The portable classroom is an innovation to support positive outdoor education and play opportunities for urban children/youth.
One of the most significant environmental challenges is human engagement in nature, awareness, understanding, and connectedness.
Over half of the global human population now lives in urban areas, and by 2050, this proportion is expected to exceed 90% for developed countries. This growth and shift from rural to urban living are associated with a decrease in the human population living with direct and accessible exposure to green and blue environments. One outcome from this trend is that many people today may not have adequate opportunities to interact with nature in outdoor settings at levels available to previous generations. This phenomenon has been referred to as extinction of experience and has been described as resulting in a decline in learning and thinking about the natural world. The phrase was used by Robert M. Pyle in 1993 to contrast his own rich childhood nature experience, which he described as coming not from the pristine wilderness but rather from a proximate and untamed suburban nature. In Pyle’s case, it was a ditch in his neighborhood, a part of the High Line Canal built outside Denver for irrigation purposes, where he found access to freely explore nature. We are reminded that these opportunities to counter the extinction of experience and interact with nature may happen in many important places, from far-ﬂung wilderness to places proximate and urban.
In support of increased connection to nature, over 40 years of research has provided compelling arguments showing that experiences of nature in green areas are linked to a breadth of positive human well-being outcomes. These include improved physical health, improved mental well-being, greater social well-being, and improved academic outcomes. These links between nature experience and well-being are now recognized in frameworks for assessing impacts of nature-based solutions in urban areas and in a roadmap for health–social–nature synergies. This brings us to lessons from COVID-19!
Given efforts to reduce the potential for transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic, practitioners worldwide provided creative examples of the use of outdoor settings to provide an innovative educational response to COVID-19. For instance, numerous news stories have captured the Danish response of moving elementary classrooms outdoors in response to COVID-19, and the New York Times has documented examples of schools across the United States, from inner-city to rural, taking advantage of outdoor learning settings as a part of their risk management response to COVID-19. A recent article in the Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education shows us, there is an abundance of thoughtful and innovative responses to COVID-19 going on within the field of environmental and outdoor education.
This proposal is important as it combines the challenge of the human relationship with nature with lessons learned in response to COVID-19.
The portable outdoor classroom is a kit-based innovation to support educators' efforts to create positive outdoor education and play experiences for children and youth. This proposal involves creating a pilot-test kit that would be available for educators (formal and non-formal—an inclusive approach) to check out from the public library in Malmö, Sweden.
The kit is not designed to provide specific activity ideas, but rather to address barriers educators may experience when considering taking students outdoors…to city parks, to nature reserves, to the waterfront…Specifically, the kit will include:
- Risk management:
- Basic first aid kit
- Reflective vests
- Thermos for warm water that can be used for soup or warm drinks (5 x 2-liter thermos)
- Weather management:
- Tarp for quick shelter (rain or sun)
- Sit pads for sitting on damp surfaces
- Back-up rain ponchos (20 ponchos)
- Waterproof stuff sacks to protect extra gear
- Educational materials:
- Outdoor (foldable) whiteboard
- Waterproof student clipboards and folders (20)
- Waterproof paper for note-taking, data collection, etc.
- Mobility: 3 backpacks to store and carry gear
- Site suggestions
- Public transport accessible site suggestions for the Malmö region
The list of materials is designed to consider access barriers such as perceived risk, weather challenges, and pedagogical limits. The idea is to provide gear to allow educators to create quality urban nature experiences for their students.
Impact and Outcomes
Facilitating outdoor experience…time in urban nature to play, learn, explore! As noted, compelling arguments showing that experiences of nature in green areas are linked to a breadth of positive human well-being outcomes. Additional research shows a relationship between connectedness to nature and pro-environmental behavior; such a relationship is dependent on a multitude of factors. However, one key factor is time to be in nature, learn in nature, play in nature. This project should be seen as a long-term investment in sustainable, resilient, and livable cities.
One way in which we support access to urban nature for youth is to consider and attempt to eliminate barriers.
Specifically, the pilot phase will:
- Train a minimum of 20 youth professionals--active training to provide guidance and inspiration for how the kits can be used to facilitate outdoor classroom experiences for children and youth in the Malmö region. The remaining will be an excursion in Malmö greenspace, using the kits and helping professionals envision their use of the kits.
- Initial field experiences will involve a minimum of 200 youth. A goal of 10-20 professional leading up to 200 children and youth out into the amazing outdoor classroom of Malmö!
- Assessment and adjustment will make the project available to more educators and youth.
- Scientific and popular cultural articles based on the outcomes of the pilot study will bring the idea to other youth professionals
Who will take these actions?
Thomas Beery, Kristianstad University
- Project coordinator
City of Malmö Public Library
- Project partner
20 Youth/education professionals in the Malmö area
- Project participants
Community/national business community
- Donations of essential gear to support kit creation
What are the projected costs?
- 4000.00-5000.00 USD (However, the goal will be to seek much of the gear via donations via outreach to outdoor gear manufacturers and vendors in Sweden—the hope is that this will actually be 0.00 USD after donations)
- 300.00 USD (materials that cannot be donated)
Outreach and communication:
- 500 USD (for materials, public communication, etc.)
- 100.00 USD each (x 2)
- 1000.00 USD needed to be raised
- 4000-5000.00 USD need to be solicited in the format of donations
The following outline provides the key steps in the planning and project process:
1. Meetings with Malmö Library--March 2021
2. Outreach to Swedish EPA--March 2021 (Naturvårdsverket). Here is a link to the "outdoor recreation year": (Swedish)https://www.naturvardsverket.se/Miljoarbete-i-samhallet/Miljoarbete-i-Sverige/Uppdelat-efter-omrade/Friluftsliv/Friluftslivets-ar
3. Outreach to Swedish outdoor gear manufacturers and vendors--April/May 2021. Note, T. Beery has contacts at Naturkompaniet and Fjällräven based on prior research, thus contacts are already in place to start this outreach process.
4. Kit assembly--June 2021
5. Workshops for youth professionals (teachers, preservice educators, non-formal setting youth professionals)--August 2021
6. Evaluation--December 2021
7. Communication--January 2022
- Popular cultural outreach communication
- Scientific outreach in the literature of environmental education
About the author(s)
Thomas Beery is an environmental social scientist at Kristianstad University in the south of Sweden. Tom works as an educator in a number of university programs in Kristianstad including Landscape Science, Early Childhood Education, and The Youth professional training program. Much of Tom's instruction is based on his career-long work in environmental and outdoor education. When not teaching, Tom is an active researcher in social science environmental questions. Tom is interested in how we better understand the human relationship with the natural world in order to better identify our shared communities.
When not teaching or engaged in research, Tom loves "friluftsliv" the Nordic term for outdoor recreation--whether that is exploring urban parks, hiking rural roadways, or seeking less traveled and wild regions to explore. At home, Tom is an avid gardener with both an interest in his own kitchen and how we do a better job raising food in our urban areas.
Tom is relatively new to the south of Sweden and was happily surprised to find Malmö, the city highlighted in this proposal, to be so rich with interesting people and places. The city library featured in this proposal is one of Tom's favorite places to work--the incredible windows allow one to feel like they are working in a tree-house (it is literally inspiring to work there!). Tom has also fallen in love with Malmö's urban gardens and maybe most of all--the swimming pier at Västrahamn! The deep, clear, lightly salted water is a delight.