To the Editor:
Though many districts are delivering instruction completely online this fall, many students will eventually return to school for in-person instruction. To promote continued student safety, experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that schools make outdoor learning one of their “highest priorities” when creating plans to reopen buildings. (“Outdoor Classrooms in the Age of COVID-19: Pros and Cons,” June 1, 2020).
Fortunately, in addition to improving safety, outdoor spaces can also be used for effective hands-on experiential learning, helping teachers create an engaging and dynamic learning environment proven to close achievement gaps and accelerate learning for all students. Outdoors, students can make their own exciting observations for lessons on life, earth, and physical sciences. Children can collect data, take measurements, and make estimates and predictions, boosting achievement in math.
Outdoor environments also provide the kind of immersive contextual environments that accelerate language acquisition. And because many students have some sort of access to an outdoor space from home, teachers can still send class outside for hands-on experiences when working remotely.
School districts investing in outdoor-classroom facilities should couple this investment with the professional development teachers need to make the most of their new learning environment. It is critical that schools maximize both safety and learning in order to help students through this crisis.
A version of this article appeared in the August 19, 2020 edition of Education Week as Activating Outdoor Spaces for Learning