Programs focused on self-directed, outdoor play with the goal of strengthening kids’ connection to nature and deepening their respect for the earth.
Connecting kids to nature through play
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 wellbeing. We thank our core sponsor, TD Friends of the Environment Fund, for supporting the integration of EarthPLAY into Earth Day Canada.
Bring Outdoor Play Back to Your Neighbourhood!
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.
Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)
Across Canada, fewer than 20% of children get outside and active at recess — and recess is often the only a child has in his/her daily routine to get outdoors and engage in unstructured free play. Teachers paroling 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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 Centre 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.
Small Parks and Local Gathering Spaces
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 email@example.com.
Adventure play in action!
Get a close-up look at what adventure play in a school looks like, and hear what kids have to say about why they love it! This comes from the Parish School, a huge champion of child-directed, outdoor play.
- It fosters a meaningful connection to the environment. The more time children and youth spend playing in nature, the more likely they are to grow into adults who are motivated to protect it.
- It promotes health and wellbeing. The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth calls for “an increased investment in natural play spaces in all neighbourhoods” and explicitly asks federal and provincial governments to find ways to improve children’s access to risky active play in nature and the outdoors.
- It’s a child’s right.The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Canada in 1991, affirms children’s right to self-directed play and unstructured leisure time. It also highlights data showing that our children are suffering from a deficit of outdoor activity and play.
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.
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.
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.
ARE YOU A TEACHER OR A PARENT LOOKING TO GET STARTED NOW?
Here are some simple steps you can take to start the process of improving outdoor play at your school.
- Know 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.
- Request a meeting with your schools’ parent council or principal to discuss the research and current play opportunities at your school.
- 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 in the News
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call Earth Day Canada at 416-599-1991 and ask to speak with a member of our Play team.