CORVALLIS, Ore. – The statewide Oregon State University Extension Service Outdoor School program is offering resources to engage children in learning about nature while adhering to Oregon’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” order.
Extension Outdoor School added a webpage – “Educational Resources for Stay Home, Save Lives,” — to its website where parents, guardians and teachers can find links to resources to support outdoor learning experiences while schools are out of session.
The page, which can be translated to Spanish, is updated Fridays with weekly resource sets with nature observations, journal prompts, and online activities. So far, the themes have been birds, trees and flowers. Outdoor School is also linking to the resource sets on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.
“These weekly themes simplify matters for families who are sorting out a lot of information about at-home activities,” said Kristopher Elliott, an OSU Extension assistant director who leads the Outdoor School program. “Given all the time we’re spending inside, these are unique resources to help families keep children connected to their natural environment in a meaningful way.”
The resource page and resource sets are part of Extension Outdoor School’s strategic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to mass cancellations of in-person outdoor school programs this spring..
The strategy seems to be working, Elliott said.
Nearly 400 new users have visited the webpage since it launched in late March. That’s created a ripple effect: Visits to the OSU Extension Outdoor School website have more than doubled in the last month. They’re coming from Oregon cities such as Bend, Klamath Falls, La Grande, Seaside, and The Dalles. Outside of Oregon, the page has been visited by users in Minneapolis, Bangkok and Amsterdam.
It’s not just families who are accessing the resources. Nearly 17% of unique visits to the weekly resource sets come from Google Classroom, suggesting that teachers are directing parents and students to the resource sets as part of their distance learning, said Kristi Backe, Extension Outdoor School’s curriculum and professional development coordinator.
“We picked topics that are accessible to many students. Things that you can see out a window,” said Backe, who worked with the Extension Outdoor School’s team to develop in one week the educational resources webpage.
“We wanted to focus on curating these resources into manageable pieces so they’re not overwhelming families,” she said. “It only takes a couple of minutes to read through each topic.”
Oregon’s school closures and cancellations of this spring’s outdoor school experiences came at a time when enrollment in Outdoor School was increasing statewide. Nearly 38,000 students took part in Outdoor School in 2018-19, a 6% increase over the 2017-18 school year.
Elliott anticipated that figure would rise to 43,300 students this school year – before the spread of COVID-19 led Gov. Kate Brown to issue a statewide order to close schools.
In 2016, Oregon voters passed Measure 99, mandating that all Oregon fifth- or sixth-grade students should have the opportunity to attend a week-long outdoor school program or comparable outdoor education program.
Measure 99 created an Outdoor School Education Fund and charged Oregon State University Extension Service with supporting, administering and funding an outdoor school program as set forth in Senate Bill 439, which approved $24 million for the program’s first two years. Last year, the Oregon Legislature approved $46 million for the next biennium for Extension Outdoor School.
Elliott said that if funding is available, Extension Outdoor School is considering guidance for schools to allow next year’s seventh-graders to participate in an outdoor school program if theirs was canceled this spring.
About the OSU Extension Service: The Oregon State University Extension Service shares research-based knowledge with people and communities in Oregon’s 36 counties. OSU Extension addresses issues that matter to urban and rural Oregonians. OSU Extension’s partnerships and programs contribute to a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future for Oregon.