Originally published Dec. 24, 2021 by CBC.

By Emma Smith

Jimmie White knows you can't always wait for warm, sunny weather in Nova Scotia.

It's why the physical education teacher at West Colchester Consolidated School in Bass River holds his classes outdoors — rain, shine or snow.

Last year, White's students, who are in grades primary to 9, spent just one class indoors due to really bad weather.

For the most part, he said his students are eager to leave their desks behind for the great outdoors.

"For the most part, Mother Nature does the work for me," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning during a recent interview.

"If it's cold outside and you're standing still, you get colder, so there's not many students who are running around who are chilly."

While COVID-19 has forced many educators to rethink how and where they teach, many have found that the benefits of learning in the open air go beyond limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

"Students are much more comfortable when they're able to run around," White said. "They lose the restriction of the mask and they definitely seem to, I guess, find a different comfort level."

Nova Scotia students are now on holiday break across the province and expected to return to classrooms on Jan 6.

Under new restrictions announced earlier this month, students must wear masks at school when they're inside and physical distancing isn't possible, but masks aren't required outdoors.

"During COVID, students were essentially stuck in their classrooms all day, so ... it just seemed like a good fit to get students outside moving around and enjoying themselves," White said.

Students figure out the finances

White's students partake in the usual phys-ed activities, like soccer and handball, but they're also just as likely to learn how to tie a knot, build a fire, cross-country ski or paddleboard.

Earlier this year, the former Liberal provincial government and the federal government put aside $7 million to allow Nova Scotia's nearly 250 public elementary schools to create new outdoor learning spaces or build on existing ones.

White said finding funding to help pay for first-aid training and other certification for activities like paddleboarding isn't always easy.

His school was able to buy 60 pairs of rain pants and jackets, big outdoor canvas tents and toboggans thanks to a $5,000 grant from the QEII Foundation.

Some of the older students at the school were involved in deciding what kind of outdoor equipment to buy, comparing prices to make sure they made the wisest purchase.

"I find it very important to include students in the financial aspect of my class," White said. "So once I start talking about (how) this volleyball actually costs $100, we stop kicking it up on the roof, and once we can include students in the purchasing process, then all of a sudden they have a great deal of vested interest."

White, who has always been a lover of the outdoors, hopes his students learn the valuable lesson that there's no bad weather, just the wrong clothing.

"If you can plan yourself the right way and have faith in what you're up to and your equipment, then you're able to enjoy rainy days just as much sunny days," he said.

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