Earth Day Canada is in the midst of a pilot project to bring Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) to six diverse school communities within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), working with teachers, parents, administrators, daycare staff, and other educators to develop a play implementation plan for outdoor time (kindergarten play time, recess, lunch, before and after-school). The children will engage in self-directed play with loose parts (tools, cardboard boxes and tubes, spare tires, fabric, rope, water, hay, logs, etc.), boosting their sense of agency and creating a more inclusive and reciprocal social environment. EDC is working with the TDSB on two board-led initiatives, Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) and Playground Improvement, and will convene its own Play Advisory Committee to provide input on systemic barriers encountered. Lessons learned throughout the pilot project will be disseminated through 2 public symposiums, social media, workshops and presentations. Evaluation will be ongoing in collaboration with Ryerson University and People for Education.
Watch how students play at this OPAL Platinum school in the UK!
Here are some simple steps you can take to start the process of improving outdoor play at your school.
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
EarthPLAY POP-UP Adventure Playgrounds.
Parent-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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the early 1930s, Danish landscape and playground architect C. Th. Sørensen noticed that children preferred to play everywhere except in the playgrounds he built. So he started to pay closer attention to how children played and began imagining an open space where they could create and build, turning their imaginations into reality. He helped to construct the first “junk playground” in Emdrup, Denmark, in 1943. Its popularity led to what are now called “adventure playgrounds” popping up across Europe and, a while later, North America. The rise of helicopter parenting and risk-averse play took over in the 1990s, leading to so-called “unsafe” playgrounds being torn down and rebuilt to include padded surfaces, low-to-the-ground climbing structures and lots of plastic in primary colours. At the same time, there was a marked rise in the amount of time children spent indoors, in front of screens. Now, we are seeing reports on kids suffering from nature-deficit disorder and higher obesity rates. Slowly, there has been a shift in focus back to adventure playgrounds and their potential to tackle these issues, creating a generation that is happier, healthier, more resilient and connected to nature.
A short documentary on the origin and rise of adventure playgrounds from the National Playing Fields Association.
It is vital for their physical and emotional development and for their social learning. It is also a human right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It allows for truly child-led free play, providing important benefits over structured, organised activities in designated spaces.
A 2007 poll found that 71% of adults played out on their street every day compared to only 21% of children today (Playday).
Many homes do not have gardens and in cities these tend to be small. Many children can’t get to parks and other open spaces easily whereas the street is instantly accessible.
It brings neighbours of all ages together by providing a sense of common space and shared ownership. It can engender a sense of collective responsibility and thereby increase the safety of the neighbourhood.
These are often across age groups, or with children that go to other schools. Playing out also increases contact between children and adults, helping to build up familiarity and trust.
They learn important social skills and they gain understanding about the world around them. They do this through dealing independently with situations as they arise.
Parents can get on with housework or looking after other children in the house while allowing children to play outside. Children are far more likely to play outside every day if allowed to play near their home, rather than relying on parents to take them somewhere else, like the park.
The ability to play independently in the street is a first step towards greater independent mobility around the neighbourhood – to visit friends, go to the park or walk to school.
To see them only as places to drive and park cars is to massively undervalue them. Streets can and should be places where people can sit, talk, read, play and walk – and even sing and dance if they want to! The only way this will happen is if we start to use them differently.
Do you have worries around children playing out more, or around a playing out session happening where you live? Have a look at this list of possible concerns and our responses. Or if you want to read in more depth about the benefits and barriers to playing out, explore the interesting research and articles we’ve got together.
Metro (June 10, 2016) Earth Day Canada President Deb Doncaster speaks alongside local councillor Joe Cressy about the importance of creating opportunities for unstructured play in Toronto.
Interested in how you can celebrate Earth Day at your school through outdoor play? Have questions about OPAL?
Join Earth Day Canada President Deb Doncaster and Director of Play Programs Brenda Simon as they walk through highlights of this year’s campaign, EarthPLAY for Earth Day, and all the exciting ways schools can take part. Hear more about the building movement to “reclaim recess” and listen to testimonials from a local principal and teacher who’ve witnessed their students’ behaviour change for the better, thanks to enriched outdoor play programming.
Wed, March 22nd
7:30 – 8:30 pm EDT
Registration link coming soon!
Stay updated on all of our upcoming events, webinars, and more exciting developments
For more information on the Outdoor Play and Learning Pilot Program or to inquire about hosting a POP-UP Adventure Playground, please email email@example.com or call Earth Day Canada at 416-599-1991 and ask to speak with a member of our Play team.