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I’m an occupational therapist. Here’s why students should be learning outdoors this fall.

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As a long-time elementary school occupational therapist and as a parent, I know firsthand the benefits of free movement on children’s physical and emotional well-being. Making the time and finding the space for physical activity improves physical health, attention, self-regulation, mood, and is, you know, fun (because children should also get to have fun)!

As we grapple with reopening schools in the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis, New York City is proposing children and staff return to in-person learning with enormous restrictions inside school buildings. These restrictions are about maintaining physical distance from peers and following safety measures, such as wearing face coverings, washing hands, and avoiding shared materials. These physical restrictions create brand new social restrictions — and we cannot yet measure the psychological impact of children being kept six feet apart, interacting with fewer friends, and seeing only half of the faces of those they do see. On the days children are learning remotely, they face another set of restrictions brought on by hours of screens and video conferencing.

The concept of “least restrictive environment” is a part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and it means that children who receive special education should learn alongside peers who are in general education to the “maximum extent appropriate.” How can we use the idea of “least restrictive environments” to consider what all students will need from their schools this fall? How can we make sure that students’ surroundings won’t limit their education, but enhance it?




-Lisa Raymond-Tolan, Chalkbeat Colorado

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