Teaching in the ‘New Normal’: Taking Learning Outside The Classroom

As schools in England look set to open in September, many teachers are grappling with how to teach pupils in the ‘new normal.’

Teaching as a profession was always fraught with challenges, however when combined with social distancing measures and the safety of the school community it can be hard to know where to start.

Protecting Staff & Student’s Physical Health

A recent report by David Ball, Professor of Risk Management at Middlesex University may contain a solution.

Among its recommendations and assessments, it warns that schools should plan for a significant expansion in learning outside the classroom and the time pupils spend outside.

As studies into Coronavirus show that it has a lesser impact on children and young people, school staff are understandable still worried about the risks they face when coming into contact with groups of people.

It is also important not to forget the adults who live with the children and any health issues they might have.

Therefore it makes sense to take learning outside the classroom and into the playground where it is easier for staff and students to maintain social distancing.

Studies undertaken in China also show that Coronavirus has a lower rate of transmission outdoors. This is because people are less likely to touch infected surfaces, but also when in fresh air viral particles will get quickly diluted by fresh air and droplets will fall to the ground rapidly where they can no longer be breathed in. 

Promoting Pupil Well-being

Whilst it may be considered a secondary concern compared to the physical risks of Coronavirus, the effects on mental health and well-being must also be a priority. 

The sudden disruption, isolation and anxiety created by Coronavirus has impacted all children, however, a report by the Child Poverty Action Group show that challenges faced by children (poverty, disadvantage, racial discrimination & disability discrimination) have been exacerbated by the Lockdown. So much so that child development experts a predicting a ‘national disaster’ as a generation grapple with mental health problems. 

One way to combat these issues is to increase the amount of time children engage in outdoor play. As a general rule outdoor play tends to be more active than indoor play, and the benefits of being physically active have long been proven in relation to mental health. 

The amount of outdoor play and activities pupils engage need only be increased slightly to have huge effects. The Daily Mile, for example, takes only 15minutes despite the many benefits it brings. Other measures to increase the amount of outdoor play can be as simple as moving indoor clubs outdoors or encouraging children to spend any quiet/independent time in the fresh air. 

When contemplating learning outside the classroom and outdoor play, it’s natural to think about the risks involved. However, the COVID and Children’s Play report shows that the benefits to children’s mental health and wellbeing of playing and learning outside together with others far outweigh the minimal risks to them and the adults around them. More than that, it is likely to minimise the risks associated with a return to the classroom, provided commonsense measures are maintained.</