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Taking Education Outdoors: Introduction

Students learning outdoors wearing masks

How to Use This Resource

This toolkit builds on the framework of Education Forward: Reopening Wisconsin Schools. The resources in this toolkit are intended to help schools take learning outside to help address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (View all COVID-19 information from DPI here.) These resources are not limited to education during the pandemic—taking learning outdoors can be part of providing equitable education during COVID-19 and beyond. 

This toolkit is a living document which will be continually updated to reflect additional learning and new resources by our education community. Check back often. If you have a resource suggestion to include in the toolkit, please share it:

Help us make this toolkit better! Provide feedback.

Goals

We need to provide free, equitable access to education for all students. However, schools are facing significant challenges with indoor spacing due to needs for physical distancing. Students connecting with education remotely are potentially facing significant amounts of screen time, which has unique health implications. 

Outdoor learning is good instructional design at any time, but it is especially supportive during COVID-19 when considering safe learning environments. Being outside provides benefits for students’ physical, mental, and academic health and wellbeing. The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative launched on June 4, 2020 (watch webinar recording) and invited schools and districts to ask these questions: 

  • What if everyone could go outside first?
  • What if we designed learning to happen outside, and used inside and online education as secondary support? 

Taking learning outdoors is a local decision and support is needed from many partners, including students and families. Taking learning outside doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. In the same way that many districts offered a virtual option, an outdoor option could be offered to teachers and students. This toolkit provides tools and resources to help Wisconsin schools make these decisions.

Public Health Assumptions

Public health assumptions are outlined in "Education Forward." We continue to use this guidance and information provided by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to inform this work.  

Taking an Equitable Approach

We keep equity at the center of our work, planning with the under-resourced and under-served in mind to make things as accessible to as many learners as we can. We encourage schools and communities to work from an asset-based approach—looking at what can be done, instead of what isn’t possible. We recognize that not all solutions are going to work everywhere, but every place can do something.

The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative grew out of a need to address the equity gap. Read the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative’s Equity Statement.

Education Forward encourages educators to ask the following questions that should also be asked when planning for learning outdoors: 

  • What inequities has the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted?
  • How are you addressing these inequities?
  • Who is at the table when you are planning and making decisions? How are you ensuring those who are most impacted are an integral part of the planning and decision making process?
  • How are decisions and decision-making processes made transparent to those they affect? Does everyone know how to make a suggestion or raise an issue?
  • What are the assets of under-served and under-resourced communities that you work with or belong to?
  • What might help staff notice biases in working with people different from themselves?
  • Do you have a full enough understanding of the needs of specific groups as you identify priorities?
  • Will the decisions you are making help you to meet the needs of all students?
  • How are you actively seeking and using data to understand needs and perspectives of different groups of students?
  • Does everyone on the team have access to the same information?

Here are additional resources to support equity work in environmental education specifically: 

List of Compiled Resources

There are links to many newspaper articles, case studies, and resources throughout this toolkit. We have compiled them on this page for easy access. 

Community Stories

Throughout the toolkit we have shared stories from across Wisconsin. We have compiled these community stories for easy access.

Acknowledgements

Many of the resources in this toolkit are a result of a partnership with Green Schoolyards of America's National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. We benefited greatly from the weekly working groups and resources developed by this team of educators from across the nation. 

Thank you to the many individuals in Wisconsin who provided input through virtual meetings, submitted resources, and reviewed this toolkit. In addition to those individuals, this toolkit was developed in partnership with:


Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education

FIELD Edventures


Green and Healthy Schools Wisconsin


Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point

 

For questions about this information, contact Victoria Rydberg (608) 266-0419