But I have so enjoyed putting together the distance learning tote bags and I'm pleased that the start of the school year seems to be going as smoothly as could be expected. I'm still putting a ton of energy into prepping for the return of children, when we go to yellow, and trying out the new Outdoor Classroom setup. Like all other teachers and school administrators, how to have a safe return to school occupies my mind about 98% of the time.
I was pleased to find an excellent new article on the topic! I recommend sharing it, if you're looking for a good all-in-one article on the subject that's easy to share. It's from the Children & Nature Network (findingnature.org):
I'm also really enjoying reading the FREE Playworks School Reopening Workbook, about infusing play into your school day rhythms & routines. They have been working with schools extensively on the value of recess (since before COVID), and have a lot of useful things to say to help address the challenges of the current time. Click on the link for info on how to download.
I think that an important aspect of Outdoor Classrooms is having good gear. I'd love to hear recommendations from others (this is not an exhaustive list, because I'm new to thinking this way). Here's what I have figured out so far:
For Staying Dry
Zac loves the Puddle Pants / Puddle Coat / Puddle Mittens at A Toy Garden. We have the unlined and the fleece lined puddle pants.
I just got myself a swanky new pair of purple Wellingtons, which I'm very excited about. My old rain boots finally wore out a while back and, while I'm happy to go barefoot in the rain in the summer, I'll need something for when the weather turns cold. They have a Neoprene lining.
For Staying Warm
Speaking of cold weather, it is time for me to invest in more wool for my child. A friend strongly recommended Sloomb. And she said you can often find still-sturdy used pieces on eBay (and wool is so easy to repair... just needle felt on a patch).
For Combating Bug Bites
We have liked the tin of insect repellent balm by Badger. It goes on like a lotion, which is far easier in my mind than spraying my child, and I feel like it is nourishing our skin even in bugs aren't around. Which is a plus. And it doesn't leak in a backpack because it's a solid product.
I also have a friend who recommended insect repellent patches, which were easy to apply on her child. They were cute little circle stickers.
For Combating Poison Ivy
Again, this is a product Zac and I love because it nourishes the skin AND does an amazing job at healing poison ivy! It's a wonderful salve called Green Goo.
For Writing in the Rain
I am blown away by Rite in the Rain's spiral notebooks. We got a sample from Little River Research & Design when they lent us a Stream Table last year. This paper is amazing! They were mentioned in a New York Times article yesterday (With Some Schools Moving Outdoors, Retailers Follow), since now they are getting a ton of orders from schools around the country, and elementary & high schools hadn't been a market they focused on before. But they have the perfect product for kids who are learning outside. And it's a well-established U.S. company; they've been around for a century!
For Looking at Nature Up Close
Having a basket of shared magnifying glasses isn't practical in the time of COVID, but having each child wear a jeweler's loupe (that becomes part of their permanent stash of personal school supplies) is perfect! You can get a loupe-on-a-lanyard from The Private Eye (or a whole class set), and there's an entire curriculum that goes with them as well. It's excellent. It focuses on having children make nature observations and then create written analogies. This builds wonderful creative thinking and focusing on students making interdisciplinary connections ("looks like," "reminds me of"). Natalie did her entire human body book this way, coming up with analogies for every single part of every human body system.
For Doing Yoga
Yoga outside is lovely, and our former yoga teacher, Miss Luna, did a fantastic job with this. She told me that using an old bath towel instead of a yoga mat is preferable, since the children have more of a connection to the ground. When the ground was damp, we would double up the bath towels to provide a thicker surface. This makes so much sense for COVID, since then you're not wiping down yoga mats. You can just pop them in the wash, or simply ask each child to bring their own bath/beach towel.
For Storing Things
Figuring out functional outdoor storage is key! I immediately discovered that I needed a place to put my silver bell and my plan book and pencil each day. Even if you shlep all of your lesson supplies in tote bags (or curriculum-on-the-go kits), you still to figure out where you'll put them down.
Having bins that have drainage in the bottom, like milk crates, is great. Victoria Hackett at Outdoor Classrooms also suggests having lots of hooks! You have have hooks permanently attached to walls or fences where you'll need to hang things, or have a bunch of S hooks that can be moved around. S hooks come in all different sizes; I finally found some fat enough for what I needed (1 1/2 inch diameter).
For Protecting Food
Keeping flies from casually walking all over your lunch/snack food choices is an important consideration when you're eating outside. I got a set of six pop-up mesh food covers. With four children in each pod plus me and Zac, this should work well.
You can also cover your food with a cloth napkin, if you have one along with your lunch box, although it's slightly less convenient because you can't see your food and some children need that visual cue. Paper napkins blow away.
If you've been teaching outdoors for a while, and you have gear recommendations to share, please do! I'd love to have a group brainstorm.
This post contains affiliate links to materials I truly use for homeschooling. Qualifying purchases provide me with revenue. Thank you for your support!