Folks, we all know that this is a really hard time. It is full of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. It is a time where we are all having to take things on that fall way outside our comfort zones. As a parent of three, an educator, and wife of a teacher who works in a more traditional setting, I'm seeing, hearing and feeling some of the challenges around children being home from school.
Teachers and school administrators are being challenged to deliver a home learning program to their students. They are learning about new technologies and coming up with innovative ways to connect with and support our kids. I know firsthand how much time, effort, and heart these highly dedicated professionals are putting into this effort and I'm grateful for that.
Parents are being challenged to help their children work through their home learning programs while working from home, continuing to work as essential workers and figuring out childcare, making sure they have enough food and supplies, keeping themselves and their children healthy and happy, and more. I can fully understand that we don't all feel comfortable "teaching" our own children and we may be worried that our kids are going to fall behind because of this. I'm here to say, cut yourself some slack. The good news is that your kids are also learning so much by doing what they do best – getting outside and playing!
I have learned so much about supporting children in their outdoor play and learning over the past few years. Part of this has been developing a deeper understanding of how much learning is really happening through such a simple act. As adults, we can provide safe opportunities for play. We can join in the play. We can be nearby to listen and observe the play. We can ask questions or make observations about the play. We can accept that the play and learning isn't always going to go as we thought it would. And most importantly, we can recognize that play is anything but "wasted time." Is play always smooth and seamless, without tears and upsets, quiet and ordered, neat and tidy? No! However, at the end of the day, after wiping tears and cleaning up messes, we can think back and realize all the great things that our children gained from the experience of playing outside. Here are just a few examples to consider:
— Being in the outdoors is good for everyone's mental and physical health, not just our children. It reduces our stress and anxiety, encourages us to be active and challenges our bodies. This, of course, while we are following necessary safety guidelines (i.e., practising physical distancing, avoiding touching common surfaces and frequent hand washing) under the current pandemic situation.
— Being in the outdoors provides amazing opportunities for play and learning. The simplest of adventures like taking a walk in your neighbourhood, digging in the soil in the garden, splashing in some water, and jumping off rocks and logs can all lead to language, math and science learning with no special effort.
— Being in the outdoors strengthens our connection to the natural world. It can help us to develop a deeper appreciation for nature and drive us to help keep it healthy. This is learning we can all benefit from.
So, during this period in our lives when there is so much that we can't do with our children, let's embrace this opportunity to get back to something so simple and so important for our kids that we sometimes forget about. Let's get back to playing outside.
Rebecca Whitman is a proud wife, mother of three and outdoor educator who calls Foley Mountain Conservation Area home. For close to 14 years, Ranger Rebecca has provided curriculum-based outdoor learning at Foley Mountain to thousands of children from across Eastern Ontario. Her work inspires generations of children to cherish nature and care for our environment. Her recent development of the Foley Mountain Forest School program has further deepened her connection to outdoor play and hands-on experiences. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Science with honours in biology from the University of Ottawa, a Bachelor of Education from Lakehead University and is a member of the Ontario College of Teachers. She is the recipient of the Watershed Interpreter's Network Excellence in Watershed Education Award. ...