Recently, while reading about the growth of forest preschools and reading online posts about beautiful forest schools in other countries, places where children spend their days rain or shine with dedicated educators pursuing their interests and accepting risks in the natural world---I started to wonder about the children who live in our larger cities.
What opportunities are available for children to enjoy the challenge and discovery of being outdoors in large cities full of cement and buildings? In Los Angeles at the NAEYC conference, one program presented a workshop advocating for more adventure in early childhood playgrounds. The program presented slides and talked about the interest areas of their play spaces. The presenter shared documentation of how the spaces are utilized by children, the evolution of the outdoor environment, the growth of the educators and the outcomes of being open to children accepting risks during play. The presentation was wonderful and opened my eyes to the possibilities of playgrounds in big city programs.
At the conference other programs and presenters shared their experiences with transforming their playgrounds. Several programs are in the transition stage, removing traditional playground equipment. They are replacing the equipment with more challenging natural materials like boulders, rocks, stumps, dirt, ornamental grass, and lots of trees. The programs are transitioning in phases as resources become available and experience years of work before the transformation is complete. The change represents an encouraging sign for children in large cities as more programs embrace “outdoor classrooms” and the addition of physically challenging spaces.
Here in Portland exists an Urban Forest. The metro area is very compact because the city enforces an urban growth boundary, meaning the metro area geography can only grow at a slow pace that keeps urban sprawl under control. The major benefit is the city features woods, parks, forests and rivers that are easily accessible for all of the residents, including children. In numerous neighborhoods exist pockets of trees and big beautiful parks that children can explore, discover adventure and accept risks.
Several programs in Portland have embraced the idea of incorporating nature play, outdoor classrooms and adventure playgrounds as part of their philosophy. The outdoor spaces invite children year around rain or shine employing the mantra “there is no bad weather only bad clothing”. All of the children store rain gear and rubber boots at school. Every recess children gear up and head out for adventure in the rain, mud and natural world. This experience is true for children from 2 to 12 years old. The children always enjoy the outdoors and play not concerned with the weather. Children are too busy having fun, exploring and looking for adventure in the natural world.
What outdoor possibilities are available for children in your area?
How are children in your program connecting to the natural world?