Winter at the Outdoor Classroom – A Montessori Lesson in Meteorology

On a cold Friday afternoon, right before the Winter Break, Channel 3, a major TV station of Hampton Roads, came to school to make a story about our outdoor classroom.

How long would you be able to continue working outside during the winter?

This was the biggest meteorological question that we still could not answer in the report. The Fall in Virginia is usually really mild. We made it through Thanksgiving with almost no days of everybody staying at home. 

But then came December and fall gave way to early winter.  

We took the question of operating outside as a scientific experiment. First, we thought about what weather factors we needed to take into account. Under what meteorological conditions should we stay home? 

First was wind

We had a day with strong wind gusts. One of them blew a tent across the neighboring fence. The conclusion of the experience put the limit at about 25 km/h (Steve Nelson, our science teacher, strongly propagates metric measures for science). We tie sandbags to the tent legs to avoid another fly across the fence. But still, stronger wind might break the tent frame.

Then, rain

We are fine with occasional showers. Covering the tents with a huge tarp keeps us dry. Heavier rain makes the environment really uncomfortable. Water quickly accumulates both on the tarp and the ground. 

Temperature was the third factor

We are now two weeks into January 2021. It is getting gradually colder. The air is still a bit warmer than usual, but, still, spending a school day outside becomes more challenging by the day. We realized that wind made the air feel colder. After spending a few days in temperatures below 10°C, we realized that anything below was too cold. We can maybe tolerate weather that is 2°C colder, but only if it’s really sunny and there is absolutely no wind. 

Clouds paints the outside with gloomy gray. Sun paints it with more cheerful yellow. Being dressed really warmly helps us block the cold air, but, on the other hand, it makes us feel more isolated from each other. These are not such great discoveries. But when you experience them in the Montessori way, with your senses, you start to understand the deeper meanings of meteorology, on the personal level. 

Trying to get outdoor heaters did not work out. The City gives good and safe ones to restaurants but not to a private school. If we end up buying new ones, mostly likely we would have received them after the really cold weather is over. Smaller heaters ones won’t make much difference. 

One thing we learn is that there is no win-win situation

Meeting only from home is draining because it feels lonely. Being in the cold weather outside is tiring. In the last couple of weeks, we spent three days outside and two days at home. Overall, about half of the students come when we meet outside. The other half prefer to attend fully from home.

We miss the feeling of being together physically. But in the current situation, flexibility and adaptability is the key for everything. It helps everyone maintain some peace of mind. We are happy that we still can offer two safe options to attend school.