This Delaware school embraced outdoor education before COVID-19. Can others follow suit?
October 2, 2020
In Delaware, the emergence of outdoor education programs is fairly recent. Schools might have nature trails or community gardens for students to learn from, but don’t dedicate most of the day to using those spaces, said Katie Pollock, a master teacher at the University of Delaware Lab School.
The Lab School has run an outdoor preschool class for four years. The program has grown as more parents have been convinced of the benefits of learning outside, Pollock said. COVID-19 and figuring out how to safely reenter schools have fueled that interest. This year, the school added three more outdoor classrooms.
“All areas of development are being strengthened and supported in a much richer, more multi-sensory environment than a typical classroom,” Pollock said. “We need to make sure that families understand that their children are going to get wet and they might be a little uncomfortable, but that through that, they’re building resiliency and the idea that we can go outside no matter what the weather is.”
The benefits of outdoor learning are all-encompassing, Pollock said. Constantly moving all day builds muscles, motor skills and coordination. Studies show that students who are outside longer sleep better at night and have better focus when completing assignments.
Ensuring that kids from lower-income neighborhoods have equitable access to the outdoors is possible, Pollock said, but it takes money and support from government agencies.
“This isn’t fair that only these children get this experience. It’s not enough,” Pollock said. “We need attention at the government level to help with the funding and the resources that are needed to make it happen.”