If I had known it was this easy, I would have done it long ago
(Participant in an outdoor skills course)
This page is to be used in conjunction with Federal, Provincial, Municipal, and Departmental guidance on Covid-19 safety and your provinces K-12 education restart plans.
Taking students outdoors has been suggested in most restart plans for schools.
Please note that this page is focused on supporting ’Learning Outdoors’ (delivery of the regular curriculum in the ‘Fresh-Air Classroom’). This is not to be confused with ‘Outdoor learning’ which uses features of the outdoor environment to enrich or inform the curriculum, which we also support but requires additional skills etc.
Your ability to use the suggestions on this page depend on your particular context. There are enormous organizational, cultural, capacity and attitudinal barriers to creating a robust Fresh-Air classroom. Some of these you will be able to tackle and overcome. Some you will not. Either way, be prepared to think outside the box.
In an ideal world, at least 50% of classrooms would be Fresh-Air classrooms on Day-1. This would enable the school to maximize use of the two most powerful tools to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak: physical distancing and fresh air.
Very few schools will be able to achieve anything like that ideal, so we have highlighted three general targets for the use of Fresh-Air classrooms:
Your goal should be to have a Fresh-Air classrooms in place by the beginning of the semester. Think of it as a classroom without walls. An early start will enable teachers and students to build the experience and self-efficacy required to successfully use the Fresh- Air classrooms longer into the school year.
Before you start, take a deep breath. Be prepared to question all your assumptions about what a safe and high-quality learning environment looks like. You will quickly realize that much more is possible in Fresh-Air classrooms than you first expected.
Space and Scheduling
Occasional Use of the Fresh-Air Classroom
This level of innovation is likely the option chosen by most schools. Teachers go outside when the weather is favourable. Considerations are:
While Fresh-Air classrooms will be helpful for the health of the school community on several levels, the disadvantages of this approach include:
Robust Use of the Fresh-Air Classroom
For this approach the school uses easily purchased resources to create a safe and high-quality Fresh-Air classroom. The degree to which this approach provides protection from Covid-19 for the school community will depend on the degree to which this Fresh-Air classroom is used. Ideally the classroom becomes a long- term part of the school class rotation and is used throughout the year depending on local climate.
The essential ingredients for a safe and high-quality Fresh-Air classroom are overhead shelter (and possibly wind shelter); universal access by the teachers and students to appropriate clothing, and some provision of additional equipment such as black or white boards; mats or chairs, writing surfaces; blankets; etc.
Overhead Shelter: The most challenging task will likely be providing overhead shelter. The following approaches can be considered:
Comfortable Staff and Students: It is essential that staff and students can be physically comfortable all day in an environment that is far more dynamic than the indoor space. There are two parts to this. Having the right equipment (primarily clothing) and knowing how to use it.
Clothing: because you have overhead shelter, your class will not get wet and this opens doors to use less expensive clothing rather than expensive ‘outdoor clothing’.
The ancient adage ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ is (mostly) true. However, learning to use the clothing to best effect is a learned skill. Students will need to be encouraged to take charge of their own comfort.
Other Comfort Equipment: Each school will have its own unique environment. Particular challenges may be:
Robust Use of the Fresh-Air Classroom
From a risk-management perspective, this is the optimal approach. There is no doubt that executing it will require considerable resources. However, a risk-management approach balances the cost of a particular action against the cost of not acting. Fresh- Air classrooms can be an essential part of the risk management strategy.
© Outdoor Council of Canada