Outdoor Learning in Cold Weather: Keep Moving Through Winter & COVID-19

December 1, 2020
Harris Center naturalist John Benjamin leads 4th graders on a snowshoeing outing. (photo © Ben Conant)

Supporting Healthy Teaching & Learning in the Cold Months

Snow or freezing rain will be part of many days throughout the winter. Do we need to go back inside, even as flu season and COVID-19 persist? No! At least not on most days. What we need is preparation, planning, support, and — most of all — warm, dry clothes to protect against the elements.

As our communities grapple with how to keep schools open in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris Center teacher-naturalists have been working with other place-based educators from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine to support the integration of outdoor learning into K-8 school schedules. In a position paper recently released by the Inside-Outside Advisory Group (insideoutside.org)— which includes Harris Center School Program Director Janet Altobello — this coalition of experienced educators advocates for the importance of teaching outside as much as possible, even during the winter months.

The position paper provides examples for how this might work, with sections on winter clothing and gear; food, shelter, and activity; materials and equipment; curriculum; and a sample daily schedule. Links to supporting research and relevant articles are also included.

Since schools reopened for in-person teaching in the fall of 2020, communities in which teachers and their students have been outdoors as much as possible have reported great success. When nature-based outdoor education is the norm, reduced virus transmission, relaxed educators, focused learning, and laughing children — who wear face masks as easily as they wear their winter hats — are all possible.