At the YMCA, we acknowledge that play is a vehicle for natural learning and investigation. Our YMCA Playing to Learn curriculum supports health through regular exposure to the outdoors, recognizing the outdoor classroom as equivalent to the indoor classroom. Unstructured play is about following the child’s lead and supporting their curiosities and interests while building their resilience and confidence.
The challenge or risk in the outdoors is always in the eyes of the child. Supervision, engagement and planning from educators is an intentional approach to leading children in outdoor exploration. Our YMCA Playing to Learn curriculum states, “Children gain new skills as they challenge themselves, thus risk is an important element of play, especially outdoors” (Martins & Huggins, 2015). As early childhood professionals, we are aware of the high volume of research in support of outdoor play for children’s positive holistic development. This is embedded within our curriculum and stresses the importance of starting by recognizing children as competent, capable individuals.
There are no expectations imposed by the educator or curriculum on where children play, or whom they play with, or how long they play at one activity. That is for the child to choose based on their interests and engagement. The same consideration is given to activities or materials that involve an element of risk.
"The biggest risk is keeping kids indoors"(ParticipACTION, 2015). Today, we are seeing an alarmingly low percentage of Canadian youth and children meeting Canada's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. Outdoor play in minimally structured, free and accessible environments facilitates socialization with peers, community and the environment, reduces feelings of isolation, builds interpersonal skills, and facilitates healthy development (Tremblay et al., 2015).
The YMCA is a recognized community leader in child and youth development, continually innovating and evolving to meet the needs of our local participants. The communities we serve need the YMCA to promote outdoor learning opportunities to ensure a healthy future for our children and families.