Talking Points

What if we just moved school outside?

What are schools going to do this fall?

Most public school systems haven't announced firm plans for reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but among those that have, fully remote or hybrid options are understandably popular. Yet as the spring semester demonstrated, virtual education at the primary level doesn't accommodate reality — not the reality of kids' learning styles and attention spans, nor the reality of the resources unavailable in many students' homes.

Some parents are exploring alternatives, including homeschooling, "pods," and private school. For many families, these options won't be feasible, at least not by September. But here's an idea that would allow us to redeem most of the school year in most places, particularly for the youngest students who have the most difficulty learning online: Move school outside.

Olga Khazan made the case Tuesday at The Atlantic:

It might sound crazy, but kids learn outside all the time, and did so even before the pandemic. About 250 "forest schools" exist in the U.S., in which younger kids spend much of their time in nature, and some have stayed open during the pandemic. In Denmark and Italy, some schools have reopened in recent months because students are spending as much of their day outdoors as possible. [...] Outdoor school would look like an extremely low-tech, mildly uncomfortable version of a regular school day, though perhaps with more sunscreen. [The Atlantic]

There are logistical challenges here, but they aren't insurmountable. One idea: Adjust the school year schedule to the local weather. Here in Minnesota, study all summer outside and vacation in the frigid months. In Florida or Arizona, stick with a more traditional arrangement.

Outdoor learning has been endorsed by national education and conservation advocacy groups, teachers, and occupational therapists. Unfortunately, Khazan reports, this option has not even been considered at most school districts nationwide, but perhaps that will change as the idea becomes more popular.

Read more at The Atlantic, and see my June column on going outside for school (and much more!) here at The Week.