The Grauer School takes learning outdoors

A treehouse classroom at The Grauer School.

Due to the pandemic, The Grauer School in Encinitas has shifted its focus on outdoor learning into high gear by expanding the number of outdoor classrooms. The school’s unique offering of outdoor classrooms includes a sandy beach with palapas, tree-shaded lawns, an outdoor theater and a 16-student treehouse.

In total the school now has 16 outdoor learning areas that can accommodate about half of the school’s population at one time and all classes rotate through them. The outdoor spaces complement the school’s indoor classrooms that have been arranged to provide room for social distancing and safe hygiene through multiple, high-end air filtration technologies. Currently, about 85 to 90% of the school’s students are back on campus full-time.

“We have outdoor classrooms to suit every imaginable purpose and teaching style,” said Dr. Stuart Grauer, founder and head of Grauer School. “Historically, the original classrooms world-over were found under banyan, acacia, chestnut or African baobab trees. At Grauer, we use oaks, Torrey pines and coral trees. But the purpose is the same – creating a learning environment where students thrive, safe from COVID and benefiting from the fresh air, sunshine and green spaces.”

Students bring their own lawn chairs with umbrellas or canopies and teachers are free to use almost any open space on campus to set up an outdoor classroom. The personal chairs prevent transmission of germs between students and make it easier to keep the outdoor spaces clean and hygienic. All outdoor classrooms have been connected to wifi and electrical hookups and accommodate all of today’s technological needs.

San Diego County’s climate means students will be able to learn outdoors for most of the year. However, when cold or wet weather make outdoor learning impractical, the school is ready to pivot quickly to indoor or online classes as necessary.

The Grauer School expects to continue its emphasis on outdoor learning even when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available and the school can return to more “normal” on-campus routines.

“With social distancing expected to continue well into the future, our outdoor classrooms will add value, perhaps for generations,” Grauer said. “There is a large and growing body of research that demonstrates the benefits of outdoor learning for better mental health and well-being, ecology, stress reduction, physical health, student engagement, and academic success.”

-Karen Billing