Maximizing Outdoor Classrooms and Social Spaces


Years from now, kids who spent 2020 and 2021 at The Children’s School may find that their best memories of childhood schooldays are all about exploring a forest or fording a stream.

During this Covid 19 pandemic, outdoors is often the safest place to be for small groups of kids or adults. When coupled with masks and social distancing, risks are sharply reduced for transmitting the virus outdoors.


When we started this school year with our onsite Hybrid program, we integrated as much outdoor time as possible for each of our classrooms per the advice of our Health Advisory Committee. This took many different shapes: We used our property to create outdoor gathering and learning spaces for each class. Some classes increased their number of trips to the woods and outdoor parks, with middle level classes gathering outdoors on a regular schedule twice each week. Other classes partnered with nearby families to hold story time or class in a friendly backyard space.

Now that we are back to a fully remote program for grades 3 – 8, each class has incorporated at least one outdoor morning meet-up each week. Students meet their teachers and classmates at nearby forest preserves so that everyone can maintain all-important social connections. It’s also a convenient time to pick up and drop off weekly learning materials safely.

Backyard School is in Session

Meanwhile, back in the building, our K-2 early childhood program is still onsite, but has more room to spread out. Fewer people in the building means the risk of viral spread is also reduced for our teachers and students in the youngest grades.

Even though they’re still onsite, K-2 continues to incorporate as much outdoor time as possible in their 3-hour daily schedule, both in our outdoor play-space, nearby backyards, and on trips to the forest preserve. Kids and teachers wear a few more layers of warm clothes so that we can also keep windows open in the classrooms for ventilation, which reduces infection risk.


The best part about our increased outdoor time is that it came so naturally. The Children’s School has always incorporated play-based learning outdoors, as well as open-ended nature-play and frequent field trips to the woods, as part of its ongoing curriculum at each grade level. Even before Covid-19, our faculty had been brainstorming how we could get our students outdoors more, and spend more time in the woods, as both teachers and students love it and find many educational and social-emotional benefits.

In a stressful year of challenges and sadness brought on by the Covid pandemic, our outdoor time and trips to the woods are an important silver lining. In fact, it may have a permanent impact on our program for years to come. It’s always great to have kids active and experiencing the outdoors and shows us that more outdoor time is both feasible and productive and makes for great memories.

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“Education is not preparation for life;
education is life itself.” 

John Dewey

© 2018 The Children's School - 200 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302  |  708-484-8033

website by Tracy Litsey at Practicespecialty.com | photographs by Lindsay Schumaier Photography,  Eileen Moloney Photography, and Laura Donoghue