Bring Outdoor Play Back to Your Neighbourhood!
The objective of EarthPLAY is to put self-directed outdoor play back into the lives of children as a natural part of their day-to-day lives. EarthPLAY encompasses a broad spectrum of projects that address play provision in schools, childcare centres, parks, streets and other community green spaces, highlighting the importance of freely chosen outdoor play as a vital determinant of health and social well-being. We thank our core sponsor, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, for supporting the integration of EarthPLAY into Earth Day Canada.
Create a space where your child can explore, get their hands dirty and be creative. Mud kitchens can provide hours of fun — and all you need is some soil, water, and a few easy-to-find items such as pots, pans, spoons, even old appliances. Mud kitchens are a great opportunity for children to imagine, discover and “cook” for their friends and family. Did somebody order a mud pie? For more information on the health benefits of dirt, click here.
Many recreation centres and municipal agencies are interested to learn how they can support outdoor, unstructured free play within their facilities. Earth Day Canada is working with several such partners in the delivery of our POP-UP Adventure Playground program. The POP-UPs and the follow-up consultations provide a hands-on opportunity for our partners to learn about “loose parts” play, the role of the “play-worker”, and risk reframing.
StreetPLAY is a simple idea – open up our local neighbourhood roads to children and youth so they can connect with friends and play right outside their front door. This type of play transforms residential neighbourhoods into vibrant (and often spontaneous) play spaces, offering social and physical infrastructure in a readily available setting. Currently, street play is illegal in most cities worldwide, but municipalities are gradually revising policies and by-laws to support readily available play on local roads. Learn about Earth Day Canada’s Toronto StreetPLAY Pilot Project here.
POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds
Earth Day Canada is currently hosting a series of POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds in parks across the GTHA.
A POP-UP Adventure Playground is a one-day event to showcase the possibilities of outdoor, child-directed adventure play using “loose parts” in urban green spaces. The POP-UPs are staffed by trained play-workers who model best practices in terms of supporting children’s play (without directing it).
Earth Day Canada’s POP-UP Adventure Playground program stimulates local, community-guided involvement in enriched outdoor play and offers an affordable way to animate local green spaces for children ages 3 – 13.
Parent-led Play Co-ops
Some parents have begun forming casual groups or co-ops for the purpose of organizing regular pop-up play events in their local communities. A co-op, such as the Toronto Free Play Co-op, will rely heavy on community volunteers to ensure the local children and youth have access to unstructured, self-directed play outdoors on an ongoing basis. If you’re interested in joining or starting a parent-led play co-op, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earth Day Canada is not currently working directly with any daycare providers, however, daycares that are situated within schools and recreation facilities will benefit from our outdoor play programs in these locations. See pop-up windows for Schools and Recreation Centres for more information. Daycare providers are encouraged to check out earthplay.net for ideas on providing enriched outdoor play at a wide range of daycare facilities.
There is little that is physically or mentally stimulating for kids over the age of 7 in most park playgrounds, which rely on a standardized assortment of risk-free slides, monkey bars and swings. Earth Day Canada is working to bring an enriched outdoor play model to our local parks, one that prioritizes Adventure Playgrounds — these offer very different play opportunities for children of all ages.
Adventure Playgrounds are curated wild spaces dedicated to child culture. The space itself is usually open, with few or no fixed play structures other than those built by the children themselves. An on-site storage shed provides tools, building materials, art supplies and a host of upcycled loose parts the children use to build their own play spaces and imaginary worlds. They are staffed by trained play-workers, who are there to support — but not direct — the children’s play. The children decide what they want to do and plan how they will do it, learning valuable skills along the way.
Earth Day Canada is hiring youth and adults from local communities to help facilitate our outdoor play programs. Several other members of the newly formed organization Outdoor Play Canada are seeking trained play-workers as well. This is an emerging vocation in our country, but is a well-established profession in many other parts of the world. If you are interested in becoming a play-worker, email email@example.com.
Youth Outdoor ParkPLAY Meet-Ups
Earth Day Canada is hoping to pilot regularly scheduled outdoor youth meet-ups in local parks during the evening hours. The meet-ups would be staffed by trained play-workers with expertise in animating conversation and play for this age group.
Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)
Across Canada, fewer than 20% of children get outside and active at recess — and recess is often the only time a child has in his/her daily routine to get outdoors and engage in unstructured free play. Teachers patrolling the schoolyard are often assigned the job of monitoring and removing all forms of risk, thereby negating much of the opportunity for play. This can result in behavioural issues that detract from socializing and learning.
Earth Day Canada has launched a program called Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) to work with schools and boards (teachers, parents, administrators, daycare staff, and trustees) to support enriched outdoor play opportunities during kindergarten play time, recess, lunch, before and after-school.
In an OPAL schoolyard, kids engage in self-directed play choosing from an abundance of loose parts (shovels, buckets, cardboard boxes and tubes, spare tires, fabric, rope, water, straw, logs, etc.) to build and create their own playgrounds and imaginary worlds. OPAL schools engage more children in outdoor active play, reduce the number of reported incidents to the office, and support social inclusion and a broadened network of friends. Testimonials from teachers and principals from one of our OPAL schools can be found here.