Two Weeks Outdoors

Last Thursday I attended a meeting of the Manitoba Nature Action Collaborative for Children – MNACC for short.  I have been part of the MNACC group since its inception after several of us returned from attending the 2008 World Forum Foundation’s Working Forum on Nature Education for Young Children .

Our MNACC group gathers several times each year to converse, problem solve, and partner with others to create outdoor environments and experiences for children.  At last week’s meeting staff from Discovery Children’s Centre, Seven Oaks Child Day Care Centre, and Winnipeg Military Family Resource Centre Childcare Centre shared stories of their adventures during their ‘Two Weeks Outdoors’ project.

Last spring, preschool groups from these centres participated in a venture to spend their entire day, every day, in outdoor classrooms. For two weeks these 2, 3, and 4 year olds along with their caregivers explored, played, ate and slept outdoors.  Parents dropped their children off outside the centre in the morning and picked them at the same location at the end of the day – dirty, tired, and extremely happy.

In most (but not all) cases they went indoors only for toileting.  There were occasional concessions made when necessary during extreme weather conditions – which really only included lightening.  For the most part though they were well prepared to handle anything Mother Nature had in store.

Actually, some of the staff found that they were over prepared and didn’t even need to use much of the equipment they had available to ‘entertain’ the children.  Not surprisingly it turns out that young children are fully capable of keeping themselves busy in an unstructured outdoor environment.

They all considered the project to be so successful that some even extended it for an additional week.  All are making plans to make it an annual event.  Other centres are planning their own events.  Some are considering full day outdoor programs in the winter!

I had wanted to participate last year but I doubted my ability to pull it off.  After all, I’m a family childcare provider – I work alone.  Could I really run my program entirely outdoors?  I have a mixed age group – including an infant.  Yet, we have gone on full day field trips.  We have gone on half day hiking trips in ‘wilderness’ areas. We have eaten our meals and snacks outdoors both in the yard and on outings.  I have had an 18 month old walk an entire 3 km trail refusing to sit in the stroller that I had brought.  We have often played outdoors in the rain. We regularly spend 2-3 hours outdoors each day.

As I listened to their stories and watched their slide shows I kept thinking, imagining and planning for each point they made….I could do that….I wouldn’t do that….I would do that differently….I could do that better….YES, I CAN SPEND ALL DAY OUTDOORS! 

This year we will participate in the two weeks outdoors project!

I probably will not do two consecutive weeks.  One of the points the presenters made was that they chose spring over summer for this project to avoid being outside in sweltering heat with high UV levels.  Their biggest plus to spending all day outdoors was the total lack of a structured time schedule.

For me these two points oppose each other since in spring I still have nursery, kindergarten and school-age children with definite time restraints.  Only in the summer do we have the freedom to let the schedule flow freely – naturally.

I am planning one springtime week where my smaller preschool group and I will spend most of our day outdoors – including meals and naps – but we will be indoors for arrival and departure times to accommodate the school schedule.

I also want to do a full outdoor program for a week in the summer for the whole group so we can experience that too.  With my covered upper deck and covered carport as well as awnings and tarps for shelter and access to running water I believe we can handle any summer weather conditions.

I will operate my entire program outdoors.  How about you?