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Rethinking the Use of Outdoor and Community Spaces

Rethinking the Use of Outdoor and Community Spaces


As Hopkins Public Schools sought to reopen schools for in-person teaching and learning, the district quickly pivoted to rethinking how they could leverage existing outdoor and community spaces to provide teachers and students with opportunities to be together while socially distanced. Rather than focusing on using outdoor spaces for recess and physical education, the district encouraged school leaders and teachers to consider how to better utilize outdoor spaces for instructional time as well.

“I do think that teachers are taking kids outside more than they were before and thinking of it as instructional time and not just recess time.” - Ann Ertl, Interim Director of Innovation, Design, and Learning at Hopkins Public Schools


The district's Director of Community Education worked with city leaders to identify additional spaces for learning, including public parks and community center spaces that were underutilized to support socially distanced classes looking for larger spaces to use during inclement weather. Examples of the schools’ use of outdoor spaces include:

  • Outdoor classrooms using courtyards, canopies, and pop-up tents to encourage social distance while leveraging nature to support engagement and inquiry. These outdoor classrooms were available for all subjects and grade levels.

  • Outdoor art lessons to prompt students to use their environment to inspire projects, such as using snow to create sculptures.

  • Weekly park meetups for distance learners to support students learning remotely to make in-person connections.

This strategy is a part of TLA's Hop, Skip, Leapfrog release, which explores the concrete ways in which schools and systems pursued student-centered innovation during COVID-19. Explore the full guide to find additional strategies, insights, and resources.