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Home U.S. News Outdoor Learning, in Blustery Weather

Outdoor Learning, in Blustery Weather

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Credit…Eric Limon

This summer, teachers rolled up their T-shirt sleeves and set out to make a plan for outdoor learning. A teacher in Wisconsin worked with her students to build a 12-sided outdoor classroom. A school in New York City held class on the roof. A district superintendent in Maine bought every Adirondack chair she could find.

But now, less than a month from the winter solstice, it’s getting cold. Some days, it’s raining. Other days, there’s snow. And often, the elements pose a stiff challenge to outdoor learning.

Many outdoor schools loosely follow the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Child Care Weather Watch guidelines, which suggest that kids can be outside indefinitely when the temperature is over 32 degrees and winds are lower than 15 miles per hour. Kids should be more closely monitored at lower temperatures or with stronger winds. And below 13 degrees, the guidelines say, young children should stay inside, while older ones can be outside only briefly.

Many schools have not had the time, or the funding, to plan for contingencies, Melinda Wenner Moyer reported for The Times. But folks have been getting creative. Here are some strategies that might work to keep students in nature for longer.

  • Gear swaps: To overcome winter clothing shortages, many schools have organized clothing drives, where parents can trade outgrown coats and cold-weather accessories.

  • A snack boost: The Juniper Hill School in Alna, Maine, which has long embraced outdoor learning, has hot tea available. The school also advises parents to pack extra snacks (for energy) and insulated and hot meals (for warmth) on the coldest days.

  • Hot water bottles: It works for students at the Monadnock Waldorf School in Keene, N.H. “They’ll just tuck them down into their snow pants and go for hikes with their core being warmed,” said Nell Wiener, the head of program. Just make sure to wrap the rubber in fabric, so you don’t burn their skin.

  • Keep them wiggling: Go on an expedition or try for some kinetic learning. “If I think the children are cold, I just put them to work. We’ll stack firewood,” said Adrienne Hofmann, Juniper Hill’s early childhood director.

  • Layers, layers, layers: For interior clothes, wool is better than cotton, since it “can get wet and still keep you warm,” said Matthew Schlein, the founder of the Walden Project public school program in Vergennes, Vt. For outer layers and mittens, think waterproof.

And don’t forget: It’s normal for the first few cold spells each year to be challenging. “It takes time for the children to be like, ‘Oh, my hands are so cold, I can’t use them. That’s why I should be wearing my mittens,’” Hofmann said. And when it gets too blustery, there’s nothing wrong with a backup plan.

“If it’s not forecasted to rise above 12 degrees by noon, then we would have a remote day,”Wiener said.

Credit…Anne Stires

In the days leading up to last week’s chaotic shutdown of New York City’s public school buildings, parents who had kept their kids at home also had to decide if they wanted to switch to some in-person learning for the remainder of the school year.

Not surprisingly, only 35,000 more children in New York City opted to return to classrooms. When and if the city reopens school, fewer than a third of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students will learn in classrooms.

The anemic response is yet another challenge to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has repeatedly said he has a mandate from parents to reopen schools, despite a bitter debate between parents, educators and City Hall.

For more on this story, check out our colleague Eliza Shapiro’s segment on The Daily today, which includes an interview with de Blasio.


  • The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa may require its students and staff to return to campus in January. Only those with a medical excuse would be exempt.

  • The coach of the University of Miami football team, Manny Diaz, tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • The College of Charleston has chosen to maintain its grading policy, despite student calls for an optional pass-fail system during the pandemic.

  • Students at the University of Delaware are going home for Thanksgiving break. But about 1,050 students plan to return to campus to finish the semester, Patrick LaPorte reported for The Review, the student paper.

  • George Washington University may continue to lay off staff, despite repeatedly moving the benchmark on when the university said it would complete the process, Zach Schonfeld reported for The GW Hatchet, the student paper.

  • A student voice: “I’m significantly less motivated than I think I’ve been in my previous two years,” a junior at the University of Kansas told Sophia Misle, a reporter at The University Daily Kansan, the student paper.

  • A good read: Matt Cohen, Colin Kulpa and Vivek Rao took a close look for The Indiana Daily Student at how Indiana University in Bloomington has weathered the pandemic. The university, one of the nation’s largest, is a case study in how administrators nationwide coped with a chaotic semester.

We’d love to keep featuring student reporting on the pandemic. Please email Amelia with links.

  • Across the Navajo Nation, and other rural areas, students are struggling without in-person school.

  • Two high schools in the Baltimore area have canceled their annual “Turkey Bowl” football game for the first time in a century.

  • Some schools in Oklahoma have started to make their own policies, defying guidelines from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Rhode Island, which has long pushed to keep classrooms open, will start allowing high schools to do more remote learning.

  • An opinion: Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University, explored in-school transmission in The Washington Post: “The best available data suggests that infection rates in schools simply mirror the prevalence of Covid-19 in the surrounding community — and that addressing community spread is where our efforts should be focused.”

  • A good read: Remote learning isn’t working for many Texas students, who are failing classes at higher rates than normal. “Parents and students describe a system in which kids are failing, not necessarily because they don’t understand the material, but because the process of teaching them is so broken that it’s difficult to succeed,” wrote Aliyya Swaby of The Texas Tribune.

  • In Memoriam: Education Week has created an online memorial to educators who have died from the coronavirus or related complications.


“I can’t stop cheating on Zoom, so should I do nothing? What is my responsibility in creating an environment where everyone is on the same plane for evaluation?” a teacher named Humberto B. asked The Ethicist, a column in The Times Magazine.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, the columnist, had suggestions. Make it harder to cheat on the test. Then remind students of the immorality behind academic dishonesty.

“It’s disrespectful to your teachers, and of course, it’s unfair to fellow students who have kept to the rules, given that your work may be ranked higher than it ought to be,” Kwame wrote.

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