The following article was published in the September 2020 issue of Green Schoolyards Catalyst Quarterly, a publication of the Green Schoolyards National Network dedicated to the advancement of green, healthy, sustainable K-12 schools. GSCQ is a peer reviewed, high interest digital magazine that highlights evidence-based practices for replication in green, healthy, sustainable schools.
Choices made in response to change can transform crisis into opportunity. The outbreak of COVID-19 across the globe has radically impacted our lives, creating significant shifts in routines and behaviors and upending our ideas of a “normal” we can never go back to. From the climate crisis to a global viral pandemic, to protests erupting around the nation in a fight to end systemic racism, it has never been more critical to invest in education that supports well-being, justice, and resiliency for students, teachers, communities, and the natural environment which sustains life.
COVID-19 has taught us we are capable of rapid change. The closing of school buildings and the move to online learning this spring was tremendously challenging for many families to navigate. While there are many benefits to online learning, especially for older students, teaching and learning to happen best in relationships with others and the rest of the natural world. How can we leverage the momentum of this time of massive disruption to shift to a more mindful, sustainable, and equitable model of public education that addresses new and deeply embedded threats and injustice?
We can start by turning education inside out. Green schoolyards, forest preschools, and outdoor early childhood programs have been around for decades, but now their practices seem prescient: they call for ample outside time, natural play, and exploration, all of which support the physical distancing measures that will be needed moving forward. An article in the New York Times reported that there is “growing consensus among experts that, if Americans are going to leave their homes, it’s safer to be outside than in the office or the mall. With fresh air and more space between people, the risk goes down” (Levenson, Parker-Pope, and Gorman, 2020). Outdoor classrooms also employ enthusiastic educators who enjoy helping children learn in and from nature, a critical skill as we become more keenly aware of our interconnectedness with nature and the need for thinking ecologically – to understand how nature supports our health and how we can support the health of the natural world.