Not being in school is a start.

I’ve seen multiple friends sharing a blog post over the past couple of days that states that children should be outside for 4-6 hours every day. The post was shared on the 1000 Hours Outside website which seems to derive their goal of 1,000 hours outside over the span of a year from a mix between Charlotte Mason philosophy and as an offset to screen time. To get 1,000 hours outside a person would need to spend almost three hours outdoors each day of the year. That is doable, but challenging in our walled off, technological society.

Pre-pandemic, when we met at a facility, held our meetings in the facility, and the Learners had the option to spend all day inside, 1,000 hours outside seemed like something worth promoting, but since we are a Self-Directed Education community it was not something we would force on young people. But we recognize that time spent in nature is “essential to the physical, psychological and social well-being” of people. And we recognize that the ways that Learners interact with each other and the world tend to be much richer when outdoors. And for the Learners who are least likely to fit in a schoolish environment that they find oppressive, being outdoors is often a godsend. But again, we honor the autonomy of children and they get to make the decisions that are relevant to their education and lives while at Abrome, so if they choose the comforts of being indoors we accepted it.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

During this academic year, however, we have been outdoors because we take the pandemic seriously. Next to staying at home, going outdoors is perhaps the single most effective act that we can do to prevent the spread of Covid-19. (Masking with a well fitted N95 is the other possible single most effective act next to staying at home.) And being outdoors has been amazing for our community. The level of anxiety surrounding Covid-19 transmission while at Abrome is minimal, while we certainly reap the benefits of being in nature. We’ve struggled at times with hot, cold, and wet weather, and insect bites and stings, but such moments have built up our resilience, and are far less painful than knowing that we may have contributed to the spread of the disease within the Abrome community or out into the local community.

Going outdoors this year was not too difficult for Abrome. One, it was our only realistic option if we wanted to more safely come together during the pandemic. Two, we had spent entire days outdoors on field trips (such as this trip, or this trip) and on our twice weekly Flying Squad days (like this day, or this day) prior to last March. And three, we had no other realistic option. Coming back together indoors would be irresponsible and needlessly risk the health of others.

And by going outdoors we assumed that we would be able to ensure that each Learner got 1,000 hours outdoors. The Abrome day runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or six hours a day. With 175 Learner days scheduled for this pandacademic year, that equals 1,050 hours. Although we needed to schedule in 14 remote (at home) days to ensure that the Learners had enough time apart from each other between cycles so that we did not inadvertently put multiple cells at risk of infection from one person. So that left us with only 966 hours scheduled for the year. 

Although, given that we have been entirely remote since the new year the time that we can spend together outdoors at Abrome continues to shrink. Our 14 scheduled in-person days in January were lost because Central Texas is in risk stage level five, meaning uncontrolled community spread of the disease. So that drops our time outdoors to only 882 hours. Hopefully people start to take the pandemic seriously, and hopefully institutions prevent people from coming together indoors, so that we don’t lose more valuable time outdoors together. Nonetheless, when coupled with their own outdoor hobbies (e.g., biking) and outdoor family time, it looks like many of the Abrome Learners will easily meet the 1,000 hours outdoors mark this year.

Post-pandemic there is no way that we will be able to convince all Learners to spend all day, every day outdoors. Although this experience has certainly helped dislodge the belief that learning or “school” or community needs to have a facility that they need to come together in each day, or that being outdoors should be only a sometime thing. Maybe we can have a five day a week Flying Squad options, as well as all-day park outings. I look forward to coming together with the other Facilitators and Learners of Abrome to envision what post-pandemic Self-Directed Education will look like, and how we can keep much of it outdoors.


Cover photo by Kyle Vena on Unsplash