MILFORD, Ohio — For children across the Tri-State there is no typical start to the new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some students will begin the school year where the last one ended -- learning virtually from home. Others will return to transformed classrooms with smaller class sizes and desks spread at least six feet apart. Many children, along with their parents, will navigate the start of a school year that is a blend of the virtual and in-classroom experience.
The ongoing changes and uncertainty are why Connie O'Connor has been working hard to develop multiple outdoor education curricula for the Cincinnati Nature Center.
"We know nature is really important for kids," said O'Connor, the director of education for the nature center. "It's important for their mental, their physical and their emotional health."
For those attending all-day school, the Cincinnati Nature Center, located at 4949 Tealtown Rd. in Milford, will offer after-school programming.
"Whether the kids get out at 12 or whether they get out at 3:30, we have some different after-school opportunities for a couple of hours once a week where they can just be outside enjoying nature with enrichment activities," O'Connor said.
Those activities range from scavenger hunts to color-collecting games within the center's more than 1,200 acres and 14 miles of trail systems.
"We also have one day a week, on Wednesdays, an entire day, 10-3:30, where a parent can drop their children off and pick them up," she said. "So, that's like a true day of camp and they can do that every week for four or five weeks in a row."
That program is designed for students who might go to school a few days a week and spend the rest of their time learning from home. O'Connor said the center also has created a program where students who walk all 14 miles of trails through guided hikes in the Fall receive a special badge.
"We hope that it catches on with some physical education teachers," O'Connor said.
And finally, for those students who will be home-schooled, the nature center offers a curriculum that supplements what they are learning alone.
"They (parents) can rent a naturalist for an hour and a half who can teach them lots of different types of lessons," O'Connor said.
No matter which program a child participates in, they will be grouped with no more than 8 or 9 other children and an instructor, she added. And if it rains on a given day, there is a chance educational programming may be canceled.
"We're really trying to maximize the time people get out in the fresh air," O'Connor said. "It's the healthiest place to be."
Learn more about the Cincinnati Nature Center's educational programming at www.cincynature.org.