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Taking school outdoors during COVID

Taking school outdoors during COVID

A Dundas company that started out making rustic play structures is now adapting its technology to make outdoor classrooms for in preparation for the upcoming school year. The classrooms would take advantage of the greater safety that health officials say comes with outdoor environments coupled with social distancing. OutClass, is an outdoor classroom system according to its president Adam Bienenstock. We’ve been designing, constructing and creating children’s outdoor learning environments for twenty years now and felt compelled to respond to the current Covid-19 crisis with an affordable, scalable and sustainable solution for schools around the world that ensures children and educators can learn and work in a safe environment.” Most of the company’s early work was creating play structures, but about twenty years ago the company started creating outdoor learning environments for the private school sector—Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf, all of whom offer nature-based curricula. Two Montessori’s in the Hamilton area are using OutClass environments.

The outdoor learning environment at Dundas Montessori School
A rendering of an outdoor setup with weather protection

The set ups consist of decks and stools made from tree trunks. The company works with about 60 municipal arborists to harvest trees that are slated for cutting due to age and potential safety issues. “For us its about sustainable harvesting of trees. Most of these tress would have ended up as wood chips if we weren’t making use of them,” said Adam. The company is currently in discussions with school boards in Hamilton and Halton.

The outdoor setup alows for social distancing

A company release reads, the OutClass™ design uses data and research to balance pedagogical and developmental objectives with best practices to prevent viral transmission. The resulting model enables safe, comfortable and effective outdoor learning for class sizes of up to 20 that can be divided into small groups with 6’ physical distancing and natural materials that have lower viability of spreading the virus. “Kids learn in different ways, and teachers need to adapt to accommodate them,” noted Dr. Sarah Croke, a biologist and educator. “This system respects the need for flexibility in its ability to reconfigure to meet our teaching style.”

Bienenstock predicts they will be in 1000 schools across North America in the next couple of months. On the day the Bay Observer spokes with Mr. Bienenstock he had sold 8 units. The outdoor learning environments can be set up in a day.

See Also

Adam Bienenstock explains the system in more detail.

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