Whether and how schools in Victoria will reopen in September given COVID-19 has been discussed in news and social media throughout the summer. Virtual learning has been challenging for many working families and students due to the lack of technology access. When this access is available millions of students are sitting in front of the computers in their homes during this school year. As a result some education advocates are suggesting outdoor learning is a solution to reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian Camps Association Chief Executive, Peter Griffiths said the Outdoor Council of Australia gave the outdoor education sector a COVID-19 Management Plan in early May 2020, and since that time, each and every provider in the outdoor sector has been ready.

“Outdoor education providers are in the business of risk mitigation, safety is the cornerstone of our business, it’s not something any of our providers are flippant with. Each of our facilities has comprehensive COVID-safe plans and procedures in place to allay concerns about the risk of transmission, in fact, we’re safer to visit than your local restaurant!”

Tom Mulvaney, Psychologist and Co-Leader of Policy at the Australian Association for Bush Adventure Therapy is seeing the dramatic impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing of children, young people and families, and also the sectors now limited ability to mitigate that impact.

“What we've been seeing in young people is the increased risk of loneliness and isolation at this time. Access to the outdoors obviously facilitates physical health outcomes, but also facilitates connection to other people, to the world around us, which ameliorates loneliness or isolation."

“There’s a lot of evidence to support young people spending time in nature directly, but there's a stronger evidence base for those therapeutic outcomes being enhanced when a person’s time in nature is guided by a professional. Guided time in nature has positive outcomes for young people who experience stress, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, relationship issues and so many of those clinical presentations that are on the rise as this pandemic progresses.

Mulvaney concludes “we need to keep people physically and mentally well through a system that caters for safe, stable and connected time in the outdoors. Going outdoors is one cost effective and safe way to support physical, mental and social wellbeing and prevent longer-term ill health. We need to capacitate this as soon as possible to avoid long term, potentially irreversible impacts.”