be mandatory to make sure our kids stay healthy and safe. The question is "How do you social distance children in a learning environment and still provide a quality education?".
Social distancing will be required for the foreseeable future pending adequate testing and widely available vaccines. Students need to spread out beyond the traditional four walls of a classroom. Staggering students' schedules and continuing distance learning will likely be elements of the new normal but they may not be enough by themselves. According to Green Schoolyards America, school districts across the country could use their school grounds and local parks as safe outdoor learning environments to increase their capacity and options for social distancing as students return to school.
Benefits of Outdoor Learning
There are many benefits to outdoor learning. Children can connect with nature by having more opportunities for hands-on learning. There is less risk of virus transmission if they are outside in the fresh air instead of a stuffy, overcrowded room. Nature provides many mental health benefits which is key for students who have experienced trauma associated with the pandemic. Overall, the most beneficial element is it offers more space to accommodate students which means more students can return to school at the same time.
Expanding the classroom into outdoor spaces both on and off school grounds will address academic, health, and economic needs. Studies show that spending time outdoors is critical to student academic, physical, and mental well-being. Outdoor environments typically have better air quality than indoor spaces, and ”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.”(https://sites.nationalacademies.org/BasedOnScience/covid-19-how-long-does-coronavirus-live-on-surfaces/index.htm). Outdoor classrooms are one of the most cost effective ways to increase school capacity. If schools are able to safely accommodate more children by going outside, there will be less disruption in the lives of students and families.
Fun Fact: 100 years ago, schools around the world went outside to reduce the spread of tuberculosis and Spanish Flu. Outdoor learning is a time-tested approach to keeping schools open during a pandemic.
Use and Expand Outdoor Learning Opportunities
How do we take the burden off of indoor classroom spaces? Green Schoolyards America has a vision to engage school grounds and parks as strategic, cost-effective tools for improving academic, mental, and physical well-being as schools reopen with required social distancing measures in place. How do we do this? The infrastructure needs basic seating, protection from the elements, outdoor teaching supplies and clothing, and places to store teaching materials. Need inspiration? We've collected a handful of products below to get you thinking.
Miracle Approved Social Distance Designs
Our team of in-house designers have been experimenting with ideas and options to offer our clients in this new age of social distancing. We've collaborated on many ideas over the last few months and have come up with some ways to work around these new challenges. One of the first ideas we had was to develop some social distance designs that make it easy to incorporate more play and gathering spaces into our communities and schools. We call these designs "Miracle Approved Social Distance Designs". We came up with some criteria for these new designs that allow for social circle distance circulation. Some of the criteria we see necessary are:
Design supports small group instruction
Design includes antimicrobial paint
Design supports small group play with no more than 5 users at a time
Design allows for mobile and flexible use with parts that can be relocated or deployed on a temporary basis (Pop-up Park/Parklet)
Design allows for routine removal and relocation for easy maintenance, sanitizing and cleaning
Our team of in-house designers have come up with some simple design pods that could easily be added to a park, school or public space. Check out more designs HERE!
Resources on Outdoor Learning
Green Schoolyards America has some wonderful resources compiled on their website HERE.
The news articles featured on their page include some of the most recent and relevant media coverage related to outdoor learning as an asset to school districts’ COVID-19 response.
Some articles of interest include:
“When Your Classroom is Outside, School is Always Open”
Ideas for using outdoor classrooms for engaging academic curricula, shared by staff from Out Teach, a nonprofit that provides coaching and onsite professional development for teachers to boost STEM instruction, in the south and southeastern United States.
“See the Forgotten Open Air Schools, Designed to Battle Tuberculosis During the 1930s”
Photographs of outdoor learning in response to the tuberculosis pandemic ninety years ago.
“Scotland Eyes Outdoor Learning as Model for Reopening of Schools”
”Local authorities are exploring how using outdoor space could optimize physical distancing”
More BLOGS in our Series
"Inspirational Design Ideas for the Pandemic and Beyond"
CLICK HERE to view our previous BLOG "Pop Up Parks and Social Distance Design - Inspirational Design Ideas for the Pandemic and Beyond".
Check back soon for more Inspirational BLOGS!