It’s been said that ‘not all classrooms have four walls’ – a saying that is embraced wholeheartedly by Edmonton Catholic Schools.
Edmonton Catholic Schools isn’t just bringing nature into its classrooms – it’s bringing its classrooms to nature. For the 2022/2023 school year, the division has unveiled 10 amazing outdoor classroom spaces – and the goal is to have outdoor class spaces at all 63 of their K-9 schools in the coming years.
Truly, almost anything in nature could be considered an outdoor classroom – but Edmonton Catholic Schools didn’t want to just plop down picnic tables or benches and call them an outdoor classroom. Each of the classrooms unveiled so far is unique and Planning Manager Doris Paquette says the designs have comprised everything from research to including existing outdoor features at some schools, to considering how the spaces will be used before they are set out.
Each of the 10 outdoor classrooms that has been unveiled so far is laid out in a different style. Some are amphitheatres, some allow students to work in cohort groups, and some are just a mish-mash of styles. While the styles may look different, each outdoor classroom must conform to some guidelines, the most important of which is that they must be built with accessibility in mind. It is also imperative that seasonality is kept front of mind too, as the spaces will be used year-round.
The styles are as unique as the schools they serve. Some, like the beautiful space behind Anne Fitzgerald Catholic School, have chalkboards, while others have a designated teacher station. The outdoor classroom at St Vladimir Catholic School is made of a series of log desks – a smaller log seat connected to a larger log that can be used as a table or desk. The teacher station is a larger version of the same. The outdoor classroom at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School is designed to represent a sharing circle, and the intention is to make it a place where children of different grade levels can collaborate.
Designed with location in mind
A circular design has also been built at St Angela Catholic School, with the learning space set up around a gorgeous, mature tree. The outdoor classroom at École Frère Antoine Catholic Elementary School is laid out to compliment the designs of the decorated tarmac, which leads from the school to the playground. (Paved tarmacs, stenciled with games and activity prompts, are another big part of Edmonton Catholic Schools’ effort to make their indoor and outdoor spaces more accessible and inclusive – because just as important as it is to build inclusive playgrounds, is building the infrastructure to allow all users to get to the playground!)
Sustainability in mind
Much of the outdoor classroom equipment is supplied by a company called OutClass. It’s built with sustainability in mind and uses specific types of wood treated with timber oil to increase longevity. Even the chalkboards are designed to be weather resistant and to allow for easy removal of graffiti.
Adding an outdoor classroom does not come with a small price tag. The average outdoor learning space costs between $15,000 and $20,000 to build. Just as it does with playground builds, Edmonton Catholic Schools offers support for these building projects. Parent groups launch fundraising efforts and the School Division offers support with the grant application process. Edmonton Catholic Schools says generous supporters also contribute greatly to these project. The Outdoor Classroom at St. Vincent School was paid for by an anonymous donor.
Like playgrounds, outdoor classrooms also offer an opportunity for the community. Edmonton Catholic Schools hopes that the spaces will be enjoyed by area residents during non-school hours. Common spaces that can help turn neighbours into friends.
The same common space that will turn children into explorers, adventurers and leaders.
Editor’s note: I wrote this article as a paid partnership with Edmonton Catholic Schools. I want to thank Edmonton Catholic Schools for trusting me to share their news and to tell this story!