Making the Grade with Outdoor Classrooms

The effects of the COVID pandemic on our public school systems has created an increased need of outdoor spaces for their students to learn. The seating and site furnishings are important aspects of an outdoor classroom because they help create practical and comfortable areas for instruction. The arrangement of the seating should meet physical distancing requirements, be arranged so that teachers can be heard, allow room to access each seat, and provide accessible space for students with special needs.

Picnic table design and size varies greatly. Designs can include rectangular bench seating on two sides of a table, in the shape of a square, hexagon, or circle with a continuous bench running around the entire table. If picnic tables will be used for instruction, use tables with a more solid style top to allow students to write more easily. Picnic tables can be purchased and installed by career tech education, by construction classes at the local high schools, by school facilities departments, by neighborhood volunteers, or by local community service organizations (i.e. The Scouts).

Providing shade for your students learning outside is an important aspect of an outdoor classroom. Depending on the climate in which you are located, the beginning and end of each school year can experience pretty high temperatures and right much sunlight. The shade will provide protection from the harmful sunrays, prevent glare on any electronic screens being used, keep students and teachers from having to squint which can cause headaches, and allow for a more comfortable outdoor learning experience. Keeping these shade structures clear of tables can provide a great space for reading circles, P.E. games and a picnic style lunch opportunity.

A few key factors to keep in mind:

  1. Seat students so they are within hearing distance of a teacher who is speaking at a comfortable level, even when wearing a mask.
  2. Seating areas should not block emergency access for the fire department or in any way impede safety on a school campus.
  3. Seating should be placed on a flat or gently sloped area. Avoid steep slopes to ensure that seating is easily accessible for everyone.
  4. Ensure all materials are nontoxic, have no sharp edges or protrusions, and are as durable as possible to withstand use during the school year.
  5. School programs must provide seating for students with disabilities and mobility challenges. To be in compliance with ADA requirements, place seating areas on or adjacent to wheelchair accessible pathways and include space for wheelchair users.

Is your public school system looking to install outdoor classrooms for the 2022-2023 school year? Give us a call today!

ParknPool | Lexington, VA | | 877.777.3700