Today, children are tempted by multiple screens; the television, computer, cellphones, and tablets are so popular that, according to a 2016-2017 survey, children under two years old watch 25 hours a week of television. This is such a prevalent issue that pediatricians have newly recommended that children under the age of two have no more than one hour of screen time a day. What should children be doing if they are not glued to a screen? The answer is very simple: play.
The Canadian Council for Learning states that: “play nourishes every aspect of children’s development. Play develops the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life. It ‘paves the way for learning’.” Not only is play integral for childhood development, but when this play take place outdoors it becomes more beneficial. This is especially true when so much of children’s time is spent sitting inside at school and then filled with sedentary activities at home while engaging with a screen. The question becomes: how do we get our children to go outside and engage in play-based learning? It is up to the adults, the educators, in children’s lives to inspire passion for the outdoors in young children so they can reap the benefits of outdoor play. Taking place every other year at Camp Manitou, Manitoba Nature Summit offers an exciting opportunity for educators. At the summit they learn fun and unique ways to implement and encourage outdoor play whether they are a teacher, homeschooler, parent, or an early childhood educator at a daycare. The summit provides them with the environment to meet and network with like-minded people.
The Manitoba Nature Summit got its origins in 2008 when a group of Early Childhood Educators traveled to North Platte, Nebraska to attend the World Forum on Nature Education for Children. The main discussion topics at the World Forum revolved around outdoor play and its importance to children. Around the world children were not getting enough outdoor time so Ruth Lindsay-Armstrong, an Early Childhood Educator instructor at Red River College, resolved to attack that problem in Manitoba by hosting a Summit located at Camp Manitou. Some of the subjects covered at the first Nature Summit in 2010 included learning how to cook over an open fire, how to plant a container garden, and how to engage children by pretending they are wild animals. The Summit was a great success with people from all over Manitoba including ECEs, directors, coordinators, and instructors.
Held at the same location every other year, the Summit has grown so popular that they have had to put a cap on attendance at about 150 people in order to maintain an intimate setting. The registrants also became more diversified to include ECEs, teachers, administrators, parents, homeschoolers, and even landscape architects. Any adult who has a desire to incorporate outdoor play into their children’s lives is welcome. The Summit runs over a weekend (this year it is September 14th-16th) and consists of a variety of workshops, keynote addresses, outdoor activities, and a resource fair that offers local information about field trips, eco-friendly practices, and what given centers in the province have for outdoor options.
The 2018 Manitoba Nature Summit again promises to be full of valuable information and hands-on learning. The keynote speaker is Dr. Gillian Judson whose accomplishments include the Director of the Imaginative Education Research Group and a Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. She had two books published in 2015, Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education: Practical Strategies for Teaching and Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. She has written columns for The Creativity Post, BAM Radio Network and spoken at a TEDx Talk.
The other keynote address will include three generations of women: Chloe Dragon Smith, her mother Brenda Dragon, and grandmother Setsune Jane Dragon all of whom are of Chipewyan decent and were raised in Northern Canada. Because of their upbringing they learned many traditional skills for living off the land. Chloe Dragon Smith has a degree in Earth Science from the University of Victoria and enjoys meshing the natural world with science. She works with the Canadian Parks Council and also co-chaired an intergenerational working group that created a document called The Nature Playbook: Take Action to Connect a New Generation of Canadians with Nature which continues to be shared across Canada. Both keynote addresses promise to be inspiring and informative.
This year the Manitoba Nature Summit boasts twenty-one different workshops to choose from. With titles such as: “Drumming Around the Campfire”, “Forest Forts”, “Let’s Let the Children Play”, “Preparing for the Seasons with Intention”, “Tool Use with Children”, and “What’s in your Backpack: Bringing the Six Categories of Risky Play Indoors” this Summit is overflowing with information that encourages educators to engage children in outdoor play and to forge a closer relationship with nature. As these workshops suggest, there are endless ideas for achieving meaningful playtime in nature.
Madeleine Baisburd, the Committee Co-chair of the Manitoba Nature Summit, got involved with the Summit seven years ago after being displeased with the lack of outdoor education in the school division she was working for. Today she is firmly committed to working with educators and has a vision to get kids outside. She explains that outdoor play has benefits for kids of all ages. For preschool and early years children, it helps to not only develop their physical strength but also their mental and spiritual health as well. It also helps them excel academically for the fact that it is impossible to ask children to comprehend big concepts without first seeing it in their own backward.
The Australian Guardian Early Learning Group agrees with Baisburd, adding “younger babies enjoy the sensory elements [of nature play] such as the sounds, sights, smells and textures of the environment, from the freshly cut grass to the crunch of Autumn’s fallen leaves. Older children take the opportunity to investigate and explore using the environment to teach them about science, mathematics, problem solving skills, and risk taking. It has been well researched that children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and therefore, for learning and creativity.” (https://www.guardian.edu.au)
Another facet of outdoor education and play that Baisburd marked as important is that it opens up children’s eyes to caring and valuing the environment. Some other aspects of outdoor play that are valuable as noted by the Natural Learning Initiative are that playing in nature improves nutrition as “children who grow their own food are more likely eat fruits and vegetables and to show higher levels of knowledge about nutrition”, improves eyesight, reduces Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms, and relieves stress (https://naturalearning.org). All of these incredible benefits can be achieved by simple time spent outdoors with children. The keynote speakers and workshop presenters at Manitoba Nature Summit provide the resources to inspire educators to do so and do not seem daunted by the prospect.
As the workshop “What’s in your Backpack: Bringing the Six Categories of Risky Play Indoors” will touch on, risky play is a topic that is closely linked with outdoor play. As Psychology Today explains it, risky play is play that combines the “joy of freedom with just the right measure of fear to produce the exhilarating blend known as thrill”. Baisburd describes risky play as important because it builds many foundational skills such as increasing confidence, imagination, problem solving skills, critical thinking, and creativity which are present in organic play outside. As quoted by Play England in 2007, “Through play, children are able to learn about risks and use their own initiative. If children and young people are not allowed to explore and learn through playing and taking part in positive activities, they will not learn how to judge risks and manage them for themselves. These skills learned through play and other activities can act as a powerful form of prevention in other situations where children and young people are at risk” (somerset.gov.uk). While some parents and caregivers might feel wary to allow their children to engage in risky play the benefits are proven and by educating adults, children can gain these positive experiences.
This year’s Manitoba Nature Summit promises to be enlightening and inspiring for all who attend. It is a wonderful way to connect with adults who share the same goals and values regarding outdoor education or to learn more about the subject. Set at the lovely Camp Manitou with many options for workshops, there is something for everyone and the benefits for children of all ages are studied, confirmed and astounding.
Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment –Dr. Maria Montessori
For more information about the Manitoba Nature Summit please visit their website (http://www.naturesummitmb.com/) where you can find resources including notes from past years workshops. You can also find them on social media where they share many more ideas about connecting children to nature. There is also an opportunity for university students to attend on a scholarship as they are always looking for volunteers to help. If you are unable to attend the Nature Summit in September, keep an eye out for a winter event which will also be education and workshop based.