Teal colored chairs and tables arrived around the same time as the students. After many months of virtual learning, we opened the space for more of our elementary and preschool students to return to in-person schooling. We were aware of the risks of adding more students to our classrooms, and it was time. Keeping in mind that the excellent protocols we developed for re-opening in August have kept us safe and well as a school, we felt confident that we were ready for this next phase. Among the many ways to enhance student safety was a consideration of how to best take advantage of our most excellent outdoor environment.
Being outdoors is an everyday experience at the Seed, especially this time of year when the summer temperatures are mostly behind us. Younger classes are enjoying not only their time on the big playground, but time in their outdoor classroom areas. Their gardens are starting to sprout, as is imaginative play inspired by the natural world. For older students, there is contact with nature, and most recently a new twist to outdoor learning has occurred.
The chairs and tables mentioned earlier, made possible by a most generous grandparent donation, have become part of an outdoor experience. They are being used to expand the 3rd-4th grade classroom into their outdoor area. This will open up classroom space as some students move to do their work outside, as well as offer opportunities to breathe in the open air and be out in the natural world. The outdoor classroom area is not a replacement for the regular classroom, and all of the same safety precautions apply. Children still wear their masks when they can’t socially distance, and need to practice social distancing as much as possible. Under shady trees, the weather right now is perfect for being outside. I’ve been out there several times to meet with students, and they are remarkably focused and at ease. Some kids seem to thrive in this kind of space right now.
In an Education Weekly article on the pros and cons of outdoor classrooms, the author writes: “There’s also an intrinsic value to being outdoors: it’s good for students’ social, emotional, and mental well-being, even more so as they return to school after several traumatic months [of the pandemic].”
Although most of the article focuses on applications for larger schools, the mental health piece is completely in line with our philosophy. What I notice most with the students I’ve witnessed in this outdoor classroom space, is a sense of calm and ease. It’s good for their mental health, which for many has been a concern.
As more students return to in-person school, we are seeing the effects of months of isolation, loneliness, and stress from having their worlds completely disrupted. Returning to classroom life is a big adjustment for some, and we are doing our very best to navigate this situation that we have inherited. We ask for your patience and trust as we once again find ourselves in uncharted waters. Ultimately it’s an expression of inclusiveness and compassion, two pillars of the Seed philosophy. As I’ve said many times before, we’re in this together. We’ll figure it out together, for the benefit of all our students and their families, and our incredible teachers. It’s how we open the space for everyone in our village.