BC Children’s Hospital has launched the new online Outdoor Play and Learning tool to help parents, caregivers and educators gain the skills and confidence to support outdoor play and learning in elementary schools from kindergarten through Grade 7.

Headshot of Megan Zeni outdoors
Megan Zeni is confident every school can provide outdoor learning opportunities.

Researchers at BC Children’s have studied outdoor play for more than a decade and they want to help elementary school teachers take their classes outside. The new tool was developed by PhD candidate and long-time outdoor teacher Megan Zeni, and outdoor risky play researcher Dr. Mariana Brussoni to achieve this goal. Risky play is where children explore risks and push themselves beyond their usual limits, such as climbing higher or chasing faster.

“Teachers may like the idea of outdoor learning but may not know where to start,” says Zeni, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia (UBC). “With the help of practical videos, the tool provides concrete advice about navigating barriers, preparing for all-weather learning, making activities accessible to all and teaching various subjects outdoors.” 

Each module represents years of research, interviews, focus groups and surveys with students, parents, teachers and school administrators to identify challenges and facilitators of outdoor play and learning. 

Headshot of Dr. Mariana Brussoni
Dr. Mariana Brussoni says research shows outdoor play increases kids' physical activity and improves their mental health and self-confidence.

“Kids are more physically active outside than inside,” says Dr. Brussoni, director of the Human Early Learning Partnership, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UBC, and head of the Play Outside Lab at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and UBC. “This has implications for immediate and lifelong health.

“There’s an abundance of research about how important being outdoors is for mental health,” Dr. Brussoni adds. “Gains include risk-management skills along with the development of resilience and self-confidence.”

“You form different relationships with kids when you teach this way,” says Zeni.

“There’s a lot less telling kids to sit down, stay still and pay attention. The level of engagement outdoor learning achieves by nurturing wonder and curiosity leads to richer learning.”

With 26 years of teaching experience in elementary schools and outdoor classrooms, along with 10 years of talking to students, teachers, administrators and parents across North America about outdoor play, Zeni is confident every school can provide outdoor learning opportunities. 

“There’s a simple solution for every perceived barrier I’ve heard. If there’s a will there’s a way.”

Development of the Outdoor Play and Learning tool for teachers was funded by BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.