Outdoor Playgroup: Parkgate Community Services
We spoke with Cherie McLaughlin, CAPC Site Supervisor for Parkgate Community Services Society, about the parent participation outdoor playgroup they initiated this year.In order to create access for their participants to the concepts of outdoor preschool, the CAPC program has brought in a trained facilitator to incorporate the principles of this popular program into their work with families with young children.
They piloted the program this January—March, initially on a weekly basis in order to build familiarity with the program and develop the routine of attending.A very interested group turned out straight away and they now normally have 10-14 families attending, with a mixture of regulars and new families.Since April they have established the playgroup as part of their regular program, operating it on alternate weeks.
The playgroup runs for two hours, starting with a shared lunch at the centre for participating families at noon.After they have had lunch, they head out into the forest, which is a treed area that lies between the centre and a local park.It is only a five-minute walk from the centre to the woods and creek.This has the advantage that washrooms are still close by, and if children tire, their parents can be flexible about how long they stay.They make enough noise to keep any wildlife away, but there is a feeling of being ‘in nature’, despite the wooded area being bordered on one side by a local church, and on the other by a condo development.
Initially, some parents had concerns about safety for their children on uneven terrain in a ‘wild’ setting, and some arrived either carrying their child or with the child contained in a stroller.Staff have addressed concerns and have supported and built confidence for parents and children, encouraging kids and parents to wear appropriate footwear and raingear for the outings.Some parents have been pleasantly surprised to discover their children’s capacity to handle themselves in this unfamiliar setting.The environment of the playgroup feels more ‘free’ for the children than either indoor activities or even playground activities, and there has been a noticeable development in balance and coordination skills.They find it exciting!
Parent community developers (CAPC staff) provide support for the program.They prepare the food for the shared lunch, welcome families and newcomers, and actively participate with and support families during the program activities.
Cherie points out the value of having a trained facilitator for the program.It has been a terrific benefit:it gives the program shape and keeps it interesting.The facilitator brings different materials and changes up the program for each session.The supplies she brings include such things as ‘mud-kitchen’ supplies, ropes and pulleys, magnifying glasses, and materials for art projects such as chicken wire structures and bird houses.A significant operating philosophy of the program is that they neither leave anything behind in the wooded area that has been brought in from outside, nor take anything out of the wooded environment that originates there.
The Keeping in Touch newsletter has featured a number of articles on different aspects of the value of unstructured play and play in natural surroundings.For more information check out:
- 9 Nov 2015: ‘Forest School Canada’
- 31 Oct 2014: ‘Children Need Time to Play Each Day – Unstructured, Outdoor Adventures’
- 24 June 2014: ‘Is Canada in the Running?’
- 27 November 2013: ‘Prescription for Play: Alliance for Childhood’
- 26 November 2013: ‘The Right to Play: Early Childhood in Focus’