During the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are investigating how to hold their classes in outdoor learning spaces which can accommodate social distancing and reduce the spread of the virus (CDC Considerations for Outdoor Learning). The benefits of outdoor classrooms range from increasing the number of socially distanced students that can be taught at one time, taking advantage of fresh air, and providing important mental health benefits. For a full in-depth guide, read our Outdoor Learning Toolkit. See below for some highlighted tips to get started on creating an outdoor learning space.
Cost is always a factor when planning your space. We’ve broken down ideas for low, medium, and higher cost options for seating, weather protection, and teaching supplies.
Here are some ideas on how to build your own outdoor classroom!
The lowest cost tent is a 10 ft. by 10 ft. pop-up tent. You can use multiple tents to create a larger learning space. Always make sure to weigh down your tents, or tie them securely with good quality rope to a fixed structure such as a building or fence. You don't want them blowing away! Our 10'x10' Greenmarket tents are always tied down to at least 100 lbs of weight distributed on at least two opposite corners of the tent. Since this style of pop-up tent is not permanent or especially sturdy, it should be taken down each day, when not in use, or when there are extreme weather conditions.. Luckily, they are relatively lightweight and easy to set up each morning with 1-2 people. In the photo below, you can see a blue 10x10 pop-up tent (weighed down with kettle bell weights!) as well as umbrellas, which are another lower-cost option.
Another simple shade structure for an outdoor classroom is a sail shade. All it requires is a triangular cut piece of thick fabric with eyelets punched in each corner. Then, use strong twine or rope to attach the sail shade to poles, nearby trees, or the side of a building. If rain is an issue, make sure to use waterproof or water resistant fabric so your shade doesn't get soaked during class.
Once you have a solid source of shade for you classrooms, the next step is to fill the space to create the environment of a classroom. Below is a range of free to low-cost to higher-cost options for creating the classroom.
Picnic tables: click here
Benches: click here
Another challenge that outdoor classrooms possess is the lack of teaching supplies that are accessible in typical indoor classrooms. To prevent sharing of materials, use backpacks to create outdoor learning kits for students so they can have their own supplies that they carry outdoors. Some examples for these kits can include clipboards with a rubber band (prevent paper from being blown away outside; provides a writing surface in absence of a desk), dry erase boards (reduce the use of paper), and journals (can be used for student observations, sketches, data collection, writing prompts, etc.).
For teachers, portable white boards help direct students' attention and are inexpensive in comparison to Smart Boards and projectors. You can buy voice amplifiers insure that students can hear the teacher's voice above all other distractions, and paper weights will prevent loose materials from blowing away and keep the classroom together. You can also use chalkboard paint on any surface to create an outdoor chalkboard!
Check out our Outdoor Learning Toolkit here to find a complete guide to outdoor learning in NYC!