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Fresh air, fresh thinking in new outdoor learning spaces

Students connect with environment in welcoming spaces to learn and play

A new school year is a fresh start, and in schools across the district, it’s happening in the fresh air! As students and staff returned to school, many found new, inviting outdoor areas that enhance learning and support student wholeness. 

These gorgeous spaces give educators and students more options for where and how to have class. Over the last few years, more than 15 new outdoor spaces have been created or are currently being built in schools across the district. In addition, 56 schools have received outdoor learning materials such as picnic tables, yoga mats, benches and buckets.  

At Maree G. Farring Elementary School, for example, a section of an old cement lot is now a beautifully designed courtyard conducive to play, exploration and learning. “We set out to completely transform the space,” said Moshe Berry, a social worker at Maree G. Farring who led the project. “The reasoning was simple. Learning cannot be confined to the four walls of a school. Learning environments are best when reflecting the world we live in - and that world is indoors and out!” 

Thanks to support from Kaiser Permanente, Constellation Energy, the Greater Bay-Brook Alliance, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, and many generous volunteers, the outdoor space has been transformed into a rubber-surfaced courtyard. It’s a happy place; colorful painted murals enliven the walls, seating areas provide an alternative location for class instruction, and plots dedicated to gardening and class projects inspire PreK classes to use the courtyard every day.  New Space at Maree G. Farring

“In this space, our youngest learners are building motor skills, practicing coordination, and exploring their environments. And they’re growing through play - a really important part of developing when you’re younger,” explained Berry. “As we head out of the pandemic, many are socializing for the first time. An outdoor space enhances those experiences and accounts for a variety of learning styles. In the process, our teachers enjoy the change of pace of teaching outside.” 

The positive impact of such spaces - and how they enhance student engagement - is an important element of City Schools’ 3R plan. Studies show that outdoor learning time benefits student engagement with lessons, mental health, physical development and teacher satisfaction. And they are even more important in neighborhoods with limited outdoor recreational facilities.

Going forward, classes at Maree G. Farring are hoping to install student-created murals and butterfly gardens. To learn more about outdoor learning at City Schools, and ways for schools to incorporate this impactful approach in their communities, click here

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