Amid pandemic, kids embrace outdoor model at Gill preschool

  • Heather Powers helps during snack time outdoors at the Giving Tree School in Gill. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Heather Powers supervises as children dig in the dirt at the Giving Tree School in Gill. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Merrilee Kane helps a student put on a jacket after snack time at the Giving Tree School in Gill. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The outdoor space at the Giving Tree School, on Wood Avenue in Gill. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Merrilee Kane sanitizes toys while students have a snack at the Giving Tree School in Gill. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2020 3:17:02 PM

GILL — While many local schools have struggled to adapt amid the pandemic, the Giving Tree School may have it a little easier. Its students, between ages 2 to 5, can work just as well outdoors, says Administrator Haley Anderson.

Giving Tree has always prioritized its students spending time outdoors, she said. But this year, the Wood Avenue preschool has been able to continue relatively normally by moving almost all student activities outside.

“(The pandemic) has definitely shifted our perspective,” Anderson said. “We are a majority outdoors now.”

Giving Tree closed when the pandemic began in March, and didn’t reopen at all until July. At that point, the weather was warm enough that students and teachers could comfortably stay outside all day, with no need to be in the building at all, Anderson said. There is also an open-air shelter, referred to as “the Tree House,” that provided some protection from the elements.

Now, as the weather gets colder again, staff are rethinking that approach, but only somewhat. The school probably won’t move totally indoors any time soon, Anderson said. Instead, parents are being told to dress their kids in layers, and to pack a spare set of dry clothes, just in case.

Since reopening in July, the school is a bit smaller than usual. Normally there are about 20 students. Now, enrollment has been capped at 13, which helps to limit the potential for coronavirus exposure, Anderson said.

Staff is a bit smaller, too. Normally there are four or five teachers. But some were not able to return due to pandemic-related factors, like having children at home rather than at school, Anderson explained. So now there are only three teachers.

Still, when the school reopened in July, students and parents both were glad to have it, Anderson said. Parents are glad their children have had somewhere to go, and the children have been glad to see one another in person, she said.

Per state regulations, preschool students are encouraged but not required to wear masks. Social distancing is still important, and Giving Tree requires everyone to wear masks whenever they are indoors, Anderson said.

Conveying these new rules to the preschoolers has been easier than anticipated.

“They’re little global citizens. They are pretty aware of what they need to do,” Anderson said. “Sometimes the spirit of the moment gets away with them, and we have to remind them about distancing. But they’re really willing to take the steps that need to be taken to be safe.”

Recently, since the weather has gotten colder, class does move indoors sometimes, Anderson said. But, she said, the school still expects to be outdoors most of the time, even into the winter.

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-930-4231.

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