Playing and Learning Outdoors: Building Capacity in the Early Years

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I have made this confession before – when I worked directly with children I did not embrace outdoor play and learning. I could have never imagined that as retirement is looming over the horizon that I would be advocating for outdoor play and learning. I am volunteering with the York Region Nature Collaborative and organizing workshops and events such as Growing Roots: Building Nature Connections in the Early Years, The Rhythm of Learning in Nature and I am a Teacher Get Me OUTSIDE because I want this to be my legacy.  

York Region Nature Offerings

I remember a few years back, while teaching History and Philosophy of Early Childhood Education I asked my students to reflect on what their legacy could be? I did not have a lot of response to my question. I think back to when I was taking this course so many years as an early childhood education student and wonder what my response would have been then. At the time I was fascinated by democratic practices in early learning and wrote my final paper on A.S. Neill. When I graduated and became an early childhood educator, I worked hard to include children’s voices and to collaborate with colleagues. I felt passionate about access to quality early childhood education for all children and advocated in the political realm. I was very idealistic. Later, I turned my energies to advocating in the educational realm focusing on early childhood education students and teachers. Over the years, my passions included the Reggio Emilia Approach, loose parts and emergent curriculum. I knew what practices that I wanted to change for children and those included cutting out cut outs and ending the use of worksheets. When I engaged in idealistic thinking and visualized the perfect environment it was always indoors. I now hope that my legacy will be that I helped to build capacity in others to facilitate playing and learning outdoors.


Rhythm of Learning in Nature 2017

Now that I am a grandmother, I have been thinking about what my legacy will be for this next generation of children. I want them to have meaningful engagement with nature on a regular and sustained basis. If their teachers are anything like I was then we need to build capacity. Every time I am learning outside alongside others I build my confidence and knowledge about outdoor play and learning. My capacity increases. If teachers in the early years talked, listened, asked and answered questions, shared stories – communicated that’s how we will grow. And talking about our lives is the most important, most personal story of all. It is the story we need to capture in a way that means something to the generations that follow us. These words are from The Legacy Project which is a big-picture learning project for all ages. It’s all about making your life story meaningful in the context of the generations and world around you. I encourage the readers of this blog to check out these life interview questions and consider in particular, the following:

  • If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be and why?
  • What do you see as your place or purpose in life?
  • How did you come to that conclusion?
  • What would you like your children and grandchildren to remember about you?
  • If you could write a message to each of your children and grandchildren and put it in a time capsule for them to read 20 years from now, what would you write to each?

I hope that 20 years from now my grandson can look back at his early educational experiences and remember being outside and being fully engaged in adventurous and challenging play with and in nature because he had teachers that had the capacity to bring the learning outside.


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