Holland College study shows benefits of outdoor play

Nigel Armstrong
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Holland College and Mount Saint Vincent University joined up to study outdoor play for children and released early findings Monday. Attending are early childhood educators turned researchers, from left, Christine Clement, Angela Beals, Marlene Harding and Jennifer Lee. The study found major improvements for the children and the facility with extended outdoor play.

Rain, snow and cold don't deter children and staff at early learning centre from going outdoors

It’s a cold winter day in Charlottetown, dark in the late afternoon and where are the children of Holland College Early Learning Centre?

Outdoors most likely, and loving it.

Feel-like temperatures down to -24 degrees Celsius, rain, wind, snow or winter darkness do not deter the staff now that research done at the centre shows how to get kids outside safely, and why.

The benefits they found prompted the installation of lighting in the backyard play area, allowing children to be outside until closing at 5:30 p.m., even in winter, say officials.

A public presentation was held at Holland College Monday on its research about outdoor play in early childhood.

It was a joint project between the college and Mount Saint Vincent University that began in June last year. Government funding allowed four early childhood educators to study the hows and why of outdoor play at the child-care centre while at the same time actively working on improving outdoor play opportunities.

“One of the new practices is starting a day in the back yard (outdoor play zone),” said researcher Christine Clement.

When that happens, a notice is put up so arriving parents can offer their kids the outdoor time.

Outdoors has become an option that staff can choose to open as an activity area and children can choose outdoors as a “button choice,” said Clement.

The centre moves children in and outside in smaller groups, which makes for much calmer  transitions, she said.

Subjective reporting said there was less sick time for both children and staff  when outdoor play was ramped up, the meeting heard.

Snacks are sometimes eaten outside, even in winter. There can be music time outside with singing and dancing. Staff spend less time clustered together during outdoor time and are more involved in programming, the research found.

Researcher Marlene Harding brought some warm apple cider outside during some winter pickup times.

Parents stopped to chat with each other while sipping. Children excitedly, spontaneously served them.

“It really became an engaging thing for the whole family,” said Harding.

“We are outside in the sunshine, the rain, the snow,” said Clement.

A permanent container of supplies like napkins, tissues and first aid material is now outside.

The Holland College centre serves up to 50 children with a professional as well as student staff.

“I love their motto — ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’,” said Audrey Penner, in this instance serving her role as director of

applied research at Holland College.

“You will be hearing more about this,” said Penner. “This is the celebration of the end of our data collection but there will be more coming.”

“Through this whole process we have been pushed out of our comfort zones pretty much constantly,” said researcher Angela Beals.

“We have this new knowledge and we have an obligation to change and make change for others and to motivate change in others,” said Beals.

Organizations: Holland College, Mount Saint Vincent University

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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