There was an astonishing breaking news report this week that declared, “Playing outdoors could have health benefits for children.” This study, done by the Toronto District School Board, was looking at the benefits of unsupervised outdoor play time. I was impressed. I wondered how much money had been spent by TDSB to determine that outdoor play could be benficial for children. Really?
Outdoor educators have only been tellling their administarors this for over fifty years. Studies done by Yale University and our own Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario have hard research that outdoor experiences, from playtime to study time have very real health benefits for children from physical fitness to engaged cognitive development and academic success. It is not an area of educational research that needs another study. What it needs are the resources to train teachers.
Fortunately for our children, there are enlightened Boards of Education that are fully aware of the health benefits of outdoor education, and are putting the time and resources into training their teachers to be competent in the outdoor classroom. Enabled by the Ministry of Education’s Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program that places an emphasis on play-based inquiry learning, the Simcoe District School Board went into action.
They have started an initiative to train their primary kindergarten teachers with the skills and resources to take their young students outdoors and connect those experiences to the elementary curriculum. Their first sessions were held on a fall Saturday at which over a hundred primary teachers attended their “Hands in the Dirt” conference. Based on the overwhelming success of this first experience, and spread by word of mouth, over 150 teachers and support staff returned for the winter conference this past Saturday, entitled, “Mittens in the Snow”. I am proud to have been part of both events.
The entire “Mittens” day, with the exception of a warm chili lunch, was spent outdoors, from the opening keynote to the multiplex of sessions offered to the participants. Everything from snow studies, art outdoors with technicolour snow, storytelling in the forest, shelter building, pine cone crafts around the campfire, building bird feeders, and a variety of other activities that covered every aspect of the curriculum in a fully experiential way. Every participant also left the conference with a copy of the inimitable Frank Glew’s illustrated story, “That Chickadee Feeling”, a celebration of the joy that can only come through children’s contact with nature. And the need to have a guide who can bring them to that place.
Simcoe Board now has close to 200 trained primary educators more than eager to take their kindergarten students outdoors to the schoolyard, the local greenbelt, the park forest and spend the day in the greatest classroom of all. It’s amazing what a little enlightened and supportive leadership can do. There is hope for the future, one full of healthy, re-connected children. Just keep your mittens in the snow!
Skid Crease, Caledon
It was so enlightening to be a participant in both of the mentioned SCDSB outdoor learning sessions (Hands in the Dirt and Mittens in the Snow). These wonderful Saturdays spent outdoors with experts on outdoor education has sparked the inspiration to take my Kindergarten children into nature every day to learn. They look forward to meeting at our “base camp” and get excited about what we are going to do outdoors each time. We go out 4 out of 5 mornings a week and the children show markedly improved moods as a result. I have a crew who have some issues with self-regulation and immersing them in outdoor learning and play is clearly helping them have improved skills in their social and emotional development. I hope that they will carry their love of nature and their appreciation for their environment through to other grades as they move through school. Now it’s time to extend the teaching of the importance of outdoor learning to older primary grades so that these Kindergarten children are not stuck inside all day in future school years! Thank you Skid for being a part of our outdoor education in Simcoe. Let’s hope we will see you again in the spring at a third session!