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Blog: Monday, April 26th, 2021

Let’s Get Outdoors

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things. With the stretch of nice weather we have been experiencing over the last few weeks, one of these lessons is staring us in the face. As we get vaccinated (YES!) and come down to what many of us hope to be the home stretch in handling this situation, we should remember the power of nature and outdoor learning to calm and restore our energies and resolve.

It is not coincidental that when the vaccination program is ramping up, our communities are experiencing the worst effects of the pandemic. We are arising from a difficult winter where we had to stay away from each other, but could not experience the fullness of the great outdoors. True, many of us don’t mind being outside in the rain or snow, especially if we know how to dress for it. But I suspect that too many of us stayed cooped up in our houses watching Netflix reruns or playing video games. Spring Break came along, and kids and adults alike rushed outside, desperate to escape the provincial restrictions. This has backfired in some respects as some gravitated to gatherings rather than to truly getting outdoors, away from crowds.

As Dr. Henry recently shared, school is not only the best place for our students in terms of their educational needs. It is a powerful public health strategy because infection rates among children go DOWN when our schools are in operation. This should not be a surprise. Schools are controlled environments, particularly so during the pandemic. Students follow consistent routines from the time they step onto school property in the morning to when they leave at the end of each day. So, I have no doubt that our schools can do a great job keeping students safe while they learn.

What does outside look like for our learners? The first and most obvious opportunity in our curricula are Physical Health Education (PHE) classes. There is an endless list of games, activities and skills kids can engage in outside. Just watch them at recess and lunch and follow their lead. Outside of PHE, it can be something as simple as getting the kids outside to their favourite spot on the playground to read. They can write reflections on that very spot. I saw this just last week when I visited Matsqui Elementary. Kids gathered around their teacher on the soccer field as she read them a story. You can take kids for a hike or walk. Three-quarters of our schools are within a reasonable walking distance of a greenbelt of some kind. As an avid hiker, I can attest to the positive impact being in the woods has on my psyche. When I spoke with a group of secondary students earlier this year, they told me about how much they appreciated their Math teacher taking a mid-class mind and body break by taking them outside for a walk. Let’s get the kids outside.

I hear a lot of talk these days about “learning loss,” particularly for kids who have had to do most of their studies online. While I do not wish to diminish a very real concern about the academic impact of the pandemic on the students, I think we should be far more concerned about its psychological impact. We should be concerned about supporting a positive and healthy mindset for our students and connecting them to nature is a great way to do it. Kids (and adults) who are emotionally centred will be far more likely to overcome the academic deficits than those who are not so grounded. I am pretty sure it’s not a term (yet), but “emotional learning loss” should be our primary concern.

A final thought: We have come to learn that the pandemic does not discriminate, and as such, it has hit a disproportionate percentage of our society who work in jobs where they cannot afford to work remotely. Some of these families live in close quarters with each other and may not have the luxury of calling in sick, for fear of not being able to feed their family. Their children are in our schools, and they need our support more than ever. These are the kids that we must especially get outside. As we navigate the challenge of this spring and vaccinations, let’s get our kids outside everyday. It will be an invaluable contribution to our collective emotional and physical health.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.