Researchers from UBC and BC Children’s Hospital have launched a new online Outdoor Play and Learning tool, to help parents, caregivers and educators gain the skills and confidence to support outdoor play and learning in elementary schools from kindergarten through Grade 7.
The researchers have studied outdoor play for more than a decade and they want to help elementary school teachers take their classes outside. The new tool was developed by UBC Faculty of Medicine professor Dr. Mariana Brussoni, alongside PhD candidate and long-time outdoor teacher Megan Zeni.
Modules in the tool include how to transition to teaching outdoors, bridge risky play and learning, supervise risky play, and make learning visible. Risky play is where children explore risks and push themselves beyond their usual limits, such as climbing higher or chasing faster.
“Teachers may like the idea of outdoor learning but may not know where to start,” says Zeni, a PhD candidate in the UBC Faculty of Education. “With the help of practical videos, the tool provides concrete advice about navigating barriers, preparing for all-weather learning, making activities accessible to all and teaching various subjects outdoors.”
Each module represents years of research, interviews, focus groups and surveys with students, parents, teachers and school administrators to identify challenges and facilitators of outdoor play and learning.
“Kids are more physically active outside than inside,” says Dr. Brussoni, director of the Human Early Learning Partnership, professor in the Department of Pediatrics, School of Population and Public Health and Play Outside UBC Lab, and investigator with the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. “This has implications for immediate and lifelong health.”
The researchers say outdoor play and learning at school has been shown to increase children’s engagement in learning, enjoyment of school, physical activity during the school day, and ability to effectively manage their emotions.
“There’s an abundance of research about how important being outdoors is for mental health,” Dr. Brussoni adds. “Gains include risk-management skills along with the development of resilience and self-confidence.”
“You form different relationships with kids when you teach this way,” says Zeni. “There’s a lot less telling kids to sit down, stay still and pay attention. The level of engagement outdoor learning achieves by nurturing wonder and curiosity leads to richer learning.”
With 26 years of teaching experience in elementary schools and outdoor classrooms, along with 10 years talking to students, teachers, administrators and parents across North America about outdoor play, Zeni is confident every school can provide outdoor learning opportunities.
“There’s a simple solution for every perceived barrier I’ve heard,” she says. “If there’s a will there’s a way.”
Development of the Outdoor Play and Learning tool for teachers was funded by BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. A version of this story was originally posted on the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute website.