Over the last few weeks at FSC we have welcomed more than 150 educators, researchers, and policy makers to our site as part two conferences: the Early Learning in Nature Conference hosted by the City of Ottawa and Algonquin College, and the North American Association of Environmental Educators (NAAEE) Conference held in Ottawa this year. We delved into play and place-based learning across grade levels, what that looks like at Forest School specifically, and how the growing body of research about the benefits of outdoor play and learning can ground and support our practice as educators in the outdoors.
I’ve been a part of just a few conferences so far in my career, and each time I come away surprised at how thoroughly my passion for my work is rekindled, and how moved I feel by educators working within (around) the public system. There are so many thoughtful educators out there. It is good to connect!
I was particularly inspired over the last few weeks by the conversations I shared with other teachers about the barriers to getting students outside and engaged in free (and potentially risky) play. Many educators are looking for the language and the resources to convince hesitant or skeptical parents, colleagues, administrators, and policy makers of the (urgent!) need for and value of play in the outdoors. They are also looking for allies.
We talked about creating a grassroots network through social media in order to connect with, encourage, and share resources and ideas with like-minded educators. (I have to credit Laurel Fynes, the Twitter queen, for convincing me to get on Twitter myself, where I was totally shocked to discover that these kinds of networks already exist, grow exponentially, and are abuzz with deep thinking about teaching.)
We also talked about coming together again soon in order to discuss the concerns and objections we encounter when attempting to bring our students outside and/or afford them more time to play freely and experience risk. We determined that there is a need to distill clear, concise responses to the objections we face, to become fluent in the defense and justification, or, to use the less militant metaphor I’ve latched on to before – translation – of play.
And so, the Ottawa Nature Collaborative was born, and its first meeting will be held at Forest School Canada on Wednesday, October 29th (tonight!). Please check out the Ottawa Nature Collaborative on Facebook or Twitter for more details. The Collaborative is open to everyone and anyone interested in place and play-based learning in the outdoors or curious about Forest School, whether or not you are an educator or a parent. It will be an informal gathering involving play and casual conversation around the fire. It will be a time to meet allies, find resources, share ideas, and spend time enjoying the outdoors ourselves.
Meanwhile, I am recommitting myself to the idea of translation, this time with a specific focus on making explicit the way in which the Ontario curriculum can not only be “covered” through play, but in fact brought to life and made really meaningful to both learners and teachers. I hope that these “translations” might become a useful tool for those working to convince their communities of the value of outdoor, risky play, and that in writing them I make myself an ally for those working around barriers and challenges.
More to come!