EarthPLAY for Schools

We believe all children should be free to play outdoors during recess, lunch and after school, and should be provided with enriched materials to explore their imaginations, their physicality, their friendships and the world around them.


  • EarthPLAY aims to expand the Outdoor Play and Learning program to school boards across the country in order to better facilitate students’ access to self-directed outdoor play during recess, lunch, and after school.
  • We also support increasing the amount of school time allocated to play on a daily basis in elementary, middle and high schools.
  • To ensure outdoor, child-directed free play is established as a core pillar of environmental education, alongside environmental literacy and stewardship.

opal logo

Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) Pilot Project

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!

  • STEM – Adventure Play for Ingenuity

    Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum is taught at all levels in elementary schools across Canada. Adventure play with loose parts is an excellent way to deliver STEM education as the children naturally engage in all levels of inquiry through their play. Our STEM-focused adventure play program offers outdoor, loose-parts play that educators can use as the “hands-on” portion of their STEM units. They can then follow-up in the classroom with activities that build on what the children experienced in the playground.

  • OPAL webinar series

    Stay tuned for our OPAL webinars, launching in January, 2017! These will help you:
    – Learn more about creating a ‘Policy for Play’ in your school;
    – Explore how to balance risks and benefits in a dynamic outdoor play space;
    – Discover strategies to create a school culture that values self-directed outdoor play;
    – Learn how to overcome challenges: access and inclusion, inclement weather, etc.;
    – Explore staffing, stewardship and supervision based on play-worker principles.
  • Resources

    Our partners at OPAL UK have some excellent tools and resources on their website, including The Future of Play 2013 Lego Foundation Report and the Health and Safety Executive’s Brief on Play and Risk, a great introduction to the reasoning behind riskier approaches to outdoor play.



Making Playtime a Key Part of the School Day


Easy steps from expert Michael Follett for bringing OPAL into your school.

Playtime Revolution


A guide for schools to support play in the curriculum from Learning Through Landscapes.

The OPAL Programme


The UK’s only evaluated strategic programme for improving play in primary schools.


Here are some simple steps you can take to start the process of improving outdoor play at your school.

  1. OPAL_Parent_HandoutKnow the facts. Download information about the benefits of play, and learn how other schools are creating rich environments for outdoor, child-led play during recess, lunch and after school. Download our handout for parents, which includes advice for supporting better outdoor play in schools.
  2. Request a meeting with your schools’ parent council or principal to discuss the research and current play opportunities at your school.
  3. Start small, think big. Many issues in the schoolyard can affect the richness of your child’s play at school – policies regarding playing in all weather, restrictions on where students can play, and what they can play with. Choose one, easy area to focus on first (i.e. adding shovels and buckets to an existing sand pit) and let the momentum for better play build from there!

EarthPLAY for Parks

Support bringing adventure playgrounds to Canada NOW with a donation to our #Pledge4PLAY campaign!

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:

History of Adventure Playgrounds

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.


Objective: EarthPLAY is reestablishing and expanding opportunities for regularly scheduled street closures for the purpose of outdoor, self-directed play in neighbourhoods across Canada. We intend to model the successful permit program in Seattle, WA.

StreetPLAY is a simple idea – open up our local neighbourhood streets to children and youth so they can connect with friends and play right outside their front door. Street play transforms residential neighbourhoods into play spaces, offering social and physical infrastructure in a readily available setting. Currently street play is illegal in most residential streets in cities worldwide.  Given the physical and mental health crisis among children, cities are revisiting street play to support readily available outdoor, active free play. There are 40 play streets under the UK’s LondonPLAY initiative and in 2012, Michelle Obama launched Play Streets to turn urban streets into play spaces and bring physical activity back into the lives of U.S. children. On July 15, 2016, Toronto City Council supported a motion by Councillor Mike Layton to allow for a pilot project to determine the feasibility of permitting regularly scheduled street play on residential streets in the City. Our EarthPLAY team received an Ontario Trillium Grant to develop and implement a StreetPLAY permit pilot project. Our proposed Toronto StreetPLAY Pilot Project (TSPPP) will pilot regularly scheduled, partial street closures for street play on 4 residential streets; the City of Toronto Permitting Office, Councillors Joe Cressy and Mike Layton, the Toronto Free Play Co-Op, and Ryerson University to pilot the feasibility of bringing street play back to neighbourhood streets in urban centres.

StreetPLAY Pilot:

  • Will involve 6-8 local streets in wards 19 and 20 interested to pilot regular permitted time for StreetPLAY between May 1 – October 31, 2017.
  • Residents determine frequency (1/week, 3x/week, more?); Who the volunteer wardens will be and if partial or full closures are desirable.
  • The possibility exists of extending the permit to the full length of the street and floating road closure schedule between different sections of the street.
  • In collaboration with Ryerson University, the TSPP will evaluate: i) the quality of play for the children and youth who live on the street;, ii) the extent to which the program increases a sense of community for the children, youth and adults on the street; iii) issues or ideas that would strengthen the program, and, iv) the response of local commuters to the play hours.

StreetPlay for Earth Day- Thursday April 20

Toronto StreetPLAY Pilot Project — Resources


Click Here to Download the ParticipACTION Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play


For Residents of Pendrith St. (Christie to Shaw)


For Residents of Pendrith St. (Shaw to Ossignton)


For Residents of Markham / Follis Sts.


For Residents of Clinton St. 

Case Study

Play Streets Program in Seattle, WA.

Since 2013, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has been running a highly successful program called Play Streets:


  • Play streets were developed as part of SDOT’s Public Space Management Program.
  • The public right-of-way, which includes streets, sidewalks, and street trees, makes up 27% of Seattle’s land, providing many opportunities to expand and activate public spaces.
  • The Public Space Management Program supports creative improvements in our streets and sidewalks and makes it easier for community groups and businesses to enliven the city’s public spaces.


They have a helpful handbook for local residents, which outlines the benefits of street play and the easy permit process, as well as a regularly updated map, so anyone in Seattle can enter their address and find the nearest opportunity for street play. To date, more than 200 play streets have been held across the city.


Local Example: Beloeil, QUE

November, 2016: Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Simon Jolin-Barrette, with the support of the YMCAs of Quebec, tabled a bill at the National Assembly to encourage local municipalities to adopt bylaws that will better frame how children get to play in residential streets.


Last April, a pilot project launched in Beloeil, called Dans ma rue, on joue, allowing kids to play between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in residential streets designated as safe by the city.


Playing Out logo

Why Street Play?


A great resource for more information on street play and how to get active play happening outside your front door is Playing Out, a UK-based organization.

They have a ton of great research and articles on the subject, and lots more inspiration!

Here is why we believe that safe play on residential streets is a good thing for children and youth:

1. Children need to play.

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.

2. The street is a blank canvas.

It allows for truly child-led free play, providing important benefits over structured, organised activities in designated spaces.

3. Children like to play near home and have traditionally done so.

A 2007 poll found that 71% of adults played out on their street every day compared to only 21% of children today (Playday).

4. Children need ample space to play energetically.

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.

5. Playing in the street increases community cohesion.

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.

6. Street play creates new opportunities for socialising and friendships.

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.

7. Children learn valuable skills when they play out.

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.

8 Playing in the street allows for ‘semi-supervised’ play.

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.

9. The street is the “starting point for all journeys” (Tim Gill, 2007)

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.

10. Streets constitute the vast majority of public space in the city.

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.


In the GTA?

Check out the Toronto Archives’ new exhibition, From Streets to Playgrounds, featuring photographs, video and artifacts documenting the transition of how city kids spent their free time in the 20th century. Admission: Free Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm Saturday, 10 am to 4:30 pm 255 Spadina Rd. 416-397-5000

Archival footage of street play from the UK

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.


Stay Connected


EarthPLAY in the News

CBC RadioHere and Now” with Gill Deacon

CBC-Radio (June 20, 2016) Earth Day Canada’s Director of Play, Brenda Simon, speaks to CBC host Gill Deacon about her experience touring adventure playgrounds in Europe and what Canadians can learn from this.

Listen to the interview »

metroToronto councillor calls for more ‘adventure playgrounds’

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.

Read the article »

Tune in to our webinar!

Watch the video from our March 22nd Webinar
The video walks viewers through the highlights of this year’s campaign, EarthPLAY for Earth Day, and explains how schools are getting involved. It also discuss the burgeoning movement to “reclaim recess” along with easy-to-implement strategies for improving outdoor play at schools across Canada.

Get our latest updates!

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Stay in the loop about pilot projects and adventure play happening in the GTHA, as well as trends and topical discussions in the play community.

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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.

Our EarthPLAY team includes…

Brenda Simon Director of Play Programs

Linda Naccarato
Play Programs Manager


Leila Barati
Play Programs Coordinator

Jane Pilskalnietis

Jane Pilskalnietis
POP-UP Play Programs Manager