Fresh lessons at Wyoming school

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Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative Photo Students take their seats as teacher Graham Vanderwoerd instructs a session at the outdoor classroom at John Knox Christian School in Plympton-Wyoming.

Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative

Featuring fresh air and no walls in sight, John Knox Christian School’s new outdoor classroom has instantly become a favorite of students and teachers.
Outdoor classrooms were touted as one way to provide education during the pandemic. Students would in the open air and not potentially subject to a virus in the indoor air.
So, the school built the outdoor learning centre.
The classroom consists of several benches sitting under a covered wood structure in the school’s backyard. Students take their seats on the homemade benches while the teacher begins the day’s lesson.
“Our teachers were looking for another space to bring their classes and to bring the outside into our learning,” says Marine Lisson, the new principal of the school.
Lisson says the need for extra learning space was realized at the end of last school year when the COVID-19 outbreak closed schools. A combined effort from parents, teachers and community members led to the space being set up in time for the new year.
John Knox students had a part to play as well. The graduating Grade 8 class – as part of their traditional departing gift to the school – worked to donate the benches the students now use.
Lisson says the space can accommodate any type of class, from science and art to reading and writing. There is even a music wall with drums, chimes and tubes.
“The kids love learning outside, and I don’t think until this year we realized the full potential this would offer for our teachers,” says Lisson.
“The vision is that teachers can look through all their subject areas… to come and learn outdoors,” Lisson says. “Our teachers are really being challenged with the different ways that they can use the space.”
The outdoor lessons also provide a welcome break from the mandatory masking rules for Grades 4 and up. “Our senior teachers work really hard to provide a lot of breaks from classrooms and wearing masks,” says Lisson.
The instant popularity has led a push to add additional outdoor classrooms. Volunteer parents are currently working on building benches and other required items.
The school is also hoping to add features such as collaborative art displays, and a natural play area for earlier grades.
“We’re really trying to think not just of learning time, but also how this could be used to play during recess for our younger students,” says Lisson.
As for how long weather will allow the outdoor classroom to be used? “There’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s only poorly dressed students,” Lisson jokes.