For parents who want to make outdoor time a priority, it can be frustrating to discover that your four-year-old only had a total of 30 minutes outside the entire day, or that your grade three student was kept indoors (with all their big energy) because of a slight mist in the air. And it certainly feels like a lot of pressure to be the only one providing your child with nature time in the after-school hours. Luckily, there are options for trying to encourage more outdoor time during the school day. Here are a few.
Gift chalk, bubbles, and other outdoor supplies to your child’s class
My kids love bringing in a special class gift at the beginning of the school year and I love the opportunity to provide supplies that need to be used outdoors. It might not change how often they get outdoors on a daily basis, but it does mean that at some point, outdoor play is happening thanks to a fun activity that has been provided by our family.
Donate weather-appropriate gear to your child’s class
Sometimes, a barrier to getting outdoors (in all weather conditions especially) is that not all the kids in the class come prepared with the right clothing. Check with your child’s teacher and then send in a big bag of rain gear, mittens, and other cozy thrift-shop finds so the weather isn’t what stops them from getting out to explore. Or, you could even try suggesting something like this clothes program that was started in a Huntsville, Ont., school.
Send an email offering to volunteer on outdoor excursions
Contact your child’s teacher and let them know how important it is to you that your child gets plenty of time outside—and that you want to help make it happen! Offer to volunteer (when possible) to go along with your child’s class to a nearby forest, park, or farm. To help speed up the process, make sure the school office has a copy of a recent vulnerable sector check (sometimes known as a police check). It’s a screening of individuals who intend on working or volunteering with vulnerable people, like children.
Bring your ideas to parent council (and suggest a penguin or polar bear club)
Parent council is meant to be a place for all community members to come together, share ideas, and help make your child’s education the best it can be. Let your council chair know that you’d like some time to speak at the next upcoming council meeting. Come prepared. Make a slideshow of the benefits of outdoor play, along with your idea to start a penguin or polar bear club at the school. These clubs typically run during the lunch hour, and children go out in all weather (as opposed to most schools, which often choose indoor recess on rainy or cold days).
Email the principal with your concerns
Let your child’s principal know that you’re concerned about the lack of outdoor time at your child’s school and why. Ask them how they choose the indoor recess days and where the mandate comes from. Sometimes it comes down to something that would totally surprise you (like the janitors have complained about the mess on wet days). Schools have plenty of red tape to get through, so it’s worth learning why certain decisions are being made so you can figure out how to best make a change.
If you find the process of trying to make change (or seeing no changes) at your child’s school frustrating, there are other options. Your child can attend their public school four out of five days per week, and take part in a one-day-per week forest school program. Places like Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto and Ottawa Forest and Nature School offer year round, outdoor, nature-based programs for several age groups throughout the school year that run one day a week. The rest of the time, your kiddo will attend their regular school. While this is the priciest option, it’s still worth looking into options in your area if it’s important to you that your child have consistent and predictable nature play time.