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Applied research project encourages children to expand the possibilities for outside play

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A joint research project between Holland College and Mount Saint Vincent University examines ways to support programming opportunities that encourage children aged two to four years old to broaden the type of outside activities they participate in.

Trial Balloons, a type of provocation concept developed by Dr. Beverlie Dietze, Assistant Professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies at the Mount, “float” ideas to children as a way to trigger their curiosity and expand their play experiences. With the assistance of the Mount’s Industry Liaison Office and Holland College’s Applied Research department, the Holland College Early Childhood Care and Education program and the Holland College Early Learning Centre/Lab School have partnered with Dr. Dietze to test the trial balloon concept.

In all, there will be four Trial Balloons explored. The first Trial Balloon asked the question, “What do we observe if the outdoor play space is an option during area time?”

Previously, all 44 of the children would go outside at the same time, so outdoor play wasn’t an option for the smaller groups that are part of area time. Although it’s a seemingly simple alternative to include in the children’s choices, when one considers the logistics of ensuring that two to four-year-olds require a certain number of supervisors per group, that there may be an occasional diaper change that requires taking a child inside, and that, in addition to 10 to 12 children playing outside, there are 30 or so more playing inside that also require supervision, offering the outdoor option becomes a logistical challenge.

Sarah Riehl, director of the Early Learning Centre, said a fair amount of planning was required during the launch of the first trial balloon to ensure the appropriate number of early childhood educators were with each group. Additionally, there needed to be a way to regulate the number of children outside at any given time.

“We set up a ticket system. The child could pick a ticket to play outside when he or she arrived in the morning. Throughout the morning we check in with the children to see if they would like to go inside and ask those who are inside if they would like the opportunity to play outside. This helps to encourage more outside play as well as increases the fluidity within the day,” Riehl explained.

The children were thrilled to be able to play outside in smaller groups, and for many it became the highlight of their day. The first Trial Balloon was deemed a success, and now Trial Balloon 2 is being implemented: “When children are offered/provided with a variety of outdoor experiences, what do we see in their play?”

The project will run until the spring of 2014, and the results of the project will be used to influence best practices in Early Childhood Education.

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