A full day of discussions, brainstorming and informed presentations were the highlights of the first Visioning and Leading Outdoor Play in Alberta Symposium, held on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at Lethbridge College.
Educational and industry speakers led debate around the benefits of outdoor and unstructured play for children and the best way to adopt and implement strategies that support that goal.
“We want to ensure our Canadian children are getting high-quality outdoor experiences,” Lethbridge College Early Childhood Education instructor Bora Kim told the Lethbridge Herald. “That’s why we gathered all these people – policy makers, researchers, and decision-makers – in one spot to discuss the opportunities we might have for children’s outdoor play in Alberta.”
With an invite-only group that included educators from multiple educational institutions, industry partners and municipal representatives, discussion included asking how to change the mindsets of educators and parents when it comes to playground safety.
“You don’t have to spend too much time on playgrounds before you hear things like ‘stop,’ ‘get down’ or ‘watch out,’” Dr. Mariana Brussoni, University of British Columbia associate professor and B.C. Children’s Hospital Research Institute investigator told CTV News (video begins at 9:14). “So a lot of messaging that kids receive is trying to limit the kind of play they do, not being allowed to climb trees or just do some of the things that we used to take for granted.”
Studies suggest that introducing risk factors and unstructured play into youth has a wide variety of benefits.
“If you can imagine a set of monkey bars, you can do a couple of things on there,” Peter McCracken, Fundy Region (Nova Scotia), Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage – Communities, Sport and Recreation Division regional manager told Global News (video begins at 5:10). “But if you have things like a mud kitchen or hay or loose parts in a natural environment, there’s a lot more creativity, there’s a lot more risk taking, and basically, it helps the brain develop.”
Lethbridge College is working closely with the Hands-On Early Learning Centre, the college’s on-campus daycare, to explore the philosophies discussed during the symposium. The college has removed plastic toys from the outdoor play area and replaced them with tactile loose parts, such as pieces of wood and pipe, to enrich children’s learning opportunities, and to promote children’s health and well-being.
“We need to support families in understanding that when children are outdoors and have the experiences of taking risk, they embrace the problem solving and critical thinking skills that then support them in making the right decisions,” Beverlie Dietze, director of Applied Learning and Research at Okanagan College told the Herald.
The symposium is funded in part by a $5,000 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Lethbridge College and the ECE team acknowledges the support and funding from NSERC which enabled this event through the successful NSERC Connect grant.
Lethbridge College will continue its role as a leader in Early Childhood Education by hosting the Child Care Director's Association of Southwestern Alberta annual ECE conference on March 23 and 24, 2018.