Creating a program that makes sense for your families, agency, or your children is the best place to start. Knowing the barriers that may impact those wanting to attend outdoor programs will help you create an inviting, supportive and fun environment. Starting with a plan, a timeline, and your goals will help you and your families enjoy every minute you have outside… No matter the weather!
If you’d like, please use any of the documents below to help plan your outdoor play program. Before you do, please check out some of our suggestions below!
Where we like to Start
If you have an interest from your families and support from your staff, it’s great to start thinking about location. At your location, it is important to keep in the mind the following:
- Accessible washroom
- Space to warm up/cool down
- Permission to use outdoor space
In the warmer months, washrooms at parks are typically open to the public. It is important to confirm these hours and dates prior to starting your program. In the cooler months, it’s a great idea to connect with community centres if you’re running the program in Winnipeg’s downtown.
There are some important supplies you can use to enhance your outdoor play program beyond the loose parts, shovels, and rain boots you may provide. It is important to think about the comfort of your families, in the same way you would at your centre.
No matter the season you are running the program, the following is a useful list for preparing for your program:
- Water and/or snack station (cups, water jug, napkins)
- Tarps/blankets for sitting and taking a break
- Hand washing station
- Wagons and bins to transport your supplies
- Transportable fire pit (with fire permit, if allowed)
- Additional warm clothing (tuques, scarves, mittens)
- Sunscreen, extra hats
- Sign in sheets (if with a daycare – documents/emergency contact info)
Preparing for outdoor play can be no different than a day in your daycare. In the same way that you might prepare tables with crafts and sensory bins, the outdoors can offer that and more to the children in your outdoor play group. Providing opportunities to build with snow, mud, or tree branches, you’re sparking their imagination without using your playroom budgets. Allowing children to move around freely in an outdoor space and letting them have time to explore and define their motivations and interest is an important aspect of play.
You know your families best! By keeping with routines of your playroom or daycare, it’ll be an easier transition to moving your program outdoors. If your centre loves using rhymes, songs, and oral stories, then those are great ways to connect with the family and children in your group.
The more child-led the better! Creating stations that children can gravitate towards allows them to find their personal motivations and interests. Setting up mud or snow kitchen (kitchen supplies in flower pots, in muddy spaces, or in snow piles), magnifying glass stations, and a fort-building station allows them to find what fascinates them most! Children learn through playing, feeling, and asking questions. The more agency they have, the more they’re exploring and learning!
Adding in songs and movement activities that you would maybe do in your indoor programs or in your playroom can help add to certain themed days. If you’re learning about birds or snow melting, it’s nice to create some routine through following a theme in the whimsical experiences of outdoor play.
When you don’t know! There can be many questions that come your way from families about worms, birds, leaves, mud, the sun. Sometimes (or most of the time!) you may not know the answer. Encouraging these questions and locating the answer can be a great way for everyone to learn. Connecting with organizations and resources such as Nature Manitoba, Oak Hammock Marsh, Fort Whyte, Environment Canada is a great place to start!
Asking organizations to partner up with you and join you for a short session on specific topics can help guide you and your program. Setting up 10-15 minutes for an interactive session with an expert in the area can develop everyone’s knowledge on the topic and strengthen the facilitator’s confidence. Asking for help or turning to others when you don’t know the answer is always an important aspect of program development, and showing your families it’s OK to do so!
Connecting with Families:
If you are starting your program with your daycare or as a separate parent-child program, you probably already have a specific line of communication between your families. If you are wanting to start your program in the spring, give your families a heads up. Share with them your ideas!
If you’re connecting over social media, in person, or on the phone, it’s helpful to share the following with them:
- Date, time, how many weeks your program will be
- What to expect
- What to bring (water bottle, blanket, necessary clothing)
- COVID-19 Precautions
- Who to contact if they have any questions
What to Include:
Use your Space
By working off the location of your program, you can come up with awesome ideas and plans! If you have small hills, a sandbox, an open field, garden boxes or flower pots, a skate park… Use these as the foundations of your program.
These were mentioned on our Why Outdoors? page. As a reminder, they are the natural or upcycled materials used to encourage creativity, curiosity, joy, and fine-motor skills through child-led play. Children take the direction and can manipulate the materials however they imagine.
Some examples of loose parts are:
- Cans, containers, bowls
- Kitchen utensils,
- Sticks, leaves, acorns, pinecones, pine needles
- Buttons, thread, small wheels, rubber bands
Embrace things you recycle at your organization. Bring them to your outdoor play program and see what children do with them! The joy many get of putting items into containers will be amazing to watch. Encourage numeracy, colour recognition, sorting, and building!
Check out our Outdoor Play Bank for ideas to get your program started.