Scotland eyes outdoor learning as model for reopening of schools
This is great news for Forest Kindergarten's like Hickory Hill!
Outdoor learning could offer a template for socially distanced schooling across Scotland, according to practitioners who believe the coronavirus pandemic could push parents and teachers to embrace the benefits of education in the outdoors.
While Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has warned that schools may not reopen until August, the Guardian understands that local authorities are exploring how using outdoor space could optimize physical distancing.
Scotland’s children’s minister, Maree Todd, said: “There are a growing number of fully and partially outdoor childcare settings in Scotland. This model could have many benefits for maintaining physical distancing and minimizing risk of transmission as part of the transition from lockdown back into early learning and childcare and school. While specialist outdoor nurseries are well attuned to the needs of children spending all day outdoors, other establishments are considering how to adapt their practice to enable more time to be spent in gardens and playgrounds.”
The outdoor experience is already a part of Scotland’s “curriculum for excellence”, while many councils have ambitious plans to expand outdoor learning as they meet the Scottish government’s commitment to a near-doubling of funded childcare this year.
Scotland’s educators and policymakers have been acting on a growing weight of evidence about the exponentially positive impact of learning outdoors on everything from eyesight to risk assessment to resilience, but now practitioners are convinced their experience could offer a model for returning to school.
Since lockdown began, a number of outdoor nurseries across the country have become childcare hubs for children of key workers. Zoe Sills, who manages the Earthtime forest school nursery in Elgin, said: “When you’ve got the natural world at your fingertips, you don’t need so many toys, which means fewer surfaces where the virus can be passed on.” Each child is given a bag containing their own paintbrush, crayons and glue stick, then encouraged to spread out and find their own space to do crafting activities.
Cameron Sprague, a senior team leader at Stramash nursery, Fort William, which is likewise now acting as a childcare hub, said: “It’s always been the case that infection control is easier outdoors: we never have the situation where one kid gets chicken pox then a third of the school is off.”
Outside space allows for social distancing to happen more naturally, added Sprague. “The weather has been on our side, so the children can play freely outside. We have rolling snacks and lunches to avoid them clustering together, and handwashing every hour.”
“This might be the way that outdoor learning gets pushed forward, but it’s about so much more than infection control. Teachers do need support to do this: there are not many things you can’t teach outdoors, you just have to think creatively.” Kenny Forsyth, the chief executive of Stramash social enterprise, which runs outdoor nurseries across the Highlands, suggests that the answers to the challenges posed by coronavirus are already embedded in outdoor settings. “If you have an indoor nursery with four walls and a square metrage per child defined by the local council, then the number of children who can come back will be limited by social distancing. You can manage and control infection risk better outdoors, and we are a better option, especially at the time of year. The biggest single issue is that there are not enough of us to go round.” Forsyth estimates that less than 1% of nursery age children in Scotland all-day all-day outdoor nurseries.
Hickory Hill Nature School is in the News!
A big thank you to Joan Holliday for showcaing HHNS in the Southern Chester County News!