The Glenora Child Care Society in Edmonton has won a $110,000 grant to cultivate risky outdoor play in winter.
“I really believe in the value of outdoor play and outdoor, unstructured play,” mom of three, Lisa Jensen, said.
“We make lots of effort to try and get outside and it’s really hard sometimes in the winter because it’s dark and it’s cold and you have lots of competition from other activities and games.”
One of the reasons she chose Glenora Child Care Society for her three kids (aged seven, four and 15 months) was its strong outdoor play policy.
Jensen says she can definitely tell when her kids don’t get that time to let loose outside.
“Oh yes, they’re totally crazy,” she laughed. “We really see a difference as a family…in their attention span and their general level of happiness during the day.”
Jensen is on the daycare’s fundraising committee and applied for the grant.
“There was a lot of excitement… It seemed like it was the right time. Edmonton is a winter city and we wanted to be a winter daycare.”
The Lawson Foundation announced its Outdoor Play Strategy Thursday. It will spend $2.7-million on more than a dozen different projects across Canada.
“Children’s play is in decline,” Marcel Lauzière, the president and CEO, said.
“Kids actually need unstructured outdoor play – play that includes taking risks – because we know that this is important for their healthy development.”
The project hopes to increase kids’ chances for self-directed play outdoors in all settings. The Glenora Child Care Society will focus on outdoor play for young children under five.
Early childhood educator Adrian Merrick says we mislabel some kinds of play as risky.
“I prefer to look at it as adventurous play.”
“We’ve got, as a society, a bit of a fear of risk. But… we’ve come full circle. We’re talking about risk as a way to learn, a way to push our boundaries, to have fun, to experience the world.”
Marrick, who works at the Glenora Child Care Society and has a six-year-old son of his own, says parents don’t need to micromanage their kids’ activities.
“They don’t need to be told what’s safe and what’s not safe. They need to figure that out for themselves.”
He said parents don’t need to follow every step their child takes, consistently pick them up or lift them up to the top of playgrounds, or stop them from going head-first down the slide.
“Head-first is not unsafe,” Marrick said. “They are able to experience what it feels like to go head-first, to go back-first, to go on their bum, to go on their tummy. It provides a feeling of freedom, of ‘I can do it,’ and a feeling that ‘the adults in my life trust me.'”
Merrick says when it comes to play during the colder months, parents’ biggest concern is plunging temperatures, but says, with appropriate clothing, outdoor play is totally doable.
The Lawson Foundation stresses the importance of winter play.
“Enhancing and extending outdoor play during the day, while they are at the child care centre, ensures they have physical activity, connection with nature and daylight, and unstructured time to explore and develop,” the grant summary explained.
“This project seeks to instil a great love for new types of play in a crisp, bright world, and to normalize outdoor play as an experience of childhood by engaging preschool children in amazing winter play opportunities.”
A specialized outdoor winter coordinator will educate and work with current staff to come up with creative outdoor play options (like wind shelters, infant snow play, sculpting, bird feeding, warming areas, etc.) for almost any kind of weather conditions.
The project will also work with parents and use the city’s For the Love of Winter strategy.
“We just really hope we have an opportunity to extend and expand and enhance the quality of outdoor winter play activities at the daycare,” Jensen said. “And, beyond that, share with other daycares and preschools and schools.”
Other groups receiving funding from the Outdoor Play Strategy are:
- Earth Day Canada – Toronto
- Vivo for Healthier Generations – Calgary
- Ecosource – Mississauga
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – London
- KidActive – national
- Regroupement des Centres de la Petite Enfance de la Monteregie – Quebec
- BC Injury Research & Prevention Unit, University of BC – national
- Child and Nature Alliance of Canada – national
- Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, Dalhousie University – Nova Scotia
- Okanagan College – national
- YMCA of Western Ontario – London
- Canadian Public Health Association – national
- City of Calgary – Calgary
- Social Research and Demonstration Corp. – national
“It’s exciting to see that while many of the organizations in the cohort are working within the traditional parameters of their expertise, others are working on the edges of practice in their sector and exploring new avenues to carry out their mission and expand children’s opportunities for outdoor play,” Lauzière said.
The Outdoor Play Strategy will fund 14 programs across the country.