Jun 21 2024
Classroom

Outdoor Classrooms Help Learning Flourish

K–12 schools across the country continue planning and building outdoor learning spaces for students.

Classrooms that support outdoor learning are hardly a new concept. Take California’s Corona Avenue School, designed by architect Richard Neutra in the 1920s and brought to life in 1935. It featured large glass windows on sliding walls that could be opened to expand the classroom for learning outside. The design inspired several other school architects to incorporate an easy connection to nature.

Today’s challenges with outdoor classrooms frequently revolve less around building design, and more around blending technology with outdoor spaces. Technology in these spaces must be either ruggedized for the outdoors or sheltered from the elements, and the internet connection must be strong enough to ensure users can access the applications, devices and cloud content they need.

LEARN MORE: Invest in the right technologies for outdoor teaching and learning.

As the technology improves, however, so do the possibilities for modern outdoor learning environments. Here are some schools making outdoor classrooms a reality:

Communities and Funding Make K–12 Outdoor Classrooms Possible

From the early planning phases to active learning, K–12 schools across the country have outdoor classrooms in various stages of completion.

Transylvania County Schools in Brevard, N.C., for example, opened an elementary school outdoor classroom last September and a trail system in May, according to posts on the Facebook page for the Brevard Elementary Organization of Parents and Teachers. These projects were brought to life with support from the community, a grant from the North Carolina Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council and additional funding from local philanthropists, Frank and Donna Patton.

The local community also played a large role in the creation of Manchester (N.H.) School District’s outdoor classroom at Webster Elementary School last October. A partnership with Southern New Hampshire University made outdoor learning possible for elementary students like Tyler Vachon, who told local station WMUR9 that “it’s nice to be outside when you do nature because it feels more nice.”

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Shenandoah County Public Schools in Virginia opened its outdoor classroom recently for students at North Fork Middle School in a project brought to life by carpentry students from the district’s career and technical education school, Triplett Tech.

Bowling Green City Schools, meanwhile, is in the planning phases of its outdoor learning environment, thanks to a grant from a local materials company that will help construct the classroom. The Ohio district plans to hold classes in the new space as early as this August.

The Pandemic Renewed Interest in Outdoor Learning Environments

The pandemic helped spur a resurgence in outdoor learning spaces as schools sought safe, in-person solutions for the 2020-2021 school year.

 

One teacher even appeared on Good Morning America in 2020 after taking it upon herself and her family to build an outdoor learning space for students at Prairie Hill Waldorf School in Pewaukee, Wis.

These COVID-era outdoor spaces, many of which were built rapidly by educators or administrators, have had a lasting impact on learning. Beverly Public Schools in Massachusetts recently turned its makeshift outdoor learning space at Hannah Elementary School into a permanent classroom, thanks to fundraising, grants and donations.

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