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Canadian Public Health Association

Program - Communities

Nurturing Development of Active Play, Regroupement des centres de la petite enfance de la Montérégie, Saint-Hubert, Québec

The Nurturing Development of Active Play initiative organized by Regroupement des centres de la petite enfance (CPE) de la Montérégie, is a three year (2016-2018) project for daycare services that aims to: sensitize communities in six regions of Quebec (CPE teams, parents and local partners concerned by child health and development) to the innate capacities of children to move and take risks in stimulating outdoor environments; improve the outdoor environment to promote physical, social, and mental development of children; and adapt tools and refine training regimes to reflect the wishes of the communities. The long-term goals are that all Quebec childcare services should have access to the tools needed to transform their outdoor play spaces to support children’s development. The Quebec network of CPE and their partners (user parents, teaching staff, local health tables, etc.), has access to training, conferences, workshops and tools to understand the importance for young children of daily play in high quality and fun outdoor environments that support risk-taking and healthy development.


Short-term outcomes include: improved knowledge of the impact of outdoor play, risky play, and children’s ability to navigate freely-chosen physical and mental tasks; and a better understanding of the role of adult supervision for children during outdoor play and the influence that it may have on children’s activities and development. Program evaluations have been positive, with participants indicating the training is very relevant to their practice.

Outdoor Play in the Early Years, Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture, and Heritage, Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Outdoor Play in the Early Years initiative aims to promote child learning through play by developing a model of professional learning for early learning practitioners. The purpose is to increase the quality of outdoor play experiences throughout the four seasons and in various weather conditions.

Phase 1 (2012-2014) of the initiative involved working with 7 Early Learning (EL) Centres in East Hants County, where 25 early learning practitioners participated in professional learning workshops, coaching, focus groups and training. Four resources were developed, including: pedagogical documentation panels; a training manual; an assessment tool for play spaces; and parental education materials. Phase 2 (2014-2016) involved expansion of the initiative into Colchester County with four goals in mind: engaging communities; building capacity; mobilizing the professional learning model; and continuing support for East Hants. Since completion of Phase 2, a Nature Activity Resource and Curriculum Supplement has been developed and distributed to pre-primary teachers, daycares, municipalities, libraries, etc. Two separate leadership groups have developed and delivered professional learning series of modules within and beyond the Fundy region. As well, one of the participating EL Centres has opened a Loose Parts centre that is available to local daycares and pre-primary programs for their use.


This course has offered new ideas and impressed the need for more natural and fewer plastic materials. The initiative has led to the perception that risk is a good thing and has inspired more risk taking and nature-related activities. The participating children are more content and less likely to have disputes; more interested in going outside; more creative and imaginative; inclusive of each other; and likely to create group projects. Educators participating in the project often go on to lead their own initiatives such as professional learning series; loose parts centres; a Forest Pre-School pilot; and natural play space enhancements.

Open Streets Toronto, City of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Open Streets is a free, publicly accessible recreation program where streets are temporarily opened to people and closed to cars. Streets become “paved parks,” where people of all ages, abilities, and social and ethnic backgrounds can participate in healthy recreational outdoor activity (e.g., riding bikes safely down city’s main streets and taking part in programming housed within OS’ multiple activity hubs).

Open Streets Toronto Inc., a Toronto-based not-for-profit, has worked closely with the City of Toronto and supportive City Councillors to establish the Open Streets program. This program is the largest of its kind in Canada and its goal is to open up streets to children and youth, and foster social and physical development by promoting safe outdoor play spaces that are accessible and free for all members of the community. A platform is provided for City Divisions such as Parks, Forestry & Recreation, Public Health and Environment & Energy among others, to showcase physical activity-related offerings to an engaged audience. The two 2018 “Open Streets” program dates each attracted more than 65,000 people to the heart of downtown Toronto. The program route (6.0 km of car-free roads) allowed participants, especially kids, to engage with programmers within 13 “activity hubs.” Examples of programming within these hubs include offerings from the YMCA, Active TO, bike obstacle courses, basketball drills, hip hop dancing, skipping rope and hopscotch, etc.


Respondents to surveys have indicated that Open Streets has motivated them to participate in physical activity and recreation when they would not have, as well as to make them more likely to walk, ride bikes, and participate in other forms of physical activity as part of their daily lives. More than 50% of program participants spent at least one hour being active during Open Streets, with 70% of participants arriving at the program by walking or cycling. Open Streets is an important initiative for cities seeking to address public health inequities while combatting rising levels of physical inactivity. The program provides an opportunity for children living in a dense, urban setting, to safely experience walking and riding their bikes, among other things, on the street. Children also feel a sense of belonging and connection to their city.

Kentville Plays Initiatives, Kentville, Nova Scotia

The Kentville Plays! Initiative includes monthly play challenges for the community, play events, Kentville Playboxes, and play stations at town events. Elements of play are incorporated into town strategies (Physical Activity Strategy, Active Transportation Strategy) and public education, and awareness campaigns are conducted about the importance of play. With the launch of Kentville Plays! the town is on a quest of becoming Canada’s most playful community; one that takes play – and all of its benefits – very seriously. It is an initiative of the Town of Kentville’s Parks and Recreation Department and is supported by the town’s Mayor and Council who attend events, share messaging and generate excitement for the initiative.

Kentville Loose Parts Baby Barn is a collaborative project that supports outdoor, unstructured loose parts play for primary students of Kings County Academy (up to grade 8), and campers of the town’s summer day camps (ages 5-15). Staff who facilitate loose parts play are trained by town Parks and Recreation staff. Funding and ongoing management for the program is a collaborative effort between the town Parks and Recreation Department and the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Filling and updating the loose parts is done by both the school Parent-Teacher Association and the Parks and Recreation Department. The loose parts are used by the school at recess and lunch and by Town Day Camp programs through the summer.

Testimonials from staff and kids show the collaborative, active and imaginative play that can happen when the baby barn doors are open.

Trailblazers After School Program is a free, outdoor, nature exploration and forest play program that has been running in the fall, winter and spring since 2016. Students who apply for the program participate in 4-8 week sessions led by passionate and experienced after-school leaders. For two hours 1-2 times per week the children have a chance to play in nature more adventurously and creatively than allowed at a school playground. They are encouraged to explore height, elements, use tools, find space and quiet, and to move with speed or participate in rough and tumble play. The Town of Kentville leads this program and it is supported by the school, who shares information about the program with staff and parents.

The Kentville Playboxes program has three Playboxes deployed in Kentville that are filled with sport equipment, lawn games, and outdoor toys to promote accessible unstructured outdoor play for children and families. The Playboxes are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free. They are positioned in different parks in the town to be accessible to as many neighbourhoods and families as possible. They will also be used by the Kings County Family Resource Centre in their outdoor unstructured play programs. The Kentville Playboxes are a project of the Kings Country Family Resource Centre & the Town of Kentville and are made possible with funds from the Province of Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.


Kentville Plays!

Wild Child Outdoor Play Group, Childreach London, London, Ontario

Wild Child is a free, nature-based program for families with children of all ages. It is funded through the City of London’s Healthy Kids Community Challenge. Wild Child is based on an informal and unstructured approach where the experience is child-led. Each week, children and parents head into the woods to enjoy free play in a natural setting where program leaders demystify the risks of outdoor free play and increase parents’ confidence and competence in permitting child-led, inquiry-based opportunities for their children. The goals are to have children: climb trees; dig holes; get muddy; skin knees; find bugs; be tired; eat plants; and be happy. The goals are for parents to: understand the importance and enjoyment of nature-based play; recognize personal behaviours, beliefs, and feelings about independent play; develop insight into their children’s interests and abilities; and validate the values and perspectives they hold about parenting. The funding allowed Wild Child to pilot the play group, raise its profile in the community, and evaluate outcomes.

Wild Child has been offered since September 2015 and currently operates three weekly drop-in playgroups year-round in all weather in three different corners of London.


The most significant changes experienced were:

  • Parents increased their participation in outdoor activities; had increased enjoyment and appreciation for being in nature; experienced personal development; observed increased confidence and personal development of their child; and altered their parenting styles based on information they learned.
  • Children had increased interest in the outdoors and engagement with nature; increased comfort and confidence in exploring the natural environment, their abilities, and outdoor play while interacting with other children; increased capacity to learn; and increased engagement with other children and meeting new friends.
  • Eighty-six per-cent of parents reported that their children are more engaged in risky play activities (climbing, sliding, and rolling down hills), and 73% said their children are more active in taking the lead during play.

Overall, parents are providing their children with more opportunities to: play independently; freely explore their environment; take the lead during play; and have new experiences. Eighty-four per-cent of parents report that they provide their children with more risky play opportunities outside program time. Similarly, children are engaging more in risky play and child-led play as their parents provide them with more opportunities, encourage more free exploration, and allow them to play more.

Dangerous Camps for Kids, Humanist Risk Management Consultants, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Dangerous Camps for Kids draws on principles of unschooling, tinkering, and wild play, to encourage children to play outdoors. An experiential five day camp is available for children aged 9-14, while three summer courses and a March break course have been offered. The emphasis of these courses is on participant-driven experiences that incorporate skills such as the use of edged tools, fire lighting and shelter building with experiential activities such as low ropes courses. There are also team tasks to develop problem-solving, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Through these activities, children learn how to better approach and navigate complex and potentially dangerous situations.

Dangerous Camps was developed to respond to parents’ concern that their children were experiencing negative consequences from growing up in structured environments that lacked the opportunity to experience critical life lessons that only come from challenging play. These courses are based on the organizers’ experience working with children and adults in high-risk humanitarian environments such as Somalia and Afghanistan.


Students are taught how to carefully navigate the risks presented by the environment and materials they use so that they may grow physically, socially, and mentally. The benefits include: greater independence and self-reliance; self-understanding of how to approach and navigate dangerous situations outdoors; improved capability to problem solve and make good decisions; greater confidence; and improved relationships with their peers. Children are able to experience these benefits by being engaged with an environment that is stimulating, challenging, and to some parents, dangerous.


Five days of risk and reward at Yellowknife Dangerous Camp

Bright Start Program, Inkster Parent Child Coalition, Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Bright Start Program is for families who are expectant parents with children up to age 5. The program provides a warm and inviting environment for the whole family to gather for intentional play-based programming with the goal of showing these families the importance of intentional play and attachment-based parenting strategies. The program’s objectives include: giving parents, guardians and their children opportunities to interact with other children and parents; teach parents positive ways to interact with children; increase and improve knowledge about health and well-being; provide assessment, treatment, education and follow-up; provide counselling, support and advocacy; increase knowledge of healthy foods; improve infant and toddler nutrition; improve prenatal health/healthy pregnancy; provide education, information and resources; and provide free-play opportunities with unique materials.

Families who drop-in are further supported with: on-site one-on-one breastfeeding support; pelvic exams; pre- & post-natal care; immunizations; pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infection testing; well-baby check-ups; and baby weighing. The program also provides a free hot breakfast (at morning program), or healthy snacks (afternoon program), as well as bus tickets/coins to support group participation. Bright Start is currently running three times a week at three sites within the Inkster Community: Access NorWest, Weston Memorial Community Centre, and Gilbert Park Gym.


According to testimonials, participants look forward to participating. Further, children are provided with ample opportunities to interact with peers, and parents can interact with other parents. Importantly, children have opportunities to play with other children in free environments, and to learn more about nutrition and health.

CNC ChildMinding Support Centre, Rexdale Women’s Centre, Toronto, Ontario

While parents and caregivers attend the Rexdale Women’s Centre’s workshops, programs, events and Family Summer program, children are provided with a free ongoing program where they have free play time, and can learn songs, make crafts and interact with other children. Planned activities led by staff focus on providing opportunities for children to have time for free play, and to develop and/or enhance social, motor, cognitive, language and sensory skills. The program is available for children from 2-12 years of age and runs at various days, times and locations for three hours/ program.

The registered early childhood educator staff review children’s engagement by evaluating their participation in all the program’s activities. Staff observe children and facilitate their social, cognitive, language, self-help, fine motor, gross motor, and hand and eyes coordination skills development. If educators identify any concerns, they meet with the child’s parents to discuss possible strategies that might be helpful to the child and could be implemented at home. If necessary, staff will refer the parents for additional support with an appropriate specialist (family doctor, etc.).


The evaluation process is as follows: parents provide verbal feedback or complete a Participants’ satisfaction questionnaire at the end of the program. The child’s progress is also tracked by staff utilizing a client information management system; milestones and improvement are regularly noted. Staff complete and do follow-up calls with participants for feedback after 3-6 months of program completion. Staff provide ongoing reports regularly to program Coordinators and, when required, produce written reports.

South Region Parents as Teachers, Parents as Teachers Affiliate, South Lethbridge, Alberta

“Parents as Teachers” is a model program that provides home-visitation, child screening, and group connections to families. Through this evidence-based program parents are encouraged to promote and participate in their young child’s play to help his/her learning thrive.

The home visitation component consists of certified Parents as Teachers educators visiting with families to partner, facilitate, and reflect with them to support parent-child interactions and understand how to engage with children. Parents who understand that high-interaction, at-home activities (e.g. reading or playing with children) present opportunities for highly effective parenting may feel less stress than those who feel compelled to arrange out-of-home opportunities. The first home visit with a parent begins to lay the foundation for strengthening parent understanding of and involvement in their children’s play. Home visitors continue to facilitate positive play interactions to promote parents valuing and facilitating more playfulness and free play opportunities for their children, including outdoor play around their home and neighbourhood.


This program has resulted in increases in parent knowledge of early childhood and improved parenting practices; prevention of abuse and neglect; increases in children’s school readiness and school success; early detection of developmental delays and health issues; and increases in parental involvement. These findings are in line with the published literature which has shown that home visiting programs have consistent effects on family economic self-sufficiency, as well as increasing family stability. Similar programs in the United States have shown a benefit-cost ratio of 3.44 (Washington State Institute of Public Policy).

StreetPLAY, Earth Day Canada, City of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Earth Day Canada is a national charity that inspires and supports people across the country to connect with nature and build resilient communities. It believes that outdoor play is the foundation of environmental education and action. Earth Day Canada aims to put self-directed outdoor play back into the lives of children as a natural part of their day-to-day lives by addressing play provision in schools, streets, parks and community green spaces.

StreetPLAY brings play back to residential streets – our most immediate community spaces. By opening up local streets for free, accessible and safe play for children and youth, neighbourhoods are transformed into vibrant community play spaces. It’s a simple, low-cost solution to create safe space for active recreation and socializing, and support more livable and sustainable cities. StreetPLAY provides an opportunity for neighbourhood children and youth to roam and play on a regular basis (usually once or twice per week, for three to four hours at a time) on large stretches of their streets that are protected by barricades and staffed by volunteers. StreetPLAY also allows for play that is inclusive and allows children of all ages to socialize. This is in contrast to the scheduled recreation and sports programs that are commonly divided by age and sometimes gender.


  • StreetPLAY has enabled more than 800 hours of active outdoor play for children from 545 homes.
  • The majority of parents were more likely to allow their children to play outside since the start of the StreetPLAY program (56%)
  • Children aged 4-7 years made up the largest group to attend StreetPLAY (40%), followed by children aged 8-11 (34%).

The StreetPLAY Program has received support and endorsement from City of Toronto Councillors with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.



The POP-UP Adventure Play Program aims to re-establish outdoor   child-directed free play, and encourage the remodeling of green spaces in communities. POP-UP Adventure Playground events are staffed by trained play workers who model the role adults can perform to support children’s play. POP-UPs have been one-day events held in different communities and are now transforming into recurring events with partner organizations in tandem with staff training. Staff are trained in play work principles to re-frame the risks and benefits of play, and to develop curated spaces with loose parts (natural and upcycled materials) and tools to support open-ended outdoor play experiences for children and youth.


The program has received support from parents, children, and community organizations. Over 14,000 children have participated in more than 75 POP-UPs since the beginning of the program. Over 320 staff have been trained at 110 different sites. Kids enjoy the opportunity to work together with total abandon and complete focus in their work.


POP-UP Adventure Play Program

Le lion et la souris (The Lion and The Mouse), Adventure Play Programs, Montréal, Québec

The Lion and The Mouse’s adventure play programs are weekly meetings of groups of 8 to 16 children and families in urban green spaces for the sole purpose of playing outside together. It started with a shared desire for more unstructured play opportunities for local children who quickly came to embrace the potential of green spaces. Program staff now work with families to provide the necessary space, time, materials (loose parts) and support for free play in multiple public green spaces in the center of Montréal, including official city parks and appropriated citizen spaces. They support participants in returning to a process-based experience and offer the safe framework they need for experimentation and healthy risk-taking. The regular and repeated nature of the programs builds connections among the participants, nurturing a community for play. It also promotes connections to the spaces where the groups meet; developing a greater understanding of local supports and challenges to play.

These programs are a key component of the organization’s larger vision of change. The experiences shared in these programs then allow for knowledge sharing, contributing to a collective understanding of the world and empowering individuals so that they may encourage play in other spaces. With an engaged and empowered community for play, advocacy and collective action then reduce the individual barriers experienced by families. This allows more people greater access to play positive environments, starting a ripple effect in their home communities.


Neighbourhoods have incorporated periodic play sessions with our staff into their events and cultural programming to increase play opportunities and raise awareness of the importance of play positive spaces in the city.

Our weekly programs are evaluated at the end of each session by parents and staff against our mission to create, encourage and advocate for spaces for child-led play.

Comments from parents:

“To date, The Lion and The Mouse has given me confidence as a parent to give my children more opportunities to go outside and play freely. There are few similar examples around us (for instance, to go outside even in bad weather, or to let children get dirty). I am much more daring when it comes to letting them explore by themselves now.”

“The Lion and The Mouse’s activities are a constant reminder to make space for child-led play in our daily life.”

“Child led outdoor play was a big part of my childhood. The combination of living in the city with no backyard and both parents working full time with careers that are relatively demanding, means that I often lament not being able to provide my kiddos the same experiences that I enjoyed growing up. Adventure club lets them have a little bit more (or a lot more, over the summer) of what I consider to be an integral part of childhood, and this makes me happy.”


Video with organizational overview and parent testimonial

Last modified: July 3, 2019