EarthPLAY for Parks

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EarthPLAY is dedicated to re-establishing outdoor, self-directed free play opportunities for children ages 3 to 15 in parks and other public green spaces across Canada.

Through our POP-UP Adventure Playground Project, our goal is to support:

·      The re-establishment of Adventure Playgrounds in Canada

·      The adoption of “loose parts”-based, outdoor, self-directed play programs in parks and other public green spaces

·      The establishment of parent-led free play cooperatives

·      A play-work training program for youth

What is an adventure playground?

An adventure playground is a curated wild space dedicated to child culture, offering a wide variety of natural materials, upcycled loose parts, and various tools, supported by staff trained in play-work. An adventure playground provides opportunities for children to explore their inner nature and natural environment. The space itself is usually open, with few or no fixed play structures other than those built by the children themselves; there is often a permanent storage unit or “play pod” on-site to store the loose parts. The play-workers have experience working with children, basic knowledge about construction and sound management skills; they help the children solve problems and assure their safety, without directing the play. The children decide what they want to do and plan how they will do it. From imagining it to playing on it, they learn valuable skills while shaping their own play space.

Adventure Playgrounds in Canada

Canada, like many nations around the world, built adventure playgrounds in numerous cities (such as Toronto and Vancouver) in the mid-20th century; however, these were gradually phased out. Only in recent years has there been a movement to bring them back. The city of Calgary is in the process of constructing a permanent adventure playground to coincide with the International Play Conference in the spring of 2017, while the city of Toronto has requested a feasibility study into adventure playgrounds.

What is a POP-UP Adventure Playground?

A POP-UP Adventure Playground is a one-day event to showcase the possibility of child-directed adventure play using “loose parts” in urban green spaces.  The POP-UPs are staffed by trained playworkers who model the role adults need to perform to support their children’s play.

Earth Day Canada’s POP-UP Adventure Playground program stimulates community involvement in developing “loose parts” play programs – an affordable way to animate local playgrounds and green spaces with enriched, nature-based, creative and social play opportunities for children ages 3 – 13.


Playwork is a highly skilled profession that enriches and enhances provision for children’s play. It takes place where adults support children’s play but it is not driven by prescribed education or care outcomes.

Staff trained in the principles of playwork whose focus is to support rather than direct the play are known as playworkers. Their goal is to support self-directed play through careful observation, relationship-building and reflective practice. Playworkers perform dynamic risk assessment during the play to consider the developmental needs of the children, their growing competency and resiliency.

Playwork Principles

The Playwork Principles were developed by the Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, convened by Play Wales and adopted by SkillsActive in 2005. These principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork and as such must be regarded as a whole. They describe what is unique about play and playwork, and are based on the recognition that children and young people’s capacity for development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities.

Read them in full here.

Permanent adventure playground in Berkeley, California

Want to animate green space in YOUR community? EarthPLAY works with partner organizations to host POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds in the GTHA. Here’s what the process involves:

EarthPLAY POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds.

icon-groupParent-led Play Co-ops

There is a very strong grassroots movement supporting adventure play right now – as a result, some parents have formed casual groups or co-ops for the purpose of organizing regular pop-up play events in their local communities. A great example is the Toronto Free Play Co-op, managed by Mindy Stricke, a mom who lives in Toronto’s Seaton Village neighbourhood; there are more than 100 members of this co-op, all of whom volunteer their time 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, don’t hesitate to reach out to our EarthPLAY team for guidance and support:

A Brief History of Adventure Playgrounds

EarthPLAY for Diverse Communities

Building inclusion through outdoor free play

Objectives: Our EarthPLAY team is proposing a Diversity and Inclusion pilot project that would see play provision improvements in 3 to 5 high-need communities in the City of Toronto. This would include a study measuring the degree to which self-directed, outdoor, “loose parts” play is an effective tool for inclusion and community cohesion. The results of this study would be used to advocate for more enriched play opportunities and greater access to outdoor play in diverse and/or newcomer communities.

Earth Day Canada’s proposed Diversity and Inclusion Project

Over the past two years, Earth Day Canada has been working with diverse communities to advance inclusivity within the environmental sector through our Tapestry program.

Our new initiative, EarthPLAY, fosters inclusion through outdoor play while connecting children and youth to their environment. Our POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds  bring enriched play opportunities to families from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.


    Over the next three years (2016 – 2019), our EarthPLAY team will host 90 POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds in parks, streets and shared spaces across the GTHA and Ottawa. Children of all ages engage in self-directed play with loose parts (materials such as tires, cardboard, rope, as well as water, mud, hay, etc.) in an outdoor, supervised environment — without interference from parents/caregivers.


    This kind of play creates happier, healthier, resilient children who are motivated to connect with one another and care about the environment.


    We need input and participation from diverse communities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area as we expand our EarthPLAY program. If you’re interested in attending and/or co-hosting a POP-UP Adventure Playground, we want to hear from you !


    1. We do an initial consultation to make sure our POP-UP Adventure Playground happens at an ideal time/place for the local community involved, and is executed with inclusion-building best practices.
    1. We arrange a follow-up meeting with community members to gauge the event’s success and discuss further EarthPLAY opportunities.

For more info on EarthPLAY for inclusion and bringing POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds to your community: / / 416-599-1991

  • Enriched play environments have been shown to increase inclusion across all ages, genders, ethnicities, languages and income brackets.

  • Many newcomers to Canada lose rich play environments as a result of the settlement process. Children can often find themselves isolated and indoors.

Get in touch!

For more information on the Outdoor Play and Learning Pilot Program or to inquire about hosting a POP-UP Adventure Playground, please email or call Earth Day Canada at 416-599-1991 and ask to speak with a member of our Play team.

Brenda Simon

Director of Play Programs

Linda Naccarato

OPAL Project Director

Jane Pilskalnietis

Jane Pilskalnietis

POP-UP Play Programs Manager

Leila Barati

Play Programs Coordinator

Sarah McCans

OPAL Mentor

Stephanie Cormier

EcoKids Program Manager and OPAL Coordinator