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Lethbridge College is going back to basics for its outdoor play space. Located in the heart of the college’s campus, the current yard will be converted to a state-of-the-art outdoor play environment over the next few months. A ceremonial groundbreaking took place in the area on Wednesday afternoon and renovations will begin immediately.

“The way children play is critical in their social, mental and physical development,” says Dennis Sheppard, Dean of the Centre for Justice and Human Services. “The first step in the theory of experiential play and changing the way young children learn was to remove all plastic toys and introduce loose parts such as sticks, tires, tree rings, large rocks and hay bales. The renovated play area will take the next step by providing a natural-feeling environment that encourages children to explore and create.”

Outdoor-play-space-groundbreaking-3 (Small).jpg The newly renovated area will support recent research around the development of children in the areas of outdoor, risky and loose parts play. The space is used by the Hands-On Early Learning Centre, which provides daycare services to children of college students and some staff members, and it will be tied to curriculum in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program. The renovations also provide a site for future approved Applied Research and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning activities.

“This will provide an amazing opportunity for the children to have true outdoor play experiences,” says Wendy Weninger, chair of the School of Human Services. “It will also allow for ECE students to see first-hand the effect of such a space on children’s development. Having so many partners as a part of this project has been very rewarding as they, too, see the tremendous value of this opportunity.”

Outdoor-play-space-groundbreaking-4 (Small).jpg The Alberta Government has recently developed an Early Learning and Child Care Curriculum Framework for Alberta, which is heavily grounded in experiential learning. Once constructed, the children who attend the campus daycare will use this space each day and their outdoor play experiences will be documented over time. Those results will be used for applied research studies. This will make Lethbridge College the only program in Canada with a certified outdoor play space for teaching, learning and research.

“The inspiring outdoor play environment at the Hands-On Early Learning Centre will not only enrich children’s learning experiences, but also expand opportunities for the faculty members to conduct applied research,” says Bora Kim, Early Childhood Education faculty member. “These research opportunities will enhance the quality of children’s outdoor play, strengthen relationships with industry partners and promote the college students’ participation in future research projects.”

Twelve community partners from the construction industry are donating time, supplies and expertise to create the play area. They include:

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“We are honoured to be a part of the outdoor play space project,” says Mike Schmidtler, general manager of Lafarge. “This project continues our long relationship with Lethbridge College, which includes several construction projects and partnerships. We are thankful for the opportunity to participate in yet another very worthwhile project at Lethbridge College.”

Lethbridge College has delivered ECE programming to students for over 35 years. Recent efforts in this area include: a symposium hosted by the college in December; two faculty members who joined a research excursion to Scotland in February to learn more about the practices in that country; hosting the college’s first pop-up loose parts playground; and a conference for industry professionals in March.