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Strategies for Enhancing Children’s Outdoor Play Opportunities

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We offer you strategies for enhancing opportunities for children to engage in all types of outdoor play on a daily basis. Each strategy has an audio clip of a story from an educator employing that strategy. Click on the audio button to hear the story.

1. Acknowledge children’s efforts and desire to make decisions.

When I saw the children in the puddle I had a number of mixed emotions such as “oh no – look at how dirty they are – what will their parents say?” Then, as I came closer and listened to the children’s conversation, I heard them discussing whether they would be able to see a robin in the great big puddle and if robins would be getting worms from the puddle. As I continued to observe the children, it became clear to me that they were not concerned about being wet or cold, rather they were enjoying the moment. If I had insisted on the children getting out of the puddle, I realized that I would send a negative message to them. Such a message could reduce their future zest to experience puddles or explore the natural attributes of their environment.

  1. Provide children with new types of loose parts, intelligent and intriguing materials.

When I came into the early learning centre today, I had my umbrella open.  Two of the children were intrigued by it, especially when I left it open in the coat room to let it dry.  The children looked at the colours, they asked how they could make it small and then large.  Knowing that we were going to have at least three days of rain, and wanting to think of a way to get the children outdoors that would be acceptable to my colleagues, I decided that I would bring a number of materials to play in the rain on Tuesday.  I gathered rain capes, umbrellas, large rain boots, rain sticks and great big rain hats. I placed them all in a rainy day basket with a sign to the children – What do you see when you go for a walk in the rain?  I will be interested to see how many children will want to go out in the rain as this will be a new experience at our centre.

  1. Engage families in programming ideas.

Marlee’s dad is an incredible outdoor enthusiast and has a background in physical education. He often speaks to us and the children about ways in which they could use their bodies to get to the top of the rocks or the climber or trees.  Sometimes when he comes to the play space he encourages Marlee to climb on the rocks.  This makes me really nervous because I am afraid other children will want to do it with him or when he is not there.  I can’t envision me allowing the children to be able to climb like this. I am concerned that my discomfort is reducing children’s opportunities to engage in the play.  I wonder if I could engage the dad in a discussion with me about climbing.  I bet the children would be very excited if Marlee’s dad could work with the children to have new experiences in climbing and using their bodies.

  1. Provide dialogue and opportunities for children to look deeply at things and make decisions about what they need to support their goals.

Three children have become interested in the Inukshuk that is at the entry way of the outdoor play area.  The Inukshuk has been at the centre since the children came.  I am not sure why suddenly the children have become so interested in this piece and was so surprised when Jacob asked if he could take a picture of it today so he could show his mommy. Jacob took the picture, then began drawing an Inukshuk.  I thought it would be interesting to put a number of rocks near by to see if Jacob, Martina and Raffi try to make an Inukshuk.  As I think about how to expand children’s thinking, if they show an interest in making an Inukshuk out of rocks, I am going to suggest that we take the Inukshuk in the wagon and walk to the park where there are lots of rocks to see if there are any rocks there that will support them in their construction.  I think this could be so much fun. If the children continue to be interested in the Inukshuk, I want to bring an Elder to visit the children to share the significance of an Inukshuk.  I am so excited because there are so many exploratory and learning opportunities.

  1. Provide authentic encouragement to support children in developing a positive disposition.

Jamie is a spirited child. His mother identifies that she feels Jamie’s behaviours are causing tension at home and she is worried about how he will fit in with other children.  He has a short attention span and is working on developing relationships with his peers. I want to support Jamie’s mom and more importantly support Jamie in developing positive relationships so that he experiences success in his play. I have been observing Jamie and note that he has an interest in building things, but he gets so far and then he knocks them down with power.  I am interested in seeing if I can use his interest in building things to support him in having a positive experience both in building and then in bringing others to his play environment.  I share my idea with Jamie’s mom.  We collectively develop a plan for the next two weeks such as me sending Jamie an invitation to help me build a structure the next day.  I also sent him a picture of it.  I hope he responds positively.  If he does, I am going to take photos and we are going to leave our structure up.  When Jamie’s mom comes, she is going to view it.  She is going to use language such as “You used a variety of shapes and sizes in your structure” instead of saying “good job”.  She will ask what was built first and what was last.  If this works, then I am going to ask him to invite another child to build a structure with him.  I hope this works.