Over the past few weeks, we’ve had pictures of hay bales, wheelbarrows, and pickups rolling around campus. Now, we’re starting to put the finishing touches on our new outdoor spaces. For early childhood students, our teachers are hard at work re-creating the cozy, warm, homelike environment we love in their outdoor spaces.
Sunflower lead teacher and early childhood director Ms. Brenda has been busy in her new classroom, as she writes to her families this week:
“Every good Waldorf teacher knows that the classroom is another teacher for young children, so planning for a mixed-age class has provided me with the opportunity to broaden my imagination. For the past week, I have been getting the basics in place. I have made, bought, received, rehabilitated, acquired, or polished wooden toys, huge building blocks, 12 new cutting boards for vegetables, 12 Kindergarten hammers + other woodworking equipment, place mats that ensure social distancing, hand-dyed silk for play, babies with dresses and pinafores, a little kitchen, soft rugs, outdoor rugs, and so much more.”
“All of this work has been done with an understanding of how to build a classroom during a pandemic,” says Ms. Brenda. “Can you believe it? I can. Now I am working on creating a pulley system for our older children (the younger ones will be captivated), one that will help us move all kinds of important items. It’s science in action!”
While distance learning was a challenge for our close-knit, tech-free community, spending time outdoors is right within our element as a Waldorf school, where building a relationship with and respect for nature is an integral part of education. While we wait for a response to our application for a waiver, we’ve been feeling inspired to be a part of the nationwide movement to move learning outdoors. From Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Burlington, Vermont, teachers are pulling out whiteboards and setting up umbrellas and shade sails to create new classroom spaces. Just yesterday, New York City shared a potential plan to move classrooms outdoors, taking students to nearby parks and even into (closed) city streets!
In this story from PBS News Hour, Sharon Danks, co-founder of the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, says, “Schools have a lot of potential to use their grounds that they’re not tapping.”
“So in this case, in the COVID context, we think they have plenty of space outside that can augment the inside space when they’re looking to spread kids out for social distancing,” she continues. (You can read more about Danks’s project, National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, here.)
Here in California, we have mild (if, hopefully, rainy) winters, but Danks says it’s possible to move education outdoors across climates. “We have great examples from Canada and from northern Scandinavia where they can go outside in the winter. And actually in Chicago in the pandemic in 1918, tuberculosis and the Spanish flu pandemic, they did go outside even there all winter in some schools,” she tells NewsHour.