The most equitable way to ensure that all students have access to outdoor learning is to equip all schools with an on-site outdoor learning areas, to learn from and to learn within, and that all campuses include a strong balance of living elements to their school grounds. Some terminology and concepts that go along with this are:

  • Living Schoolyards: Richly layered outdoor environments that strengthen local ecological systems while providing place-based, hands-on learning resources for children and youth of all ages (Green Schoolyards America, 2017).

  • Outdoor Classroom: A space that brings learning outside, and often includes: seating, natural features (trees, shrubs, rocks, greenery, etc.), instructional materials (white board and clipboards), and gardens and/or greenhouses.

  • School Garden: An area of land within the school grounds (or very nearby) where plants such as vegetables, fruits, flowers, medicinal plants, trees, and bushes are grown. Small animals may also be kept in a school garden such as ducks, rabbits, chickens, goats and even fish.

Planning for Outdoor Learning

Thinking about incorporating outdoor learning in your 2021-22 school plans? This webinar features case studies from San Mateo County, including a principal perspective, two community-based partners that piloted programs over the summer, and a teacher's perspective on preparing to teach outdoors.

Additional Resources

Customized Technical Assistance

There is an urgent need to reimagine PreK-12 schools in order to reopen safely and equitably. Repurposing outdoor spaces is a cost-effective way to reduce the burden on indoor classrooms while providing fresh air, hands-on learning opportunities, and the health benefits associated with increased access to nature. Click on the button below if you would like to request support from SMCOE's Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative (ELSI) in making outdoor learning more feasible in your school community.

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Outdoor Learning Resources

Outdoor Learning During COVID-19

Outdoor learning is a time-tested approach to keeping school open during a pandemic. A hundred years ago, schools around the world went outside to reduce the spread of tuberculosis and Spanish flu. Today, school leaders are looking again to the outdoors for the following benefits:

  • Provide more equitable access to in-person learning by getting more students on campus
  • Safer environment for staff and students with access to cleaner air and natural ventilation
  • Greater physical distancing
  • Cost-effective and quick to implement
  • Increased hands-on learning opportunities
  • Proven mental and physical health benefits for students and staff

Green Schoolyards America, in partnership with the San Mateo County Office of Education, is developing resources for outdoor learning. Visit Green Schoolyards America's COVID-19 Outdoor Learning page to find official guidelines and policies, case studies, design resources, and outdoor learning integration tools. Additional resources are below.

Outdoor Learning in the News

Andra Yeghoian

Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Coordinator


Phone: (650) 802-5406

Naomi Stern

Green Facilities and Operations Analyst


Phone: (650) 802-5310