Category Archives: Outdoor Play


Everything is Better on the Beach




So I am doing something different this summer. I am running a summer program for preschoolers for the community centre my preschool is in.  Its been a great experience. It has been challenging as well. Its kind of like the first week of preschool every week. You know that time when you and the children are still learning each others boundaries and names, developing relationships and just basically getting to know each other. That week where you always have one eye on the door just in case someone bolts, a lot of jumping from one child to the next trying to make sure you connect with everyone. Well summer camp is like that every week. By the end of the week we have a good rhythm, I feel connected to the children and parents and we all feel relaxed. Monday though we start all over again.

I did this for the challenge. I was curious if a week long program could help create a sense of community and connectedness. I am happy to say I believe it does. I feel very connected not only to the children who have passed through our doors but the families as well.

The truth is though a week long program with 2.5  to 5 years olds is kind of like being on high alert all the time. I really have a new respect for educators and community programs that work in strong starts, parent and tot groups and of course camps.

I want to share one week in particular with you, actually more like one day. See this one week a couple weeks ago almost half of the children in our program were under the age of three. Quite capable, amazing two year olds but young and I had planned a walk to a beach that was a bit of a trek for our Thursday trip. After two days of going for small walks around the park adjacent to the community centre I quickly realized this hike on Thursday may not be right for these children. So I chatted to the parents and asked that they drop off their children at the beach that day.

Thursday morning I went straight to the beach set up a tent with books and pillows inside for shade, I set up a blanket for snacks and relaxing, I put out pales, shovels and rakes and finally I set up a visual boundary of where they could play. As the families arrived I showed them the tent, blanket, shovels, pales, rakes and the boundary. The children were so excited to be at the beach.

So you remember earlier in the post where I said running a summer program was like being on high alert all the time. It wasn’t like that at the beach. It was amazing, I was relaxed, the children were relaxed and we had the most magnificent time.


The children built roads, dug holes and looked for burried treasure in the sand.



Collections were found.


Seaweed mountains were made.


The children played on the water’s edge.

The children took some risks and played quite a distance away from me. I took some risks and let them.

When the parents picked up sand was in every crevice of their bodies, they were wet and tired but you could not wipe the smiles off their faces. This is what nature play does for us, it calms us down, it allows us to be creative, it allows us to  play play that we designed, it allows us to take risks, it allows us to be physical, it allows us to get exhausted  and it allows  us to reflect. Notice I didn’t say them or the children…. all those things happened for me that day too.


“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.”
Isaac Newton

Outdoor weaving from the always inspiring Let the Children Play



Outdoor weaving from Purpleclaire Textiles

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”  Henry David Thoreau

I dropped into a child care centre yesterday and chatted with the children and educators. We all observed how much we enjoyed the slow pace of summer, the relaxing of routines, the long times spent outside.

Ideas for building forts from Tinkerlab

Which led to the question of Why? Why can we only slow down in the summer?

Outdoor weaving from the always inspiring Let the Children Play

How can we bring what we love about summer programs into to the rest of the year?


Bears, Broken Glass, and the Obvious Question

What do you remember from your childhood about playing outside?

Some educators and I have been talking about this and we’ve been writing down our stories;

As a child we would break glass bottles and then use the pieces as ‘covers’ for our flower and leaf arrangements…

There was a weeping willow tree that we used as a fort, we played in it for hours, we all knew we just needed to be home for dinner….

My brothers and I would use left over construction materials to build forts in the forest. We were told to make a lot of noise while we played there to keep the bears away…..

We used a rope to swing over a stream, but if you fell in you stayed wet all day, no matter what the season…..

We played hide and seek with all the neighbourhood kids and designated nine back yards as the game territory….

This leads me to think about discussions Danielle and I have with educators around rules, specifically the “slide rule”, you know the one I mean: no going up the slide, feet first coming down the slide, come down on your bottom please!

Danielle and I use this rule as a starting point for discussion, and boy, do we get discussion! Educators want to keep kids safe, they want to help avoid conflict, they want little kids to feel safe among big kids so they have the slide rule.  All with the very best of intentions.

But it seems to me that we might be missing something when we create these rules, we miss that fact that kids can negotiate, that they they can take care of little kids, that falling off the slide might be worth the benefits of the great fun of climbing up it.

Reflecting back on our own childhoods might be a way begin to rethink some of the rules we have. Relative to broken glass and bears a slide is pretty tame!

Let me ask the obvious question…..did anyone ever tell you how to use the slide when you were a kid?


IMG_2189 copy


I had the great pleasure of going into the forest with a group of children last week. The educator led us all to a spot with dirt hills, big, dusty steep hills. The children whooped up and down as the dirt billowed around them. The climbed hand over hand on the steep parts, and the slid down on their bottoms.

Then she led us to a spot with a giant rope swing and more dirt hills with stumps and logs. Kids balanced on the tops of stumps, walked across the logs and poked sticks into all of them. They experimented with the rope swing, some highly skilled at standing on the knot at the bottom, others happy to hold it and walk in a circle.

We came back to the centre dirty, sweaty and with a few blackberry thorn scratches. It was marvellous.

All this leads me to think of a statistic I recently came across: outdoor play structures, you know the kind with bars and railings and a slide, are vacant 87% of the time when children play.  Of the 13% of the time children played there they:

•used loose parts together with the structure 5% of the time

•played underneath it 4% of the time

•used it as intended 3% of the time

•used it for prospect 1% of the time

And here’s another finding: aggression between children increases when no manipulable material was provided in their outdoor play space.

I am not surprised by these findings, are you? I think hearing the stats just confirms what we already knew. Kids want to mess around with the stuff on the ground. They want to dig, sift, sort, mix, move, pat, splat and plop.

Not all of us have access to a forest, but we can all get dirt!  Dusty, messy, malleable, ever-changing dirt.  And it’s dirt cheap. Where I live a cubic yard of dirt costs about $28……a bargain. What else could you buy for $28 that would  deliver that much play value? If it’s delivered by a dump truck, even better.

A yard of dirt in a corner of your yard….what do you think?


Lots of great big dirty blog inspiration is out there…..

Mud Play at Let the Children Play

Evidence that mud is good for you!

Stomping in the Mud

And the Grand Finale…..




“It takes a universe to make a child, both in outer form and inner spirit. It takes a universe to educate a child, a universe to fulfill a child.”    Thomas Berry

I have been on vacation on a tropical island in the Pacific. All I will say about it is summed up in what I overheard a woman say to her husband on the phone: “Honey, sell everything, we’re moving here”.

 I am not moving here, though one can always dream.

 But being the self admitted ECE geek that I am, I can’t help thinking ECE thoughts. And this is what I noticed….holes. Children of every age are compelled to dig holes in the sand. I watched a tiny girl not more than 11 months using her chubby little hands to scrape fistfuls of sand to examine,  taste, feel and then pat into her tiny shovel, then dump.  She repeated the process, making tiny little holes in the sand between her tiny little legs.

I watched 4 larger kids dig a hole that was 6 feet deep. It took them the better part of the day, and when it was finished they sat in it completely hidden from view.

(I have no photos of these holes. Taking pictures of OPK’s (Other People’s Kids) and posting them on the internet is a bit sketchy. I had to make due with snapping pictures in the evening when the beach diggers were done.)

 Adults are not immune to this compulsion. Dad’s and Grandpa’s seem especially drawn to digging and one can watch as the kids find other amusement and the dad and/or grandpa are still hard at it.

 Danielle and I have posted frequently about natural materials, and how The Beach Provides. What is it about sand the invites such interactions? Is it the transformation? Sand is wet, dry, hot, cold, smooth, rough, stubborn and pliable….and all of these properties can explored in one sitting (or one hole!)


One can test one’s abilities against sand, how far, how deep how high. Traces of oneself can be left, artistry and strength can be demonstrated,  but of course the sand always returns as it was when you arrived, your traces gone.

The sand asks many questions of us, invites many conversations. Holes are just one way to enter the dialogue.