EL PASO COUNTY — Class time outside is normal for School in the Woods. Normal for the Colorado Springs School District 20 program offers some helpful options for returning to school in a not so normal year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
School in the Woods has a building with classrooms, but a lot of the learning happens under a canopy of conifers in Black Forest. "4th graders, who will spend their entire year learning in, about, and from the natural world," said the school’s Administrator, Jon Wuerth. It is a unique outdoors focused, one age group, one year only program offered by District 20.
Students are called naturists for the school year. The year-long outdoor lesson plans compliment and hopefully better engage kids with state required reading, writing, social studies, and science curriculum.
"Basically everything from the building to every place outside is a place we can learn," said Wuerth. Since opening close to 20 years ago, School in the Woods has attracted inquiries about the outdoor education program. In 2020, the year of covid-19 there is added interest. "We just know that being outside is safer," said Wuerth. The inside of the school is designed with plenty of open space and rolling work-stations for learning. Outside there are multiple learning spaces with no limits on social distancing. "This is all really, really nice,” said Wuerth, “but I just want people to realize you don't have to have a School in the Woods to make some small changes like getting your kids outdoors." He is hearing from other educators asking for guidance on teaching outside. He is happy to share from his experience.
A field or a patch of grass with shade is fine. "Some children might not feel very comfortable about sitting on the ground, so use something as simple as a little square piece of something like a yoga matt cut into eight little sit-upons," said Wuerth.
While outside his students carry backpacks with a clipboard, pencils and a pencil sharpener. Teachers often use mobile dry erase boards the size of a tray with a pocket folder taped to the back to carry outlines and handouts. During a typical year students at School in the Woods spend 20-30% of their time outside. COVID-19 increases the open air environment priority. “Our students will probably be spending anywhere between 50 and 75% of their time outdoors,” said Wuerth, “There may be days when it's almost 100% of the time outdoors." Sun, rain, snow can all be included in lessons. Students “know how to layer their clothes,” for all conditions outside.