National Wildlife Federation, North American Association for Environmental Education Advocate Utilizing Outdoor Classrooms for School Reopening

RESTON, Va. — To help educators make the case for using outdoor classrooms and spaces in COVID-19-era reopening plans, the National Wildlife Federation and the North American Association for Environmental Education have compiled helpful source information, design ideas and policy advocacy tips that can be used by parents, teachers, civic organizations and others. This new guide does not encourage school reopening, unless supported by science-based public health recommendations, and states that any reopening of schools or childcare centers for in person instruction, must be sanctioned by state and local public health officials.

“There are many reasons to promote the use of outdoor spaces in health-approved school reopening. There is less potential for disease transmission outdoors and social distancing can be more effectively accomplished as many schools, even in urban settings, have campuses occupying several acres of land,” said Kevin Coyle, counsel to the CEO at the National Wildlife Federation. “Outdoor classroom spaces can also have other important health, development and academic advantages, especially if they incorporate the natural features that exist on many school and childcare campuses. This would particularly benefit students and teachers from low income communities, where COVID-19 infection rates are higher than average, and classrooms and facilities are often smaller and overcrowded.”

“Creative use of outdoor education can address concerns that students may by slipping behind in their academic advancement, particularly when it comes to science and technology education, critical thinking, problem solving, cognition and environmental literacy. There is also significant evidence that student health, interest in learning and ability to concentrate gets a boost from outdoor education,” said Sarah Bodor, director of policy & affiliate relations at the North American Association for Environmental Education. “Many states and localities are currently developing comprehensive plans for school reopening. Spending a portion of the new federal and state funding on creating effective outdoor classroom spaces is a sensible and highly cost-effective investment, and a useful addition to any school reopening plan.”

The concept of outdoor learning is not new. In the early 1900s, the nationwide tuberculosis epidemic resulted in outdoor classrooms becoming a staple of American public K-12 education for several years.

The decisions on when and how to safely and effectively return to schools will be highly localized and will be taken up by the superintendents and school boards of the nation’s 14,000 school districts and the principals of America’s 30,000 private schools. This guide is carefully designed to help thousands of pre-K-12 educators, parents, staff and decision makers across the U.S. to become more effective voices for outdoor classrooms, helping them secure part of the large amounts of funding that will be available from federal, state and local sources.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) program is partnering with child care providers, industry leaders and public spaces to create a safe and equitable approach to connecting young children to nature and the outdoors. As part of this mission, ECHO has collaborated with the Natural Learning Initiative to develop strategies for implementing and facilitating the use of safe outdoor spaces amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

About The National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization, uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

About The North American Association for Environmental Education

For nearly 50 years, NAAEE has served as the professional association, champion, and backbone organization for the field of environmental education, working with a diverse group of educators to accelerate environmental literacy and civic engagement.

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