Preparing Your Outdoor Classroom for the New School Year
With summer coming to a close, now is a great time to replenish your classroom for the upcoming school year. Let’s roll up our sleeves and check some maintenance to-do’s off the list!
Before you get started, quickly assess your outdoor classroom and jot down the areas that will need attention. This will help as you plan work days. We recommend partnering with local civic and youth groups, as well as families – getting community involved to support children’s connection with nature is simply awesome.
- Watering – If your school is not in session during certain times of the year, be sure to work with your families, staff, or community to come up with a watering schedule to maintain your plantings.
- Weeding – Sometimes weeding seems endless, but a little here and there will make a big difference. Be sure to maintain a 2” mulch depth around plantings to detour those pesky weeds.
- Mulching – Mulching has many benefits and a 2” depth around plants can support the health of your vegetation.
- Replanting – Throughout the year, some plantings may not have survived. Add a few new plants to your outdoor classroom to welcome the new school year and continue to beautify the space.
- Inspection – Make sure all bolts are tight and that natural cracking is not resulting in splintering. If splintering is present, sand the item smooth.
- Sanding and Sealing – At least once a year, all wooden furnishings like tables, planter boxes, storage units and art panels need to be sanded and sealed with a wood protector or water sealant that is appropriate for your particular climate.
- Replacement – Consistent care of wood items will extend their life; however, over time, natural wood products will eventually need to be replaced. If the item appears unrepairable, it may be time to recycle and replace.
- Safety Surfacing – Check that the depth of safety surfacing around any climbing features is adequate and meets fall zone safety recommendations. *Refer to S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and ASTM International F1292 guidelines for safety standards and recommendations
- Concrete Footings – Over time, concrete footings may become exposed. Cover the exposed footings with soil, mulch or Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF).
- Hardware – Inspect outdoor furnishings to make sure all hardware is tight and secure. Screws and bolts should be countersunk, or installed so they don’t expose more than two threads beyond the end of the nut.
Pathways and Flooring
- Resurfacing – Any “loose fill” surfacing such as mulch, EWF, or crushed stone may need to be raked or replenished, as materials compact.
- Inventory – Take inventory of the natural play items and loose parts used in each area of the outdoor classroom. Over the course of the school year, some items may disappear or others may become “well-loved.” Make a list of items that need to be replaced.
- Replenishment – Replenishment of loose parts may be necessary. Assess your inventory list and order items in time for the school year. Your local forester, arborist, Tree City USA or Keep America Beautiful (KAB) affiliate may be able to help replenish natural materials such as pinecones, wood chips, or logs at a low cost.
If you have not yet added Keeping it Growing: Sustaining Your Outdoor Classroom to your references, we would highly recommend it. The sustainability indicators outlined in this book will keep your outdoor classroom thriving and your hard work supported. How has your site worked with families and community members to help maintain your outdoor classroom? Comment below to share with our growing network!