With Some Schools Moving Outdoors, Retailers Follow

Amy Jackson, an early-education instructor at the Center School in Greenfield, Mass., remembers one rainy day a few years ago when she was outside with her students.

They thought they were prepared. Everyone was wearing rain gear, and ropes and tarps were used to erect a makeshift shelter. But soon the children were “cold, wet, droopy,” and heading back inside became inevitable.

“The only child in good spirits was the one wearing the Oaki one-piece rain suit,” Ms. Jackson said, referring to the company that makes outdoor apparel for children.

The Center School has committed to an all-outdoor curriculum this fall to guard against the spread of the coronavirus among its students and staff. Tents and outdoor desks have been procured to create al fresco classrooms. The school has also recommended that parents buy their children Oaki rainsuits, priced at $60 to $70.

They are not the only ones.

With a number of schools in the United States opting for outdoor education over the potentially germier confines of their traditional indoor spaces, demand for Oaki’s rainsuits and related gear “has been overwhelming,” said Sam Taylor, the chief executive of the company, which is based in the Salt Lake City area. It’s a sentiment echoed by other outdoor-oriented companies, some of which are launching new product lines or repurposing existing ones to capitalize on how the pandemic has changed the education experience.

Mr. Taylor said demand for Oaki products has increased 60 percent this year, a challenge because the company is experiencing pandemic-related delays with its manufacturers in India and Mexico. As a result, Mr. Taylor has “prioritized individual schools or parents” over warehouse and retail orders. He has also rushed to market a line of fleece and wool socks that don’t need to be washed every day, in response to a request from a Vermont school.

“There’s been a ton of research that’s shown how productive being outside is,” Mr. Taylor said. “There’s no reason a little moisture or rain should stop that. If anything, that should be a positive if you’ve got the right gear.”

Mr. Bienenstock designed OutClass so the classrooms can be converted into play structures whenever schools return to traditional indoor instruction.

“I’d prefer to be doing the play-based stuff and not have to deal with any of this,” he said. “But if this gets people to realize that teaching outside is a great thing and we should have been doing more of this before the pandemic, then I’ll take it.”

Some parents are also trying to add an outdoor component to the remote learning experience.

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