Not only did we hike, sled, skate and hit up playgrounds (endlessly) with our kids, we started to spend more time outdoors during the school-day, too—no matter the weather. Getting some fresh air was a much-needed break for kids doing virtual school on devices all day, and learning outside is safer than in poorly ventilated indoor classrooms.
At public schools in Toronto, parents helped teachers set up outdoor classroom spaces with donated tree stumps, wagons, yoga mats and collapsible tents; outside the city, private alternative forest schools saw an explosion of interest from parents desperate to ensure their kids were in line for some form of COVID-safe education.
“We launched our fall programs in the summer and we essentially sold out in a day. We have never sold out,” says Chris Green, director of the non-profit Guelph Outdoor School, which was founded in 2012. The demand for what Green calls “nature immersion” programs is “directly because of COVID and people wanting an outdoor option.” The school added 95 new spots and tripled the number of kids attending, with three class sessions per day, six days per week.
In prior years, most of the school’s students had been those who struggled with the sedentary, traditional classroom format, but “this year brought out a whole new demographic,” says Green, with learners of all types. Parents now understand the importance of outdoor time for vitamin D, mental health, proper sleep patterns and a healthy lifestyle.