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!

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.

Why EarthPLAY?

  1. edc-leaf 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.
  2. 2015-ParticipACTION-Report-Card-279x300 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.
  3. UN-logoIt’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.


Our partners at OPAL UK have some excellent tools and resources on their website, including a guide for schools to support play in the curriculum from Learning Through Landscapes.

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. 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.
  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!

Stay Connected

EarthPLAY in the News

“Here 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 »

Toronto 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 »

Join our EarthPLAY Facebook group

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.

Connect with us on Facebook

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.