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Outdoor spaces are the solution for the return to in-person instruction

The return to classes after a year of isolation has forced school districts to rethink how to re-adapt learning environments and make them safer. The biggest challenge is to diminish the risk for virus transmission. Building, Design and Construction Magazine published a recent article that analyzes this reality in Los Angeles, California.

“To that end, the Los Angeles County Office of Education has published a 53-page report that provides K-12 schools with Design Guidelines for Outdoor Learning Environments. The AEC firms HMC Architects, the landscape architect AHBE|MIG, the engineering consultant IMEG, and the construction manager Bernards assisted the county in putting together this content”.

Design Guidelines for Outdoor Learning Environments is a document that guides school districts to achieve a healthier return to classes. “Outdoor learning has been proven to offer students a range of benefits, from enhancing engagement to reducing stress and promoting physical and psychological well being, says Dr. Debra Duardo, Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools”.

The report emphasizes outdoor space components that include:

  • Seating: the report suggests using natural furniture such as rocks or other materials.

  • Shade and protection: “the school community must decide its level of tolerance for varying environmental conditions and then the extent to protect the outdoor learning environment from them. The extent of overhead cover needed, for example, can impact the schedule, scope, and budget for a project”.

  • Teaching tools and resources: “The report offers considerations and recommendations for the outdoor use of individualized rolling storage, movable water supplies, outdoor white and black boards, outdoor storage (“prefabrication options can be inexpensive,” the report suggests), and power ports”.

  • Space definition: “Defining boundaries around the outdoor learning space can help to delineate between different activities taking place in an outdoor setting. Elements that can define these spaces include movable walls, permanent walls and fences (anything higher than 4 ft requires DSA approval), and planting screens and boxes. The report suggests that districts think about including solar-powered ports in the design and construction of these barriers”.

  • Site landscaping: “The report contends that the physical proximity to plants, and the wildlife attracted to them, helps reduce student anxiety, depression, and stress that can inhibit focus and motivation”.

  • Site infrastructure and Construction: “The report offers guidelines for providing outdoor learning environments with water, electrical power, and technology. It touches as well on the logistics of construction”.

At MKThink we are also looking at how learning environments can adapt to our evolving needs over time and how those spaces are designed considering factors such as wellbeing and safety. To see more about our recent work in developing outdoor learning, please check out:

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