Outside is Open! Ideas for Outdoor Work and Recess During Distance Learning

While our school has temporarily closed in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, our community has jumped back in to what we do best—learning! Villa di Maria guides are working in collaboration with parents and students every day to keep our children connected and inspired to keep learning.

In today’s post, we’ll share some ideas for an essential part of the day—getting outside. Spending time outdoors is a great way to get moving, reduce stress and improve your overall health. At VdM students move freely between their indoor and outdoor work spaces. It is part of their routine and an easy thing to replicate at home during this time of distance learning.

Below we’ve got ideas for outdoor work, jobs (care for the environment), and recess—or anytime you and your family need a dose of fresh air and vitamin D.

Outdoor Work & Jobs

  • Word collection walk: Take a walk and “collect” all the words for the things you see. This is a great way for younger children to build on their spoken vocabulary. Older children will carry a notebook to record their word collection as they walk. Add challenges to find adjectives or synonyms for the words they find.
  • Observe/collect leaves or flowers: All children can collect flowers and leafy plants to bring inside for arrangements or art projects. Older children can also use flowers and leaves for botany identification and experiments.
  • Build a bird, bug or bat house: Research the needs of a particular species of bird, bug or bat and build a shelter for them. Be sure to measure, draw plans, and offer the right amount of assistance needed depending on your child’s stage of development. This website has great ideas for building shelters for bugs and other minibeasts.
  • Bird, bug or wildlife watching: Look for and identify birds, bugs, squirrels and chipmunks in your yard or neighborhood. Use binoculars or magnifying glasses if you have them. Children can vocalize, draw or write their observations.

  • Planting seeds or seedlings: Younger children can help get the garden up and running with your direction, and older children can measure the plot, space the seeds, research the plant’s needs and tend to the growing seedlings. You could even double down on this project with older children—they can experiment with seed growth under various conditions and dissect seeds and seedlings.
  • Compost: If you don’t have a backyard compost bin and have always wanted one, this is a great time to start—your children can do the research, take the measurements and help build one! Then, children can collect the kitchen scraps and turn the compost on a daily basis.
  • Pet care: Walk, wash or play with the dog. Care for the backyard chickens and collect the eggs. When it’s warm enough, and if you have the appropriate enclosure, bring rabbits, guinea pigs, turtles or other small pets outside for a bit of fresh air.
  • Reading, writing, painting and more: If your child is feeling restless but it’s not the right time for “official” outdoor work, move the reading, writing, painting or other tasks outside for a change of scenery.


VdM students are outside, in nearly every kind of weather, for about an hour each and every school day. This is a crucial part of the work day because it provides socialization, movement, fresh air, exercise and relaxation. While socialization is currently limited during distance learning, we can still reap the other benefits at home. Read below for some recess-at-home inspiration.

  • Walking and jogging… and skipping, hopping, and galloping. Travel through the sidewalks of your neighborhood with whichever silly combination of movement your child can dream up.
  • Yard games: Tag, hide and seek, hopscotch, Simon says, red light, green light—get these all back into the rotation for classic, timeless fun. Click here for a great list of outdoor games.
  • Go for a ride: Explore the neighborhood or the path through your local park on bikes, skateboards, roller-blades or scooters.
  • Play ball: Dribble the basketball, toss the football, play a game of old-fashioned catch or come up with a new game-ball-mash-up, complete with a set of child-designed rules.
  • Free time in the yard: On days when the priority is relaxation (and there will many of these), your children should feel free to just be outside. They might want to read, kick a ball around, or just lie on their backs in the sun. This might also be an opportunity to take the laptop to the patio and connect with friends on a video call. The important thing is they have the chance to take advantage of being outdoors.

We hope these ideas inspire you to embrace the outdoors during distance learning. You and your child will learn more, feel more relaxed and have more fun. Happy spring from VdM to you!

Thank you to the Andre Zheng, Dosanjh, Smith and Thrall families for the photos.