Outdoor Classrooms: In the forest and on the street

Outdoor Classrooms: In the forest and on the street

How often did you take your students outside last year? In April 2019, we polled our Idea Lab Educator Advisory. The most prevalent answer: Once a week. Fast-forward to today and the answer is sure to be different!

Outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is known to be much lower than when indoors. Reopening guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and in Canada, the Government of Canada and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) include recommendations for students and teachers to spend more time outside for all subjects.

Outdoor classrooms in a natural environment

In Canada, First Nations communities have been providing land-based learning for years that has included subjects like math, science and chemistry. Lessons in medicine picking, survival skills and hide scraping incorporate these subjects without the need of a textbook. In response to COVID-19, many First Nations communities are expanding their land-based programs as part of their reopening plans.

Popup outdoor classrooms in an urban area

Examples of outdoor classrooms situated in a natural environment are fairly easy to envision, but they are not available to all students, particularly in dense urban centers.

We’ve seen the restaurant industry explore outdoor areas by blocking off downtown streets to expand their patios. Schools can work with their local officials to do the same and many cities are relaxing or speeding up their permit process to allow for this. In Brooklyn NY, P.S. 15, Patrick F. Daily, demonstrations are being run on how teachers can use outdoor areas to teach their students ahead of reopening. By wheeling out easels typically used indoors, along with small cushions for students to sit on, a street is converted to circle time.

Tips for urban schools:

  • Map parks in close proximity to schools to help teachers locate them
  • Create staggered schedules for use of outdoor spaces
  • Travel around the community and use a walk as a learning opportunity by observing different businesses, buildings, etc.
  • Incorporate local history while walking in neighborhoods

Dedicated outdoor classrooms on school property

By planning ahead and packing up the right supplies, an outdoor classroom can be just as useful as an indoor one. With help from parents and students, and a little creativity, a corner of the school yard can be converted into a useful and engaging space.

Tips for creating an outdoor classroom:

Whiteboards and storage:

Outdoor classrooms often include raised garden beds and weather tools, but traditional equipment normally used indoors, can be moved outside to aid in lessons. Having an easel with a whiteboard is useful in providing a spot for instructions and discussion.

Loading up a book cart with individual tubs for each student helps avoid the need for students to make trips into the school for materials. Fill them with clipboards, markers, and notebooks.

If you are thinking of using your Copernicus teaching easel or cart outside, be sure to store it indoors at the end of the day.


Having a place for students to sit completes the classroom. Have students carry out their own plastic stools or yoga mats. More permanent seating can be made out of natural materials, like logs and many communities have been resourceful in finding free outlets for lumber, like local arborists.

Check out these DIY seating ideas:

Seats made from buckets

Students can stash their stuff in there too!

DYI cardboard stool

Milk crate stool (more weather resistant)

Here are a few free resources to help inspire you as you create and use your outdoor classroom.

Have fun!

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