Reimagining Outdoor Education

Chloe Hummel

When Covid measures meant that many of ISZL’s annual sporting events were unable to take place, our Athletic Department took it as an opportunity to transform their entire curriculum, as Athletic Director Hans Engl explains:

When Covid measures meant that many of ISZL’s annual sporting events were unable to take place, our Athletic Department took it as an opportunity to transform their entire curriculum, as Athletic Director Hans Engl explains:

As our sports teams were looking forward to traveling across Europe, ready to compete with International Schools in Lisbon, Berlin, Valencia and Paris, the first spring lockdown changed our lives from one day to the next. Virtual sport skill sessions and fitness challenges became the norm and increased everyone’s time in front of screens rather than spending time on courts, fields or in nature.


After the summer we were very fortunate and full of hope to start the autumn season. Practising and playing games with local teams from Zürich and Basel, while sending livestreams home to our parent community who could not attend, was a new highlight for school life. But as the second Covid wave hit Switzerland in November, we sadly had to close down the extended programme and focus on our curriculum.


The ISZL Athletic department together with the Middle School PHE team took this as an opportunity to explore new activity options for our students to enhance the regular school day. The focus was on recreational sports which would increase students’ time in the fresh air, and where masks could be taken off when distanced and safe. We were amazed by the great support we received when we connected with local clubs and authorities to investigate the outdoor education options in our region. The first couple of weeks we took our students onto a local field where we played disc golf, speedminton, archery, pitch and putt golf, no matter the weather - rain, shine or snow.


"I was so excited to hear we would be doing archery in PHE. I love archery and have a set at home but doing it at school was so much fun. Getting advice from the teachers on how to improve was really great as well". (Amy, Grade 6 student)


With the help of the local orienteering club ‘OLV Zug’, and with winter arriving, we started to explore the nearby hills and trails, learning to use compasses and maps, while hiking or snowshoeing through nature. Of course, the fun of sledding down the snowy hills couldn’t be missed during our winter orienteering unit.


"I think the idea of an outdoor sports programme is a great thing. Our aim is to motivate the children to move, and to familiarise themselves with map reading." (Stefan Spirgi, OLV Zug)


Our focus changed again as the snow arrived. Our good relationship with the Swiss Youth Sports organisation ‘J+S’ made it possible to receive 50 pairs of cross country skis for the following weeks in January and February. Using our school-owned minibuses made it possible to explore the local Nordic ski tracks in Menzingen, Zugerberg and Studen. It was a totally new experience for almost all students, trying to balance on thin skis and finding a rhythm to push and glide over the snow. Lots of falls and laughter were guaranteed, and in the end, everyone managed to ski a few laps on the track.


"I've never done this before, but it's a lot of fun." (Lewis, Grade 6 student)

"Getting up when you're fallen over is difficult. But the skis are very light and the shoes are much more comfortable than ski boots." (Artmeii, Grade 6 student)


We aimed to meet the MYP physical and health education objectives at the highest level, incorporating alternative recreational sports and adventure activities into the PHE curriculum.


“In the International Baccalaureate® (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), physical and health education empowers students to understand and appreciate the value of being physically active and to develop the motivation for making healthy life choices.” (IBO MYP PHE)


In the meantime, the Athletic department had put forward a proposal to take students for an Alpine ski, snowboard or snowshoe day into a local ski resort. The activity days took place during the school day, taking a limited number of students, using small lifts and bringing packed lunches. This enabled us to maintain grade level bubbles and keep students protected while being in nature for a full day.


Thank you very much for this amazing day! I appreciate your hard work in organising this, as it brought insurmountable joy and happiness to me. I really enjoyed this one of a kind opportunity. Skiing with the school and my friends is a completely different experience and I am so grateful to have participated in this amazing event!” (Mikhail, Grade 8 student)


As word of these activities spread, Grades 4 and 5, as well as 9 and 10 also asked to take part in the snow days. It became a wonderful four week journey, taking almost 750 students out to our local ski resorts ‘Ibergeregg’ and ‘Hasliberg’ overlooking the beautiful and scenic Central Swiss and Bernese Mountains.


“We all had fun skiing and snowboarding. It was my first day on skis and it was amazing.” (Tomas, Grade 5 student)


Thank you very much to the three of you for pushing through and organising the Winter Sports Days for the Grade 9s last week. They absolutely loved it and were buzzing for the rest of the week.
(Kevin, Grade 9 Team Leader)


The positive feedback from students, parents and teachers was incredible. We saw lots of new snowboarders and beginner skiers to whom we could teach the beauty of snow sports, and they were able to challenge themselves, be risk takers, and show their snow talents.


“Both my children had very enjoyable days. Leo loved the freedom of the jump park, spending time with a group of peers he wouldn’t normally hang out with and Connie came home on top of the world after mastering T-bar lifts.” (Kathryn, G6 and G8 parent)


Moving into the summer, we look forward to exploring more outdoor activity options. With the lake, hills, woods and trails nearby, we will find more opportunities for our students to take off their masks and enjoy nature. We have learned that outdoor education is an important part of our school life, and that we can embrace the challenges that unforeseen circumstances can bring.


Go Eagles!

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