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I had the good fortune to read Andrea Gordon’s excellent article in the Star this summer on the miraculous effects that an outdoor classroom has been having on the students of Blaydon Public School. I then watched the video that accompanied the article with tears running down my cheeks, so inspired by the way that creating an outdoor space has transformed Blaydon PS.

What is so inspiring about the outdoor classroom at Blaydon is that it was made by teachers and parents themselves, without any grants or special funding — and for less than $1000.

Andrea Gordon was kind enough to put me in touch with Maria Crowther, one of the teachers who made the outdoor classroom happen for the students of Blaydon PS. Maria says that the benefits for both regular students and students with special needs have been beyond anything they had initially expected: far beyond the progress they saw in students with Autism beginning to communicate in ways they hadn’t before, and students from the regular classrooms returning to their indoor studies with a renewed focus.

Maria says, “the natural environment seems to be the great equalizer.” Without even putting emphasis on integrating the two types of classrooms those 90 minutes a day have created a time and a place for all students at Blaydon PS to play and learn together.

I asked Maria how a parent could respectfully encourage their own school’s administration to start building an outdoor classroom. Here are some of her suggestions:

  1. Approach your child’s teacher with information about outdoor classrooms: Evergreen’s website  (those folks at the Brickworks!) includes a multitude of instructions on building various elements of an outdoor classroom. 
  2. Invite your child’s teacher to visit an outdoor classroom and to see it in action. Contact Blaydon PS or Givins/Shaw or one of the many schools across the GTA who have an outdoor classroom on site. Or you can help them to organize a school trip to the Evergreen Brick Works.
  3. Introduce the administration to the various grants that are available, if they don’t know already. TD Bank has grants for outdoor classroom building, as does Toyota (through Evergreen).
  4. Finally, and most importantly, remember that parents are the key to any change at school. Maria believes that if they work together “parents can do anything!” She has seen mothers and fathers move mountains within the TDSB for their kids. Talk to the parents at your school and get them invested in the project.

The exciting thing about making an outdoor classroom is that you can design it to suit the specific needs of your school and it can be done on the cheap, with lots community building and DIY spirit.

source: The Star, Evergreen, Maria Crowther

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