Over the past four years, our YMCA experienced a meaningful shift in our understanding, knowledge and practice of unstructured outdoor play opportunities within our licensed childcare locations. We shifted from the mindset of putting children in a bubble to one that allows risk, resilience building and confidence.
When we approach play with the lens of participation (as safe as necessary) instead of protection (as safe as possible), we open a world of potential. Unstructured outdoor play provides children the opportunity to interact authentically within the environment and develop a sense of ownership.
It’s been incredible to witness the shift in teaching our children that we trust them to test their limits and know when they are ready to take the next step. When we give them the opportunity to decide for themselves, what feels right, and what to do next, they:
- Learn self-regulation
- Develop resiliency
- Learn problem solving
- Work together
- Practice empathy
When we ask children how they feel rather than tell them they might get hurt, they learn to identify what that feeling “feels” like and ultimately what it is rather than relying on what the adult is predicting.
More exposure to the outdoors, quality opportunities for holistic development and increased advocacy towards the benefits of outdoor play are at the core of our work with early learning professionals, families and children.
- 2016: we developed a specialized outdoor play training module aimed to educate and put into practice a new mindset for select YMCA professionals, with funding from the Lawson Foundation.
- 2016-2018: Four child care centres were selected to pilot this training program implementation. Evaluation findings supported that these educators had increased positive perceptions and educational awareness of the benefits of outdoor play.
- 2017: Ontario Trillium Foundation supported the training for remaining centres, with over 400 staff now educated in the benefits of outdoor play.
- 2017: We partnered with Y Canada and the YMCA of the Greater Toronto Area on a plan with Colbeck Strategic Advisors to integrate Outdoor Play Training in our national YMCA curriculum.
- 2020: The Lawson Foundation granted our Y with $725,000 to support scaling Outdoor Play training to 40 YMCA associations across Canada over 3 years.
- 2021: We were awarded an additional $1 million from another funder to support Outdoor Play Training scaling efforts in the creation of Teaching and Learning Hubs across Canada.
- By 2025, our goal is to train over 3000 educators across Canada, with over 87,000 children receiving more exposure to quality, outdoor learning opportunities. The development of 10 Teaching and Learning Hubs will also be developed to support community integration of theory to practice in outdoor pedagogy.