Join NoVA Outside and sign on in support of encouraging Northern Virginia Public Schools to incorporate recommendations and guidelines from leading medical and educational agencies for using outdoor spaces and outdoor learning as much as possible into their reopening plans. Sign our petition at the bottom of the page and read more why this action is imperative to the health and well being of our learning communities.
COVID-19 changed the calculus for safe, socially distant classrooms. The problem is universal: you can either increase square footage to accommodate the students, or you can reduce the number of students. Some have chosen to educate fewer students in person, but what if districts choose to enlarge the educational space instead? There is significant evidence from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the WHO that educating children outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the virus. For some districts it will be possible for each child to go to school everyday if schools expand instructional space by using the out of doors. (See https://www.greenschoolyards.
All of these opportunities help minimize COVID-19 exposure risk and allow districts to more easily maintain adequate social distance. Teachers and families believe this should be contingent on safety precautions, equitable access across the county, secure outdoor areas, cleaning, weather considerations, and health–and that county leaders should explore these ideas NOW. These concepts have taken hold in other cities, counties, states and around the world with innovative solutions.
We can use schoolyards, and where there is not enough space on the schoolyard, we can use other outdoor spaces. By allowing use of public parks, parking lots and other spaces- we can have an EQUITABLE approach that allows all schools to use outdoor space, improve student mental health, allow adults to go back to work, improve physical health and make sure our children and educators are safe. We can use trained informal educators from nature centers, museums, and parks, many of whom are currently furloughed, to assist teachers when classes are split into smaller, socially distanced groups.
Check out how Denmark made it happen. Denmark and many other countries have smartly recognized that the easiest and most effective way to ease back into in-person education is by starting with the youngest grades- those who cannot stay home alone and for whom technology is an even less effective delivery method. Read about a physical therapist’s take on the health implications of sitting in front of screens all day
We’ve all experienced the downsides of virtual learning- including too much screen time for our children. The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley collected data across multiple cities in California and found that over 60% of children in low-income neighborhoods never turned on their school-issued devices. It’s time to focus on another approach.
There is a wealth of data demonstrating the value of being outside to children’s physical and mental health and now is the perfect time to incorporate outdoor learning into the school day for as many students as possible. Exposure to natural settings appears to have an intrinsic effect on our emotional and cognitive functioning. Studies also show that being in natural settings can defuse stress. Brief nature walks can reduce anxiety, distraction, and symptoms of ADHD.
Green Schoolyards America is currently convening ten national working groups to develop free and comprehensive planning resources for school districts across the US to follow in implementing this approach. Check out their reopening schools webpage, and this amazing two-page resource that describes the idea.