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Outdoor classrooms reenergize during pandemic

November 18, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

When the pandemic forced his school to go to online learning, fifth-grader Bergen Manzella spent six hours a day staring at his computer screen. His mother found an outdoor class that allows him to explore nature, learn and do a digital detox.

The class came at the perfect time, said Manzella, because her son needed more outdoor time to explore and socialize with other kids in a safe way during the pandemic.

Project Learning Tree is an environmental education program that gets children from prekindergarten through 12th grade out into nature to explore and learn about their environment -- with a focus on trees.

The kids develop their creative writing skills that way -- crafting stories from their observations, sitting under a tree for 10 or 15 minutes, said Michele Mandeville, a facilitator for Project Learning Tree in Colorado.

"If we give kids the opportunity to get outside to learn in nature, to engage with nature and others within an outdoor space, they're really going to learn to preserve nature and and just kind of fall in love with it," Mandeville told CNN.

Birds are easier to spot when the leaves are off the trees and kids learn to build shelters, and check for animal tracks.

Mandeville is a facilitator for Project Learning Tree, giving other teachers, and informal educators workshops -- now online -- about how to teach this outdoor education curriculum.

"Many students who are quiet in the classroom and don't want to be called on tend to really excel outdoors," said Mandeville who herself was a shy kid.

Kids tend to have very short attention spans when they're looking at screens all day, said Mandeville.

Whether you are an educator, a parent, or a volunteer interested in the outdoors, you can find free nature activities and games for kids to download or pull up on an I-Pad on Project Learning Tree's website.

Parents can get their kids outside and away from their screens whether they find a class or not, said Mandeville.

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