This Hamilton school is teaching students outside all day during COVID-19

Kids sitting in foldable lawn chairs outside sounds like a scene out of a camping movie, but for students and teachers at Dundas Central Elementary School, it's a normal school day during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outdoor classes allow kids to avoid masks and educators to get creative with lessons

Robert Bell, a teacher at Dundas Central Public School, says teaching outside has made life easier for educators and students during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

During a normal year, teachers at Dundas Central Elementary School might ask parents to send their kids to school with markers or binders. This year, they asked for foldable lawn chairs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some students at the school on Melville Street are being taught in one giant classroom — the front yard — in those chairs supplied by parents.

"We're thinking out of the box and doing stuff we've never done before, the amount of octane in the staff right now is unbelievable," Robert Bell, a Grade 5/6 teacher at the suburban Hamilton school, said on Friday. He's one of several teaching outside.

He has students use easels or their own books as lap desks and he created his own blackboard by using plywood sheets, blackboard paint and zip ties to secure it to a fence.

It's a classroom without walls and without stickers on the ground to direct foot travel.

It also removes the need for air conditioners, tiny class sizes and in many cases, face masks, with most kids in the outdoor classes spread out and not wearing them.

Students at Dundas Central Public School are having class outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It's a completely different approach in the face of the pandemic.

This comes as local schools are dealing with COVID-19 cases amid rising infection rates in the province. 

Coincidentally, a Dundas Central student named Hazel Layden died during the 1918 pandemic.

More than a century later, another pandemic has arrived — and the school doesn't have a case as of Tuesday morning. 

Principal Laura Bartkiw said so far the outdoor experience has provided few challenges.

"In fact, we find many of our students who have challenges self-regulating are very regulated outside."

Besides a few bee stings and reminders to students about physical distancing, she said kids and educators have embraced the new class.

"Kids are naturally curious, they want to touch each other and be with one another and it's reminding them of those boundaries, but you can see they're coming along and we're teaching them a lot of different strategies to be able to do that," she said.

She spent some time on Friday doing yoga with a group of students (she's a certified instructor).

Principal Laura Bartkiw is a certified yoga instructor and said she has been using the outdoor classes to incorporate stretching and exercise like yoga into class time at Dundas Central Public School. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Bartkiw said the school plans to maintain outdoor classes, even in the winter. It may pose a challenge, but she explained they're already brainstorming ways to make it work.

Among them, building snow castles and doing science experiments.
An educator at Dundas Central Public School answers a student's question during their outdoor class. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

But some students learn differently than others and many of them had different worries at the start of the year.

Despite those obstacles, Bell, the Grade 5/6 teacher, said leveraging a class in the front yard has made a difference.

"A lot of the anxieties come from being in your own little shell and not seeing others," he explained, noting that the outdoor setting has alleviated those concerns.

"We'll stop and take a lap around the school and that would be so much harder if you were in the class."

For students who need technology, the internet reaches the front yard. The school can also do music class, bringing out drums during the day.

Families of students provided the foldable lawn chairs to allow kids to learn outside instead of in a classroom. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Bell also plans to use compasses to learn about angles, something he's always wanted to do but never done. And Bell said he's not the only one innovating.

"This historical moment has pushed that experience ... sometimes it won't work, but you go back to the drawing board," he explained.

"This is going to be our best year."