Naturalization of Outdoor Play Space

Division(s): Primary
Level(s): Kindergarten

Outdoor play to support learning in FDK.

Outdoor play is an integral part of the FDK program and there is a growing amount of evidence that supports the connection between healthy child development and exposure to nature. Play spaces with little to no natural materials or settings are less stimulating and provocative in fostering meaningful engagement for students. The FDK program is a play- and inquiry-based curriculum that supports the need for outdoor play which contributes to the development of gross motor, fine motor, and sensory skills. Incorporating the natural world will provide engaging opportunities for children to observe, discover and explore as they develop an understanding of stewardship and their role in the world. Capitalizing on their instinctive affinity for playing outside, providing a stimulating outdoor space will foster a sense of well-being, literacy and numeracy development, problem-solving and innovating, belonging and contributing.

Team Members

  • Ingrid Kerrigan

    Peel District School Board

  • Karen O'Dell

    Peel District School Board

  • Ashley Taylor

    Peel District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

Through this process, we learned a lot about how to bring about the change we wanted to see in our outdoor learning space. We spoke with colleagues and engaged in professional reading to find out what kinds of changes would be feasible and most beneficial for our students. The ultimate goal was always to increase our understanding to maximize student development. We developed our own roles as educators in assisting students by learning how to prompt, use guiding questions, and promote the children’s inquiry. We deliberately kept “Look Fors” (of what children are saying, doing and representing) in mind during outdoor time so we could use that information to further foster inquiry, learning and development.

Activities and Resources

  • Speaking with FDK colleagues at other locations provided invaluable opportunities to question and dialogue about how to develop the outdoor learning environment and how we as educators could capitalize on the change by interacting with and observing our students in that new space
  • Professional reading recommended by colleagues, both articles and books, as well as those we discovered ourselves helped to deepen our knowledge and understanding
  • Discussion among the team and sharing what we were learning, what resources we found the most helpful, and collaborating together to move forward both individually and as a team was the last but perhaps most rewarding part of achieving our goals

Unexpected Challenges

The two major challenges in meeting our goals was scheduling and financing. Finding the time to meet and move forward was always hard to do since there are so many other commitments both professional and personal that put demands on a team’s time.

We were fortunate enough to have an administrator who provided time for team meetings once a month, which certainly helped with communication. We found that some of our communication was also incidental and came up during unplanned times, but was nonetheless very effective. Also, we would observe our students outside together and talk about what we were seeing and generate ideas about where we could intervene and move learning forward.

The other challenge we discovered came when we began to order the materials we had compiled in our projected expenditures list. We discovered that the prices of some items had increased, and other items were unavailable or on back order. We had to go back to the drawing board as it were and make some modifications about what we wanted, what we could now afford, and how we could make the best use of the funds. All in all, it was doable, just an unexpected challenge that took more time and consideration than we had originally thought.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

The transformation of the outdoor environment will create an additional space in which students can invent, innovate and learn. We have already started to see its effects. Follow-up activities in the classroom such as researching/looking up answers to questions online or in non-fiction texts, designing experiments, and recording and sharing observations and discoveries is further enhancing the learning.

Oral language in the form of developing new vocabulary, asking questions during investigations and explorations, collaborating with peers, making predictions and observations, and negotiating during play has been evident.

Because the natural environment is now more inviting and inspiring, students are far more engaged during our time outside. They are exploring and inquiring more about all kinds of different things such as planting, soil, stones, water, capacity of different containers, outlining shadows, drawing or painting things they see, collaborating on making up new games with wooden balls and chalk, investigating funnels and ramps, and even reading and writing outside.

The natural inclination for our students to want to be outside makes sparking their interests so much easier. For instance, now if they want to create a structure, we ask if they would like to do that inside or outside. They almost always choose outside (the weather is a big consideration!) and the design process takes on a whole new dimension because we have fencing and trees we can incorporate, and they also take into account the resources we have outside now into their design (e.g., “If we make it by the mud kitchen, we can have water in our castle, plus we can make a roof if we clip a sheet to the fence.”). This particular structure started a whole conversation about animal habitats and how people and animals adapt to their environments. We were then able to take this spark of interest and develop an inquiry that we developed both inside and outside.

We have also noticed that the students use the new metal bowls and pails we have provided to collect objects such as leaves, stones, sticks and pine cones. Because they have collected them on their own, the ownership in their learning is stronger. With gentle provocation, they are eager to sort them, count them, draw them, test their properties (will they sink/float, roll/slide, fit in a funnel?) and share what they are learning.

Outside has become such an enriching, fun and thought-provoking place for them. It provides limitless opportunities to touch on all areas of the FDK program in so many creative and innovative ways.


  • With parent counsel at our school
  • With kindergarten parents through Remind and Sesame apps and newsletters
  • With staff in a presentation at the end of the year
  • On personal Pinterest accounts via photos and descriptors
  • With colleagues through discussions and sharing on teacher pages through social media (Facebook and Instagram)

Project Evaluation

Our project was meant to naturalize and enrich our outdoor learning space to offer the children more opportunities to develop their self-esteem, confidence and creativity, and deepen their learning/development in a variety of areas of the FDK program.

We consider this project a huge success. The outdoors did provide a natural extension of our classroom. The children were inspired, engaged and inquisitive. Topics of inquiry increased in number; explorations that touched upon literacy, science and math were occurring, conversations and play that would otherwise have been missed took place, and students were making connections to experiences outdoors to things that were happening indoors.

Educators also benefitted from watching, learning, and applying our skills in the outdoor environment. Provocations, questioning, assessing and guiding learning all had a new venue and new opportunities. As a team, we have been so impressed with the changes to our outdoor program that we are discussing applying for further grants to further develop our outdoor learning environment.

What we might have done differently:

  • Maybe solicited the parent council or parent community and local businesses to partner with us in providing donated time, money or resources to even further enhance the outdoor play environment

Resources Used

  • The Kindergarten Program, Ministry of Education
  • Early Learning for Every Child Today
  • Natural Curiosity: Building Children’s Understanding of the World Through Environmental Inquiry/A Resource for Teachers. Lorraine Chiarotto, 2011
  • The Garden Classroom: Hands-On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy and Art. Cathy James, 2015
  • Last Child in the Woods. Richard Louv, 2005
  • Lens on Outdoor Learning. Ginny Sullivan and Wendy Banning, 2011