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Grade 3 Teacher Says Her Class Will Be Taught Outside For The Entire School Year

As teachers and students prepare for their return to schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, one Vermont educator has announced her classroom will look a little different this year — in fact, it won't be much of a classroom at all.

As Business Insider reported, Nicolette Raney, a grade three teacher at Dothan Brook School in Hartford, has decided to skip the four-walls approach of in-class learning and will be moving her students into the forest for a year of outdoor teaching.

Amidst ongoing debates of whether kids should go back to school or continue remote learning, Raney's school administration decided to bring students back for the 2020/2021 year.

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Some classes, such as those in first grade classes, will have an outdoor component added to their curriculum.

"It's one of those things that, especially with elementary school, we desperately want to work with our kids face-to-face, but we just want to make sure it's safe for ourselves and our own families," Raney, told Insider. "So it's finding that balance."

For the past three years, the 34-year-old educator has incorporated outdoor learning into her classes.

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Her students eagerly looked forward to such days as Wednesdays in the woods, Tuesdays in the trees, or forest Fridays, when they would be able to ditch their desks and journey outside into the wilderness together.

But this year, rather than only allot outdoor learning to one or two days a week, Raney has decided all five academic days will be spent in the woods laid out next to Dorthan Brook elementary.

For Raney, who is going into her 13th year of teaching, the benefits of holding class outside are clear.

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"It has been phenomenal," she said, adding that her students gain a sense of calmness and peace when they're out in nature.

"To give them this safe and comfortable space to learn and to feel a sense of calm and belonging in such an unpredictable time is really fortunate."

While they're outdoors, students continue to learn the same curriculum they would in class, but with the benefit of turning it into hands-on curriculum.

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Last year, Raney's students studied angles by throwing snowballs and observing the arcs of their tosses. They've also previously studied with local scientists, who taught the children how to identify plants, animals, and insects they come across in the forest.

Besides, there's nothing kids love more than getting nice and dirty outside, and this teaching method will help them learn "it's OK to get dirty and muddy and be sweaty," Raney said.

As for what an "outdoor classroom" will look like, Raney already has that all figured out.

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Rather than ask parents for school supplies, she and another third grade teacher requested their incoming students be provided with hammocks. In just 48 hours, the educators had all 40 hammocks they would need to create a safe, socially-distanced space for the children.

The placement of those hammocks will also allow kids to take their masks off, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Changing seasons may seem like they'll pose a problem for outdoor learning, but Raney is confident students will remain comfortable, even in the elements.

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When it snows, the children will sit around a fire and are encouraged to bundle up in warm clothes; when it rains, they'll wear rubber boots and rain jackets; and when it's hot, they'll wear plenty of sunscreen.

Of course, the educator did admit some technical learning will take place inside, and students will be moved in doors if dangerous weather (such as lightning) occurs.

All in all, the outdoor classroom has proven to be a cost-efficient alternative to traditional indoor learning.

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With the hammocks having been donated, a whiteboard gifted to her, and tree stumps already available outside for children to sit on, Raney only spent around $50 for a tarp and some plywood.

"It's really as simple as it might seem sometimes," she said of her unique teaching method. "There's no hidden big plan or rule behind it. Nature truly can speak for itself and will provide such great opportunities for learning and growth."

h/t: Business Insider, Photos: Instagram | @thirdgradersatdbs

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