By Stan Ashbee
Westwind Weekly News
With Outdoor Play in the Early Years young children learn through play and direct interaction with the world around them. They need to touch, hear, throw, run, climb, observe, ask questions, and explore. The perfect environment for all these things is outdoors.
Last week, sessions were held throughout the area for parents to consider the benefits and value of outdoor play, examine barriers, and ponder the solutions. The interactive sessions allowed parents time to share experiences and learn together, along with time for outdoor play.
Christina Pickles, an environmental educator for 20 years, facilitated the sessions. Pickles has worked in wetlands, badlands, forests, and streams with students of all ages. For the last five years Pickles has lead the Get Outside and Play Early Childhood Network in Alberta. Sessions were held in Cardston, Magrath, Stirling, and in Raymond.
Outdoor play, according to Pickles, is an essential part of childhood. It connects children with the natural world, allows for more physical movement, contributes to a sense of place, and opens up opportunities for inquiry and emergent curriculum.
“Our role as educators in outdoor play is to provide an environment that opens up play opportunities for children that trigger their curiosity and support their learning. Everything is possible outside — children are more physically active, the natural world enters through all the senses, community connections are made, and emergent curriculum takes off,” it was stated in a recent hand-out for the sessions.
During the sessions parents explored how learning can happen outside. Participants examined frameworks to guide outdoor play space design and experiences, directly experienced outdoor play and activities to engage children, considered how to incorporate outdoor play and nature connection, explored ideas to incorporate winter play in programs, and shared ideas, challenges, and successes with colleagues.
“Our children are spending way too much time inside and becoming addicted to electronics and games. We want to encourage them to get outside and to see what’s happening in the world and all the benefits of playing,” said Family and Community Support Services’ (FCSS) Parenting and Family Coach Myrna Sopal from the Raymond Parent Link Centre, where the session was held.
“You can release all kinds of emotions and built up tension by playing. Especially when you get outside. You get that extra adrenaline rush from playing hard, physical activity, and the benefits of fresh air, nature, and different textures,” she added. Eight parents were registered for the Raymond session.
Sopal explained the Westwind Early Years Coalition had funding available to bring presentations to local communities. “We decided Christina Pickles would be a fabulous person to bring in and introduce to our families.”
“We’ve been just talking about the benefits of outdoor play,” noted Pickles, in regards to the sessions held last week.
Pickles said she has noticed a lot of families are getting out a lot, but they come just to get new ideas on what to do outdoors and just to be re-inspired. “Because it is challenging at times to get kids outside,” she joked. “Or, sometimes it’s hard for us to get outside too. Especially when it’s been so cold.”
Getting together with parents at the sessions is really just a conversation, Pickles added. “It’s been in the last generation kids haven’t been getting out as much. The benefits they get is just that physical activity piece — it’s really important.”
Our kids, Pickles said, aren’t as physically active as they once were and the outdoors is a really great place where they can move differently. “They can climb, run, and do all those things we don’t allow them to do inside. It’s very important for their physical development and it’s really a great place to connect with your community, get to know your neighbours, and develop a sense of place and belonging — which is very important for kids. Then there’s the whole nature connection. Connecting with the natural world. That’s picking the flowers and rolling in the grass and climbing the trees.”
“It’s really important for us, as humans. Our kids aren’t getting that as much as they should anymore,” she added.