“So, parents, I know you would like to see some semblance of normal for your children in terms of structure. However, as you embrace a new normal, for what we know will be an extended period of time, let your kids rediscover what was normal: leave them alone and let them play.”
A wonderful piece focusing on play during the time of COVID-19. This piece is written by our Play Outside NS colleague, Crystal Watson, the Executive Director of Recreation NS. Check it out in the link below:
Editor’s note: This post was written for us by Julia Stephenson Kentville’s Active Living Community Coordinator. Find out more by visiting The Town of Kentville website.
Beginning in the fall of 2017, inspired by the national and global work on unstructured play for children, the Town of Kentville’s Parks and Recreation Department challenged ourselves to make play a priority.
Over the last two years the Kentville Plays initiative has motivated us to take play, and all its benefits, seriously.
We have made capital investments in infrastructure that supports play. The most significant playful update to our built environment has been the development of the Oakdene Park playground which includes natural and adventurous play features. The play space was designed with input from local grade four students and features the elements they dreamed up, including: double slides on a hill for racing, a sand pit and mud kitchen, lots of swings, two zip lines, a spider web, and a ‘kids only’ cave. It’s been incredible seeing and hearing about how the Oakdene play spaces are used. This playground is designed to let kids choose how they want to play, and we couldn’t be happier with the response from the community; as you can imagine the ziplines draw in not just the young ones but all who are young at heart.
We have also invested in Playboxes (unlocked metal jobsite boxes filled with toys and equipment) in three of our municipal parks. The Playboxes make existing playgrounds, courts and snowy park hills more playful spaces. Whether it’s grabbing a basketball to shoot some hoops, getting out a skipping rope or frisbee to play with, having a saucer to slide on, or having a ball for the kids to kick around or roll down the slide, the play possibilities are endless. We depend on our community to keep the Playboxes filled in between our own additions, and we are always happy to see when playful items are added to the boxes for our community to use.
In addition, we have a loose part shed that is shared between our primary through grade eight school and our Kentville Summer Day Camps. The loose parts are also a huge hit at our play events including our annual event in November, pop-up events (ex. cardboard box play, National Play Day trail play, etc.) and play stations at community events.
Taking play seriously also means incorporating elements of play into broader municipal planning. This year we have developed an Active Transportation Plan for our municipality that includes the lens of play. The ten-year plan will continue to challenge and inspire us to add playful elements to our built environment that help make walking and wheeling an easy and desirable choice for all who live and work in Kentville.
We’ve been learning lots in our work to make Kentville Canada’s most playful community. Some of our key learnings (so far!) have been:
Editors note: Dr. Mariana Brussoni, internationally renowned risky play researcher, led a keynote lecture at Dalhousie’s University Club for the third installment of the #SummerofPLEY series.
Dalhousie’s PLEY Project hosted a keynote lecture with University of British Columbia researcher, Dr.Mariana Brussoni. Dr. Brussoni’s research focuses on the importance of outdoor risky play for children’s healthy development, and how built outdoor environment impacts children’s play.
We had another great turnout at this event with academics, community members, early childhood educators, and students learning about the importance of risky, outdoor play for our children and how best to support it.
We are so lucky to have had the chance to learn from Dr. Brussoni, please share this video and help us promote the importance of risky, outdoor play!
By: Mariana Brussoni, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia
Editor’s note – This article was originally published in the Canadian edition of The Conversation. We are pleased to reprint it here with a breif commentary from Mariana Brussoni who visits Nova Scotia next to participate in the Summer of PLEY series.
What if there was a simple, inexpensive and fun way to address some of the major challenges facing humanity today. What if it could help improve children’s health, development and well-being?
Imagine a solution that could stem the current epidemics of obesity, anxiety and depression affecting children and youth today. Imagine that this solution could also promote brain health, creativity and academic achievement and prepare our children for the rapidly-changing work force.
Along the way it could reduce incidence of allergies, asthma and other immunity challenges and improve eye health. It could foster a culture of environmental stewardship and sustainability and help build the health of cities — promoting neighbourliness and feelings of community connection.
Imagine that this intervention could also help countries meet their targets for many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as the goals of Good Health and Well-being, Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education, Decent Work and Economic Growth and Climate Action.
This isn’t an expensive intervention, or one that parents have to force their children to do — like homework or eating their vegetables. Rather than dreading it, children report being at their happiest when doing it and they seek ways to keep at it for as long as possible.
What is this fix-all simple solution? Playing outside.
Many of us have fond memories of childhoods spent outside, hanging out with friends in our neighbourhoods, parks and wild places, making up the rules as we went along, with minimal (if any) adult supervision.
We need only reflect on our own play memories to realize how valuable these experiences can be and how they can shape our lifelong health and development. The research is now catching up to our intuitions, recognizing the vast and diverse benefits of outdoor play.
Playing outside is not the same as playing inside. There are unique benefits of being in the outdoors, particularly in nature, that don’t come as readily indoors. When children are allowed to play the way they want to play in stimulating environments, they move more, sit less and play longer.
They get their hands in the dirt and are exposed to microbes that help them build their immunity. They make their own goals and figure out the steps to attain those goals, helping them build executive function skills. They learn, build resilience and develop their social skills, learn how to manage risks and keep themselves safe. Their eyes get the exercise they need to help combat short-sightedness.
We are rediscovering the magic of outdoor play. Governments see it as a way of getting kids active and averting the obesity crisis. Schools and early childhood centres see it as a way of promoting academic and socio-emotional learning. Corporations see it as a way of preparing children for the jobs of the future that will focus on creativity, empathy and connection with others. Children just see it as a way of having fun and feeling free!
There are three key ingredients to supporting outdoor play: time, space and freedom.
Kids need time to be able to play outside. In schools, that means recess policies that get kids outside every day, finding opportunities to use the outdoors for learning and limiting homework. At home, that means laying aside screens and limiting scheduled structured activities.
Kids also need high quality outdoor spaces to play in. That doesn’t necessarily mean expensive playground equipment. It means spaces where all children feel welcome, regardless of their abilities and backgrounds, that they can make their own and that also have loose parts (for example sticks, stones, water and cardboard boxes) they can use and let their imagination shape the play.
Read more: Five tips to manage screen time this summer
In cities, that means being prepared for and allowing play to happen everywhere, not just parks and playgrounds. We need to design inclusive and child-friendly cities where kids feel welcome everywhere and can easily access nature.
Finally, freedom: the biggest barrier to children’s ability to play the way they want to play is adults. We need to let go of our excessive fears of injuries and kidnapping and realize that the benefits of kids getting out to play far outweigh the risks. My lab developed a risk reframing tool for parents and caregivers to help them on this journey.
Helping support children’s outdoor play can be as simple as opening the front door. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. If we all do our bit, we can help bring back this crucial activity that should be part of all children’s daily lives, regardless of age, cultural background, gender or ability.
I would encourage you to consider one simple and attainable thing you are going to do today to help get the child or children in your life get out to play.
Editor’s note: This list of advice was written by our PLEY team member and early childhood educator extraordinaire, Jane Cawley. Thanks for your hard work, Jane!
One of the topics that the team discussed before, during, and after the pop-up event is the role of the adult in loose parts outdoor play. I will present some ideas for your consideration.
Editors note: This blog was written by one of Play Outside NS’s most important teams members, Jane Cawley. Jane is a retired Early Childhood Educator and former Director of the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education. Jane not only has many years of caring for children under her belt, but she also teaches how to best support children’s development to our current and future Educators.
The amazing thing about a pop-up playground event is that it looks to an outside observer like a magical happening, that arrives with a “POP” and 5 hours later it disappears as quickly as it came. In reality, it takes months of planning; sourcing loose parts, creating an ongoing presence on social media, forming community partnerships, amassing an army of volunteers, creating and implementing a task plan for the team, and all the while keeping fingers crossed that the weather will be good.
We arrived at the Commons on the day with a U-Haul and our cars packed to the rafters. We unloaded the loose parts and reassembled hundreds of cardboard boxes (the bigger the better) that had been flattened for easy storage. Our team member Alex Smith, who hosted a pop-up playground in 2017, advised us to gather as many cardboard boxes as we could and thank goodness, we took that advice. As you can see from photos the boxes were a big hit. Next, we staged the loose parts into separate areas, creating visual invitations to come and play.
The children started to arrive wide-eyed and curious. There were toddlers, preschool and school age children and even a few infants. Some children came in groups from child care centres or day camps, and some came with caregivers or parents. Some came because they had seen the event notice, and some were driving by and stopped to see what it was all about. Some children dove right in, but some children were a bit hesitant. Message to the children, “play and have fun.” Message to the adults, “The beauty lies in allowing the children the freedom to explore the materials, use them as they wish, and take them to any area of the play area they feel the need to.”
We observed the children playing with the loose parts in many different ways. Physical play was happening as children immediately began reorganizing, picking up, or dragging the loose parts to other locations. Often when the loose part was heavy or bulky the children had to adopt a collaborative plan to make this happen. Even though there were lots of materials and lots of children, the Commons provided spaces for children to practice balancing skills, to throw and catch balls, and to move their bodies. We observed balancing structures created with wood planks and tires as well as throwing games with balls and buckets. The children demonstrated confidence, motivation and competence; all of the elements of physical literacy.
Construction play was a theme throughout the day, with the older children having a specific goal “we’re gonna build a fort”, and the younger children simply working organically with the materials and somehow some of those turned into forts too. The children also engaged in dramatic play as they assumed roles to match their structures. One group mixed water and crushed chalk to make a secret potion.
Loose parts play can support collaborative group play or be used by one child engaged in solitary play, or two children playing side by side in parallel play. We observed younger children playing with older children; friends playing together; children playing with other children they had just met. They were recognizing and appreciating the talents, skills, abilities and capacities to contribute to the play community. They were learning from each other and functioning in a cohesive, respectful, and responsible way.
The use of open-ended materials like loose parts can also lead to risky play. Good risks are those that engage and challenge children and support their growth, learning, and development (Play England, 2007). We observed children carefully assess their own capabilities and without adult input make thoughtful decisions. We also observed older children offering support to younger children.
An interesting statistic…PLEY team members had bandages in their pockets. Final tally – zero bandages handed out. Thank you for the generosity of the community in supporting our Summer of PLEY Pop-Up Playground.
Stay tuned for more pictures and our recap blog from our Pop-up Playground…