Written by: Jim Aikenhead, Program Instructor
Mountsberg Conservation Area has a new outdoor program for pre-school, kindergarten, and grade 1 classes. ‘Nature Play’ is a play-based experience that provides students with hands on exploration and fun. The 1.5 hour program aims to foster curiosity in a safe environment and let kids be kids in the outdoors. From following animal tracks and tunneling in the snow, to finding bugs and building with mud, each season brings new opportunities for children to play and explore.
‘Nature Play’ was developed in response to new play-based, and inquiry-based curriculum in Ontario. Also, the writings of authors such as Richard Louv outline the benefits for children of a strong connection with nature. Ongoing research suggests that contact with nature during periods of play not only contributes to physical and mental well-being, but also lays the groundwork for strong, personal environmental connections in the future.
‘Nature Play’ was co-designed with Chantale Beland, a student at Charles Sturt University’s Early Childhood Education program. Chantale and her pre-school students helped to pilot the program. The children were observed while playing at their school, and during a field trip to Mountsberg. These observations were instrumental in the development of the framework of the program. The interaction of the children and the types of ‘resources’ provided gave us a great guideline for what would eventually be offered at Mountsberg.
The children in the pilot class really enjoyed the experience as evidenced by the response of their teachers…
“The kids have not stopped talking about their trip to Mountsberg. The walk through the snow really impressed them.”
“I certainly had a fantastic time. I think the tools used were very effective in engaging the children. We have photos up at the center and children are revisiting the event every day…… I think this program works. I had not seen so many of those children so deeply engaged with materials or with anything nature based before..
The program was promoted through local school boards during May and June of 2014 and launched the following September. In 2015 we have seen an incredible uptake of the program with well over 100 classes booked to take part by the end of the school year.
Mountsberg’s educators really enjoy delivering ‘Nature Play’. There is an amazing sense of sharing between staff about what works well with groups, especially in different weather conditions. This collaboration has helped the program continue to evolve to make an exceptional experience for students. We are all looking forward to sharing this unique experience with students during the 2015-16 school year.