Outdoor Learning

The Green Team at P.S. 185 initiated the Outdoor Learning project in July 2020, as a response to the needs of the pandemic. At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, we launched Outdoor Learning at P.S. 185 to take advantage of the school’s expansive yard area and proximity to Central Park at a time when fresh air is more important than ever. While recess has always been a part of the day when PS 185 students have gone outside, the concept of Outdoor Learning provides an opportunity for almost any part of the school day to happen outside. Dance / Physical Education, Reading, lunch, Science and even Math or Writing may be conducted in open outdoor space, on the school grounds or in Central Park. It may be as simple as students bringing a book to their outdoor classroom area or taking a supervised walk with their class.

There is evidence that transmission rates of COVID-19 are at least an order of magnitude lower outdoors (one study determined it was 19x less likely to transmit the virus outdoors). Additionally, the mental health benefits of time outdoors, ideally in natural environments, are well supported by research. In particular, the Attention Restoration Theory demonstrates how mental fatigue and concentration are improved after time spent in nature. Since social-emotional needs have long been a top priority at the Locke School, outdoor learning is a natural fit.

At the Locke School, classroom teachers can bring their classes outside at several different periods of time in the day, with some periods set aside for Physical Education classes specifically. There are designated areas that the classes will have access to, maintained specifically for this purpose. We aim to provide the opportunity for all students to get outside every day in most weather conditions other than heavy rain or excessive cold. Teachers are encouraged to go outside with their classes for any activity that they feel comfortable, and often use the environment to help teach lessons whether counting with snowballs or gathering leaves to study them more closely.

The Locke School’s Outdoor Learning initiative was featured in a December 2020 article on the United Federation of Teachers website, Gifts of the Garden. The school is working to further develop the Outdoor Learning program at The Locke School with additional materials and resources becoming available as we return to the more normal school schedules in the future.

A Locke School: A Case Study by GSA

Click the image on the left to view the possible solutions we explored, in partnership with Green Schoolyards of America, to develop our outside learning environment.