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Bradford schools take classroom outside

“We’re creating that connectivity … back to our community and outdoors.”

Imagine you are in math class.

Your teacher asks you a question.

You get up, walk around some trees and past the pile of mulch, and write your answer on the chalkboard.

At Chris Hadfield Public School in Bradford West Gwillimbury, an outdoor classroom will soon be integrated into regular studies.

“Part of our initiative is to create natural areas at our schools. These are called schoolscaping projects,” said Sandy Clee, senior planner with the Simcoe County District School Board.

“When we involve the kids, they take ownership, and the success rate of what we do is greater.” Chris Hadfield students’ ideas were included in the design and planning of an outdoor classroom, which was completed at the school this spring.

On Tuesday, a group of about 20 students planted trees around the outdoor classroom, which is in a space behind the school’s portables, with help from members of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.

It looks more like a garden than a typical classroom, with wood chips, mulch, lots of plants, large rocks to sit on, and a small chalkboard in the centre.

A weather station is also expected to be added to the space, and teachers will get a crash course this fall from the school board on how to take some of their curriculum outside.

“Mental health is one of the big things. Everything is structured (in kids’ lives),” Clee said. “We’re creating that connectivity … back to our community and outdoors.”

The school board has five other similar projects at other schools, including a wetland that was built at Honourable Earl Rowe Public School in Bradford earlier this spring, she said.

Staff and students at Earl Rowe also start each day with a 10-minute wellness walk around the school — another way to boost good mental health and connect with nature, Clee added.

Chris Hadfield’s vice principal Natalie Edgar said her father instilled a love of the outdoors in her at a young age, and she is thrilled to see the students involved in this project.

“I see what happens when kids are connecting to nature. I see their pride and their ownership,” she said. “It’s important for kids to get outside. It’s important for kids to appreciate nature and the environment.”