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TORONTO — The ongoing pandemic has put masks and sanitizers on back-to-school shopping lists, but several parents, teachers and school staff are hunting for even more unusual materials: cut logs for the schoolyard, tarps to shield soccer pitches from sun and rain, and cheap yoga mats for outdoor seating.

With many school plans failing to promise smaller class sizes and epidemiologists noting less infection risk outdoors, an ardent movement of teachers, parents and sympathetic principals are urgently pursuing ambitious outdoor learning plans they hope can be incorporated into the curriculum.

Toronto mom Anna Galati says teachers at her inner city school Sprucecourt Public School have been collecting supplies since March in anticipation of more outdoor programming in the fall, with the parent council heeding a call in recent weeks to help source last-minute items.

“Like everybody, we’re all kind of winging plans,” Galati says of frenzied organizing, which include efforts to address safety concerns and brainstorm ways to help needy families stock up on rain and winter gear.

“We’re going to try and get as many kids outside for as much of the day as possible and go for as long as we can.”

A student participates in an outdoor learning demonstration for New York City schools on September 2, 2020.

At an anglophone school in Gatineau, Que., principal David McFall says he dropped $3,000 of his own money on three party tents in July, worried they might sell out by September, despite not knowing whether they would be used at his school.

“It’s one of the things (where) yes, you have to buy the tents upfront and on your own, and then you talk to your director and you get approved,” says McFall, who was ultimately permitted to use the tents at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School.

“It was a calculated risk.”

Thinking outside the classroom

The idea of shifting lessons from the classroom to the soccer pitch has evolved quickly from a private school perk to a priority for many public schools increasingly worried about the ventilation and distancing space required to mitigate COVID-19 spread, says outdoor education expert Adam Bienenstock.

He says that’s reflected in the changing clientele of his Dundas, Ont., company Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, now rolling out log-based outdoor desk-and-chair sets designed for quick installation in multiple configurations.

Bienenstock counts 187 pending sales since launching the product in Canada six weeks ago, including orders from schools and boards in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Orders are also being filled in Florida, California, Texas and New York.

This month, the company is installing 14 custom outdoor classrooms in northern Ontario from Wawa to Sudbury, he says. That’ll be followed by installation of 16 classrooms in the province’s southern half.

“Outdoor classrooms up north has become a thing — the irony of that, of course, is not lost on me,” he chuckles on a recent call from the Lake Huron area where he was working on several jobs.

“For everyone in southern Ontario, the main concern that people have is the weather and yet we’re selling to where it goes to -25 (Celsius) on a regular basis.”

Bienenstock says he began worrying about the impact of COVID-19 back in December, when he was first alerted to a possible pandemic by his father John Bienenstock, a renowned expert in mucosal immunology and director of the Brain Body Institute at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton.

“For everyone in southern Ontario, the main concern that people have is the weather and yet we’re selling to where it goes to -25 (Celsius) on a regular basis.”

– ADAM BIENENSTOCK, OUTDOOR EDUCATION EXPERT AND OWNER OF BIENENSTOCK NATURAL PLAYGROUNDS

He’s been selling amphitheatre-style outdoor learning set-ups since 1989, but began plotting ways to convert his log-and-boulder play structures to rugged outdoor desks and chairs in the spring.

Each “student station” is comprised of two logs cut to chair- and table-height that are fastened together. Each weighs about 136 kilograms to avoid tipping and the need for anchors. The basic system comes with a taller station for a teacher and a two-sided blackboard, and costs $7,500 to $10,000 for a standard setup of 15 to 20 students.

Despite strong interest, Bienenstock says signing up boards and schools typically involves a lengthy, bureaucratic procurement process and so some parents have skirted those hurdles by sourcing their own logs for cheaper and less-complicated seating areas they can install themselves.

A community effort

Galati says an arborist has agreed to give her school free tree trunks that can be used as outdoor seating, but efforts to collect other donated items including tarps and yoga mats were unsuccessful.

She expects gaps will be filled by families willing to buy those items for the class. For that reason, she worries the spectrum of ad hoc ventures will deepen inequities between schools with more affluent families and those with greater needs, such as Sprucecourt.

Galati says some parent councils are donating to schools in need — her family was among those to receive food vouchers bought by parents at a neighbouring private school when the pandemic halted learning in the spring. She expects food insecurity will be an issue again this fall.

“One of the things we’ve discovered is that we won’t be allowed to have our nutrition programs running so there’ll be no breakfast, lunch, or snacks, which is a huge issue in our neighbourhood.”

A stock photo of a man reading to kids on a field trip in forest.

As an Indigenous woman, Galati says she hopes outdoor learning experiments will include land-based teachings, which use an Indigenous and environmentally-focused approach to education that addresses physical and spiritual connections to the land.

She sees a new willingness to rethink the classroom as an opportunity “to decolonize education and move away from our typical Western model, which would typically be just putting desks and chairs outdoors.”

But she also recognizes safety issues with moving kids outside, especially in her neighbourhood where there has been gun violence.

“There’s also a lot more mental health issues and substance use we’re seeing in the community, so in our local playground we’ve been finding a lot more needles and pipes and stuff,” says Galati, whose kids are ages 5 and 11.

“There’s some youth that I’ve spoken to that are actually scared to be outdoors in the outer playing area.”

– ANNA GALATI, MOM IN TORONTO

“There’s some youth that I’ve spoken to that are actually scared to be outdoors in the outer playing area.”

One parent leading much of the back-to-school advocacy in British Columbia’s largest school district said outdoor learning is less a priority than assuring a robust remote learning program.

Rina Diaz of the Surrey District Parents Advisory Council questioned the value of outdoor learning if those same kids would still be exposed to infection risk by indoor classes, bussing to school, and extracurricular activities.

Moving gym class outside

Because school gyms have been deemed off-limits, Nova Scotia’s back-to-school plan encourages outdoor classes, but especially for physical education.

The Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, which oversees 67 schools in central and northern Nova Scotia, is rolling out a Natural Outdoor Seating project to support schools eager to get students and teachers outside.

So far, region spokeswoman Jennifer Rodgers says Harmony Heights Elementary and Truro Junior High School have set up logs, stumps and milled beams as benches for multiple classes. She says the remaining 65 schools will receive information on their options this week.

Back in Gatineau, McFall expects students at his school will likely be outside for gym class, in addition to three 25-minute outdoor recesses, plus a 25-minute outdoor lunch.

He’d like teachers to attempt at least 50-minutes of instruction time outdoors but says such goals have yet to be discussed and that he’s loathe to set daily minimums.

McFall also bought 20 bikes for class trips and has asked the Home & School Association to fundraise for more bikes, helmets, and kickstands, as well as scooters for the younger kids.

“If you take away all the sports and all the clubs and a lot of the fun of school, there’s not a lot left for kids. so you have to start to look at what would be really fun for a kid?” says McFall.

“Imagine going with their class on a bike on an excursion for half a day. I can’t think of anything more fun than that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2020.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Original Article: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/outdoor-learning-classroom-canada_ca_5f51208ac5b6946f3eaed347

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Official Contest Rules

OFFICIAL OUTCLASS™ OUTDOOR CLASSROOM SPRING 2021 CONTEST RULES

NO PURCHASE OF ANY KIND IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.

  1. SPONSOR: The 2021 Outdoor Classroom Contest (the “Contest”) is sponsored by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, Inc., 1452 Concession Rd 4 W, Hamilton, Ontario, L0R 2B0, Canada (the “Sponsor”). Not sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with LinkedIN, Twitter, Google, Facebook or Instagram.
  2. ELIGIBILITY: This Contest is open to child care directors (as defined below) or School Principals who are legal residents of Canada, excluding Quebec or the United States who have reached the age of majority in their province, territory or state of residence at the time of entry, with the exception of employees of the Sponsor, its parent, related and affiliated companies, subsidiaries, departments or agencies, franchisees, suppliers, advertising and promotional agencies, contest administrators, and any other parties engaged in the development, production or distribution of Contest materials and those living in the same household.  By participating in this Contest, entrants acknowledge compliance with, and agree to be bound by, these Contest Rules.  Entrants who do not comply with any of these Contest Rules are subject to disqualification by the Sponsor, in the Sponsor’s sole discretion.

 Child care directors: Child care directors for the purposes of this Contest are pre-school and childcare centre directors that supervise and lead staff in relation to the caring and teaching of children and are responsible for all aspects of their centre’s programs, which may be for either private or public school child care centres.

School Principals: Principals for the purposes of this Contest are Principals of Elementary, Middle or High Schools.

3. CONTEST DATES AND TIMES: The Contest begins on February 10th, 2021 at 1:00 a.m. ET and ends on May 15th, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ET (the “Contest End Date”) after which time the Contest will be closed and no further entries shall be accepted.

  1. HOW TO ENTER: You can enter by visiting https://www.outdoorclassrooms.com/contest and entering your name (first and last name), facility name & address, phone number, e-mail address, digital signature, the number of children at your facility and whether or not you are part of a chain with more than one location. For this Contest, receipt of an Internet entry occurs when the Sponsor’s servers record the entry information. All entries must be complete and are subject to verification by the Sponsor, in its sole discretion.  Limit one (1) entry per childcare facility and limit one (1) entry per school.

Any attempt or suspected attempt to use robotic, automatic, programmed, or otherwise, illicit means to enter this Contest, or any other methods not authorized by these Contest Rules, for example, but not limited to, creating multiple accounts, identities, or registrations, all in the Sponsor’s sole discretion, shall be deemed as tampering and may disqualify you from entering, participating and/or winning a prize.  Entries that contain false or incomplete information are void.  Entries that are late, lost, stolen, illegible, contain false information, are damaged, misdirected, mutilated, garbled or incomplete, altered or otherwise irregular or that do not conform with or satisfy any or all of the conditions of the Contest Rules are void.  Entrants grant Sponsor a non-exclusive license to use all entries for any purpose.  No correspondence will be entered into except with selected entrants.  Proof of transmission (screenshots or captures, etc.) does not constitute proof of entry or receipt of an entry.

  1. CONTEST PRIZES:There is a (1) prize available to be won consisting of an outdoor classroom that includes; one (1) teacher station, twenty (20) student stations, one (1) outdoor double-sided chalkboard. (approximate retail value $15,000).

All winners assume any and all liability for any injury or damage caused, or claimed to be caused, by entering, participating in this promotion or use or redemption of a prize.  Prizes must be accepted as awarded and have no cash value.  Prizes or any portion thereof cannot be combined with other discounts, promotions or special offers.  Sponsor reserves the right to substitute an alternate prize of equal or greater value if an advertised prize is unavailable at time of award.

  1. ODDSOF WINNING: The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received before the Contest End Date.
  2. SKILL TESTING QUESTION: Selected Entrants will be required, as a condition to winning a Prize, to correctly answer, without assistance of any kind, the Sponsor’s mathematical skill-testing question.
  3. WINNER SELECTION AND CONFIRMATION: On May 16th, 2021 at 3:00 p.m.ET(“Draw Date”) the Sponsor, or an employee, agent or other representative of the Sponsor, will conduct a random draw from all eligible entries (the “Selected Entrants”).  A Selected Entrant will be deemed a winner if they meet all of the eligibility criteria set out in these Contest Rules. If a Selected Entrant (or Selected Entrants) does not meet any eligibility criteria, he/she will be disqualified and will not receive a prize and another entrant may be selected by way of a random draw from the remaining eligible entries by the Sponsor. Before being declared a winner, a Selected Entrant will be required to: (i) correctly answer the Sponsor’s mathematical skill-testing question; (ii) sign and return the Sponsor’s Declaration of Eligibility and Liability/Publicity Release form (the “Release”); and (iii) comply with all other Contest Rules, all in the sole discretion of Sponsor.

Selected Entrants will be notified on May 17th, 2021 and will be contacted using the e-mail address provided at the time of entry into this Contest, in Sponsor’s sole discretion, and up to three attempts will be made to contact each Selected Entrant.  A Selected Entrant that does not or cannot accept a prize may be forfeited and a new Selected Entrant selected by random draw, in the Sponsor’s sole discretion.  A signed copy of the Sponsor’s Release must be received by the Sponsor no later than 11:59 PM on May 20th, 2021.  Sponsor is not responsible for the failure for any reason whatsoever of a Selected Entrant to receive notification or for the Sponsor to receive a Selected Entrant’s response.

Disputes regarding identity of entrant: If the identity of a Selected Entrant is disputed, the entry will be deemed to have been submitted by the Authorized Account Holder (the individual assigned to the e-mail address or, if applicable for entry, social media handle associated with the entry). Each Selected Entrant may be required to provide proof that he/she is the Authorized Account Holder associated with the selected entry.

  1. RELEASE AND INDEMNIFICATION: All potential winners must sign the Sponsor’s Release to: (i) confirm compliance with all Contest Rules; (ii) agree to accept the prize as awarded; (iii) release, discharge and hold harmless the Sponsor, its departments and agencies, parent, related and affiliated companies, subsidiaries, franchisees, advertising and promotional agencies, counsel, marketing partners, Facebook and Instagram and each of their respective directors, officers, employees, shareholders, successors, sponsors, partners, licensees, subsidiaries, agents, artists, advisors, assignees, and all others associated with the administration, development and execution of the Contest (the “Released Parties”) from and against any and all manner of action, cause of action, claim or demand, loss or injury, use or misuse of a prize or any travel related thereto, and the use of the Entry by the Sponsor, suit, debt, covenant, contract, including legal fees and expenses, whatsoever, including but not limited to, claims based on negligence, breach of contract and fundamental breach, failure of any third party contractor or supplier used in connection with any aspect of the Contest to perform or deliver any goods or services, any act of God or any other event beyond the Released Parties’ control, any dissatisfaction of any kind by a winner with any aspect of the Contest or any prize, liability for physical injury, death, or property damage which the entrants, guests, their heirs, successors or assigns have, might have or could have suffered, by reason of or arising out of the entrant’s participation in the Contest and/or in connection with the acceptance and/or exercise by the entrant of the Prize as awarded; and (iv) indemnify the Released Parties against any loss, damage or expense, including legal fees, that any of the Released Parties may suffer or incur as a result of any non-compliance by an entrant with any of the Contest Rules or participation in the Contest and/or in connection with the acceptance and/or exercise by an entrant of a prize and the use of the Entry by Sponsor.

The Sponsor is not responsible for:(i) incorrect or inaccurate entry information which may affect a person’s ability to participate in the Contest or be awarded a prize, including but not limited to human error, technical malfunctions, lost or delayed entries for any reason, mail failures, omission, or any combination thereof, and entries which fail to fully comply with these Contest Rules; (ii) technical failures of any kind, including, but not limited to malfunctions, interruptions, or disconnections in phone lines or network hardware or software; (iii) lost, incomplete, delayed, mutilated or misdirected entries or Declaration and Release forms; (iv) injury or damage to the entrant’s computer or to any other individual’s computer related to or resulting from participating in, or downloading any material regarding the Contest or accepting a prize; (v) any injury or damage to persons or property which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from entrant’s participation in the Contest or receipt or use or misuse of any prize, including any travel related thereto and the use of the Entry by Sponsor;(vi) the security or privacy of information transmitted via computer networks or for breaches of privacy due to interference by third party computer “hackers” or otherwise; or (vii) late, lost, misdirected or unsuccessful efforts to notify a potential winner.

  1. OTHER CONDITIONS: The Sponsor reserves the right to terminate or amend this Contest at anytime and in any way, without prior notice. Without limiting the foregoing, if, for any reason, the Contest is not capable of running as originally planned for any reason, the Sponsor reserves the right to cancel the Contest and conduct a random draw from all previously received eligible entries received by the Contest End Date.

Publicity and entrant information: By participating in the Contest, entrants consent to the use of their name, address, postal code/zip code, telephone number, social media handles, comments and image, whether on videotape, photograph or any other means, as may be edited, translated or modified in any way by the Sponsor in its sole discretion, for the administration of this Contest or any publicity carried out by the Sponsor, without further notice or compensation. Entrant information may be used for marketing.

Law: The Contest is void where prohibited by law and is subject to all applicable Canadian federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and local laws. This Contest shall be governed exclusively by the laws of the province of Ontario, Canada including all issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of these Contest Rules, rights and obligations between entrants and the Sponsor, and procedural provisions, without giving effect to any choice of law or conflict of law rules.  Any dispute shall be adjudicated by the courts sitting in Hamilton, Ontario.

Rule amendments: The Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to amend or modify these Contest Rules, or modify, cancel or suspend this Contest, without prior notice for any reason whatsoever, including without limitation in the event that any cause beyond the reasonable control of the Sponsor corrupts, or threatens to corrupt, the security or proper administration of the Contest.

Intellectual Property: All intellectual property, including but not limited to trademarks, logos, designs, promotional materials, web pages, source codes, images, drawings, illustrations, slogans and representations are owned by the Sponsor.  All rights are reserved.  Unauthorized copying or use of any copyrighted material or other intellectual property without the express written consent of the Sponsor is strictly prohibited. The Sponsor’s marketing or other partners, if any, shall also have access to and rights to reproduce, copy or otherwise use any materials generated by this Contest or any submissions or materials generated by entrants.

© Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, Inc. 2021.  All Rights Reserved.