Building a Pop-Up or Permanent Outdoor Classroom?

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It’s no secret that learning outdoors delivers countless benefits to students. Research has shown that learning in the great outdoors not only boosts engagement and overall mood but decreases stress and anxiety. Plus, it promotes physical activity.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on, outdoor learning has taken on a new urgency. Schools across the country have raced to build outdoor learning spaces for the benefits of fresh air (where the coronavirus is less likely to spread) and greater social distancing. Plus, outdoor classrooms can be a great way for students who have limited access to remote learning technologies to learn in-person.

But as with any learning space, the right furniture and equipment can make or break the learning experience. Whether you’re planning an outdoor classroom that’s a permanent fixture of your school grounds or a “pop up” space for impromptu lessons and activities, here are a few basic elements to consider:

Seating

To accommodate social distancing, individual seats like lightweight folding chairs, plastic stools and tree stumps are best. Tree stumps, whether real or faux, lend a natural look and are often a popular choice for schools. However, stumps are not highly portable and are a better choice for permanent outdoor spaces.

Lightweight folding chairs and plastic stools are quick and easy to transport, set up and tear down – ideal options for temporary or impromptu activities and classes. Consider investing in a durable chair dolly that can quickly transport dozens of chairs at once, plus keep them stored when not in use.

For permanent outdoor classrooms where space is limited, benches are a great option. Outside benches built of heavy-duty steel or recycled plastic are long lasting, virtually maintenance-free and able to withstand all weather conditions.

Work Surfaces

Work surfaces are critical to making any outdoor classroom functional. A mobile whiteboard is easy to maneuver and can provide ample impromptu workspace for instructors. Or, a wall-mount markerboard can be installed onto an existing outdoor surface for a permanent solution.

For students, individual lapboards or dry erase tablets can help prevent the spread of infection by eliminating the need to share supplies - plus, they’re a cinch to carry.

Folding tables are a great option for spacious yet temporary outdoor workspaces. Like folding chairs, folding tables are generally lightweight and easy to set up and tear down – and a durable table dolly makes transport and storage simple.

For more permanent outdoor spaces, picnic tables are best. Picnic tables constructed of heavy-duty steel or recycled plastic withstand all weather conditions and generally last for years. Smooth-top picnic tables, unlike picnic tables with slats or perforations, make writing or working outdoors hassle-free.

Shade

To keep students comfortable and protected from the hot sun, shade is essential. Existing tree cover is often the best option – but if that’s not feasible in your space, outdoor umbrellas or pop-up canopies are usually an inexpensive and easy way to create shade. Both options are relatively easy to set up and tear down for temporary activities. However, to prevent deterioration, outdoor umbrellas and canopies should be taken down before snowfall or severe weather.

Picnic tables with permanent canopies are another option. While these tables require little maintenance and are sure last through years of use, they require more up-front investment.

Storage

Accessible storage is a must-have for any outdoor learning space, whether temporary or permanent. A Rolling Organizer Tote is a great way to keep teacher supplies like whiteboard markers, erasers, pens and pencils, papers and more always at hand. Likewise, lightweight mobile storage with removeable bins is a convenient way to keep supplies for students accessible and yet separated for infection control.

For year-round protection, consider heavy-duty outdoor storage solutions. Outdoor storage boxes come in all shapes and sizes and are ideal for storing bulky items like chairs, gardening tools, tarps, toys and more.

Cedar Furnishings

Natural cedar furniture is not only beautiful, but ultra-durable. The many natural benefits of cedar make it the best wood for long term outdoor use. Cedar has natural oils that prevent decay, even in the most humid climates. Plus, it’s resistant to bacterial and fungal growth and naturally repels insects.

Cedar is a strong, heavy wood that won’t warp, splinter or crack – making it ideal for permanent outdoor spaces. Natural cedar benches and tables are a low maintenance option that will lend a classic, rustic look to any outdoor space.

For early learners, cedar activity tables and mud kitchens are a fabulous way to encourage imagination and outdoor exploration all year long.

Questions about furnishing your pop-up or permanent outdoor learning space? Our experts are ready to listen. Call us 1-800-260-2776 or email sales@schooloutfitters.com to get started.

McCarty, Jeanne. “6 key ingredients to creating an outdoor classroom.” District Administration. 16 July 2020.
https://districtadministration.com/6-key-ingredients-to-creating-an-outdoor-classroom/

Bowie, Liz. “Create an Engaging Outdoor Classroom in a Hurry.” Demco.
https://ideas.demco.com/blog/create-an-engaging-outdoor-classroom-in-a-hurry/

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