Outdoor schools gaining attention during pandemic


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — While many kids spend their school days on a screen during the pandemic, some New Mexico students are spending them outdoors, rain or shine. It’s a type of school that’s gaining a lot of attention during the pandemic.

Three days a week, a kindergarten class at Elevation Children’s Center in Albuquerque meets outdoors and explores. So it’s no surprise when a news camera comes to class, it’s worth looking into. “I’m just saying hi to the people,” one student said as he waved at the camera.

At this school, the students sit on rocks instead of desks, climb trees instead of a playground, and the outdoors is the classroom.

“The children, they learn a lot of independence and self-sufficiency because they’re in charge a lot. They’re a lot more in charge than in a classroom,” said Teri Neville, Teacher Naturalist at Elevation Children’s Center. “The child learns to regulate themselves. We’re in an environment too where oh, there’s cacti around. So they’ve got to be aware.”

Some days include a hike or playing in a river. The children also learn concepts taught in the traditional classroom like letters and numbers. Most recently, they learned about magnetism. Students used the ‘classroom’ to learn, using magnets to find iron in the ground around them. “It’s like a tiny vacuum cleaner. because it picks up iron like a vacuum picks up trash,” one student explained.

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The school’s outdoor setup is getting a lot of attention during the pandemic. While some schools report a drop in enrollment because of the pandemic, Elevation Children’s Center said enrollment in its outdoor programs has stayed consistent. It also said parents in some of its indoor programs are asking for more classes outside.

“I think parents feel a lot more safe; the child is outdoors,” Neville said. From sliding down rocks to creating their own games using their imagination, most students will tell you playtime is their favorite part of the day. The school said they give the kids a lot of playtime because it is vital to their learning.

“Play is a super important thing and they learn so much during that,” Neville said. Some students still do online learning other days of the week and they’re not shy about which they prefer.

“Online is so boring! It’s just sitting there all day, c’mon,” one student said.

“Every child has a right to be outside every day. We’ve got to get them out there and this 15 minutes in school that’s all they’re allowed to be out, is just not fair,” Neville said. She said the class has been operating throughout the pandemic without having to close or cut class size and there haven’t been any COVID-19 outbreaks.

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