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OC research project unites outdoor play experts overseas

Led by Okanagan College, a troop of educators and policy-shapers from across Canada are headed to Scotland this month to learn how to better plan and incorporate outdoor play into children’s early educational experiences.Beverlie Dietze - web

Dr. Beverlie Dietze, the College’s Director of Learning and Applied Research and a recognized expert in outdoor play curriculum for children, is co-organizing the six-day event that will connect Canadian researchers, early childhood education professionals and policy leaders with experts in outdoor play in Scotland. Dietze and group will spend February 18-23 in Glasgow and surrounding areas, sharing their experiences in advancing outdoor play in Canada and soaking up key learnings from their counterparts in Scotland. 

“There is a growing interest in the topic of how to design, develop and incorporate outdoor play into early childhood educational curriculum, and Scotland has a reputation for having done it well,” explains Dietze. “We’ll be meeting with 25 professionals over the six days – learning from their research and experience, and sharing what we have learned as well.”

There is an established and growing base of research demonstrating that outdoor play carries a host of cognitive, emotional, social and other benefits for youth, Dietze points out. 

Over the past several years, with support from the Lawson Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and a mounting number of private sector partners and community organizations, she has advanced outdoor play research in the Okanagan, along the way introducing many families to the concept of unstructured outdoor play – and its benefits. In October, Dietze hosted a series of workshops that allowed children to discover the creative joys of playing with loose parts. The sessions were also a chance to collect feedback on a unique outdoor play space proposed within the New Monaco master planned community currently being developed in Peachland. 

The enthusiastic responses from families and educators have inspired Dietze to continue to explore new and innovative ways to grow this line of research in Canada. This month, that means journeying across the Atlantic.

Why Scotland?

“From a policy perspective, Scotland is further ahead than Canada in this area,” notes Dietze. “We are still working to integrate outdoor play into curriculums in a substantial and well-thought out way here in Canada.

“I expect this dialogue will generate some helpful insights into how we can continue to advance research and make informed recommendations to policy-makers about the benefits of outdoor play and the role that it could – and should – have in and out of the classroom here.”

Dietze also expects it will have some immediate and practical benefits for the educators in attendance.

“For the Canadians attending, it will be an invaluable opportunity to take the lessons learned and incorporate them into their programs, their practice, right away, if they choose.”

She also sees it as a platform for spreading national awareness and inspiring others to lend their experiences and brainpower.

“We want to help build a more connected community of educators and policy-makers in Canada, and opportunities like this for dialogue on an international level are an important way to do that.”

The six-day session will be co-hosted by Inspiring Scotland, a group that brings together individuals, communities, organizations and government to drive social change in Scotland.