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Outside Schools Are Trending. But Are They Feasible?

Sure, it all looks good on paper.

The end of the school year was a stressful one for everyone. A lot of kids have been out of the classroom since March and were thrown into distancing learning—with no time to prepare for the challenge. As some schools across the country now begin planning for the upcoming school year, experts and data are pointing to the benefits of having school outside. But, while the data may show outside school being an option, is it really feasible?

Experts agree that closing school was the right thing to do to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. But no one realized just how hard the pandemic would hit. At first, parents believed the closing of the school would last only a few weeks.

However, it quickly became clear that we were in this for the long haul. Schools closed for the year, but as officials start planning for the new school year, there’s a lot of questions about what it’s going to look like—and data is coming in from everywhere.

The idea for outside school reportedly came from Denmark.

Surprisingly, Denmark was able to reopen schools and daycare sooner than anywhere else and was the first country in Europe to do so—mainly due to the focus on outdoor learning.

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“The morning is spent doing maths or science, where we include children who are still at home, via Zoom,” Claire Astley, a teacher in Vester Skernige, on Fyn told The Local. “Then we’ll go outside and do activities like digging in the school garden, getting tadpoles from the lake, or going on bike tours to the forest or beach.”

And it had a positive impact on the students, too. “The shorter school day, which is from 0800-1300, the emphasis on outside projects and smaller class groups has actually improved behavior,” Claire said.

Italy’s education minister announced its school plans to incorporate outdoor lessons to safely reopen its school year in the fall, according to The Local. Scotland will be utilizing the city’s parks, natural heritage centers, and woodlands as outdoor classrooms when its school year begins in August, Edinburgh Live reported. Ontario, Canada has reportedly been looking into the potential of outdoor classes as well.

All of this looks good on paper, according to the data.

These schools aren’t just getting the idea of outdoor schools from thin air. According to statistics from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the spread of COVID-19 is much higher indoors vs outdoors.

“Activities are safer if you can maintain at least 6 feet of space between you and others because COVID-19 spreads easier between people who are within 6 feet of each other,” the CDC stated. “Indoor spaces with less ventilation where it might be harder to keep people apart are more risky than outdoor spaces.”

And this is backed up by a study out of China where researchers found that out of 7,324 coronavirus cases, just one stemmed from the transmission that happened outdoors. “All identified outbreaks of three or more cases occurred in an indoor environment, which confirms that sharing indoor space is a major SARS-CoV-2 infection risk,” the study concluded.

And that’s huge, and it’s no wonder why schools are looking at how to continue education outdoors, where the risk of spreading the virus is lower.

Experts say that kids should return to in-class learning as soon as possible.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), students need to return to in-person learning, advocating strongly for the U.S. to make considerations for that to happen. The AAP urged schools to use outdoor spaces when possible, along with increased hand-washing, wearing face masks, lowered class sizes, and increased cleaning protocols.

Similarly, SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Canada, released guidelines for school reopening, also advocating for the return to in-class learning come September. Its guidelines also highlight the importance of hand-washing, increased cleaning, and utilizing outdoors when possible saying, “if weather permits, consideration could be given to having classes outside.”

And that is where the issue hits—weather permitting. On paper, the idea of classes outside makes total sense. The data supports it for a decreased risk of catching COVID-19, and studies point to it being beneficial for learning, too. And, it gets our kids back in classes and allows working parents to reduce the juggle.

But all this on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to a real workable solution. Weather permitting means likely only a couple of good months before the colder seasons start. What then?