Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL): Coming to a School Near You

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Earth Day Canada is on a mission to bring back what has been disappearing from childhood for decades: the time, space and permission for children and youth to play outdoors in a freely chosen, intrinsically motivated and self-directed way. To support the mission, they’re midway through rolling out the OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning Program) program at schools in the Toronto District School Board. (OPAL originated in the UK and has since quickly expanded to Canada, New Zealand and Australia.)

The school day is structured to accommodate outdoor play during recess, lunch and after school, but studies show that only 9% of children aged 5-17 get the 60 minutes of heart-pumping activity they need each day.

Earth Day Canada is working to bring a comprehensive play strategy to schools to support creative and diverse outdoor play experiences so children can explore their imaginations, their physicality, their friendshops and the world around them.    

OPAL is the first program in Canada that aims to make play an integral part of the school day. Children engage in self-directed play with "loose parts" (tools, boxes, spare tires, fabric, etc.), boosting their sense of agency and creating a more inclusive and reciptrocal social environment. The program is grounded in the child's right to play and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory.

In partnership with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the OPAL program will roll out to 42 schools by 2020. Our goal is to bring the program to schools across the country.

How it works

1. A school board partners with Earth Day Canada and convenes a lead team of teachers, parents and support staff in each school to implement the program. 

2. OPAL mentors facilitate play days, workshops, events and parent outreach, leading to the development of a school-wide play policy.

3. "Loose parts" are introduced and strategic design improvements are made to prioritize play value for students.

For more information on the Outdoor Play and Learning Pilot Program, please email play@earthday.ca or call Earth Day Canada at 416 599-1991 and ask to speak with a member of our Play team. 

All images published with permission from Earth Day Canada.