As public parks and schools continue to open across California, this summer will feel different than last.
Now is the time to expand outdoor learning programs and, in anticipation for fall, build school communities that heal. There are plenty of inspiring case studies and free resources available now for outdoor learning, made possible by the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. Healthy outdoor spaces are vital for students, schools, and entire communities.
In the first few months of the pandemic, it became clear that administrators and educators would need support and resources for schools to reopen safely. Outdoor spaces offered one way to center equity; in many communities, online and distance learning exacerbated many existing inequities for low-income families and students of color, and it became clear that students were not benefiting equally or equitably from online learning. In response to this, Green Schoolyards America (GSA), the Lawrence Hall of Science, the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE), and Ten Strands launched the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative to help get students outside in nature-rich and Covid-safe environments. Such spaces are hugely beneficial for the mental health, wellbeing, and social development of students, as well as the ability of these spaces to be outdoor learning centers.
This robust collective impact initiative created resources that provide guidance for creating outdoor spaces, provide strategies for teaching and learning, and provide health considerations in a world still experiencing a pandemic. Hundreds of subject-matter experts contributed to the free online resource library.
Our resulting National Outdoor Learning Library, written by hundreds of subject matter experts from around the country, from many different fields, who volunteered thousands of hours over the last seven months of 2020, provides guidance for education stakeholders as they consider options for safely returning students to in-person schooling.
As summer draws closer, it’s worth exploring all the resources that this initiative makes possible, especially since parks and schools are often the heartbeats of communities. From an equity and public health standpoint, it makes sense to invest in these outdoor learning spaces for long-term student health and resilience.