J.S. McCormick students experience nature play during workshop

Genevieve Parent, left, and Kaydence, 6, of J.S. McCormick School get their hands dirty while creating bird seed pods on Monday as part of an outdoor nature play workshop at the school. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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Students were encouraged to play in the dirt Monday as an outdoor nature play workshop was held at J.S. McCormick School.

Children in Kindergarten to Grade 3 and their teachers were taken outdoors by Ever Active Schools, a provincial initiative aimed at supporting healthy school communities, and Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds. There, they were cycled through various “planting” themed activities, including creating a number of garden beds at the school, as well as doing a bit of planting themselves.

“Playing outside is on the decline, for sure, with things like screen time and more concern now around safety, but what we’re seeing now and teaching today is that kids learn their limits through playing outside,” said Ever Active Schools Provincial Projects Coordinator Katie Mahon.

“When they explore things like digging with a shovel and learn to do it safely, they become really engaged in a way that’s building their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, building their muscle and supporting bone density development.

“It’s all pretty amazing in terms of its health outcomes, and then in terms of learning outcomes a lot of this ties into the curriculum.”

William Matthie, left, and Presley Saxton work together to uproot sod to create garden beds. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

Students began by digging up sod on the school’s north end, while others worked to transport compost soil to use in the beds. There was an opportunity to paint sticks that were later turned into garden fences, as well as do some planting of their own in pots they made out of newspaper. Bird seed pods were also created by students, providing a variety of activities for both the creative minds and athletically inclined alike.

Even though activities were based around learning, they were very much a hit with students of all grades.

“The kids that had already participated in the morning were out here in their morning recess and lunch recess wanting to continue their participation which is pretty cool,” she said. “We’re seeing lots of positive social interactions and there’s a lot of hype among the kids and that’s cool, too.”

Previously, Ever Active Schools had a workshop in the winter where they collected Christmas trees and students were taught how to safely use handsaws to build Christmas tree forts. The trees were later wood chipped and became some of the compost soil that is now being used in the gardens.

The plan is to have another session in the summer which they believe will be a follow up on the gardens created by the students and focused on the value of playing outside.

Dr. Clark Svracek of the University of Calgary was also on hand to evaluate the work being done through the workshop to help understand scientifically the value of outdoor and nature-based play.

The three workshops were funded by TD Bank Friends of the Environment, and are part of a pilot project that will ultimately be the basis for Ever Active Schools’ creation of a new resource for nature based play they hope to offer to schools province-wide for the 2019-20 academic year.

For more information, visit everactive.org.

Keira of J.S. McCormick School mixes up some bird seed and clay to create a bird seed pod as part of an outdoor nature play workshop at the school on Monday. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe