Do you have time for deep play?

Welcome to my first blog post follow up to our new Podcast –

Dirty Playologist! I will be blogging on the ideas we talked about more in depth, talking about aspects that I want to dig deeper into or related ideas to help you put the ideas in perspective in your classroom or homeschool. I look forward to Kisha adding in her voice sometimes as well!

Our first two episodes were on play schemas and how to support them in your play. I wanted to get a little into how to allow that play in your environment. We talked a lot about the schemas and the repetition and allowing kids to explore the schemas as well as allow the learning that branches out from schemas – math concepts, social concepts science concepts etc. 

As early childhood educators we need to provide materials but being in the forest there are days that they will request no materials or when they ignore materials that are provided. Yet everyday the children seek out and explore schemas to learn from. So materials are not essential for exploration of play schemas and learning that results from the play schemas. 

The one thing that I see as being essential is time. Having large chunks of time to really explore, repeat and learn. I am not talking about 30-40 minutes that free time in structured schools allow for. Why is that not enough?

It can take a significant amount of time to get deep into play, anywhere from 10-30 minutes. How long depends on 3 factors. 

1. Familiarity of a place – if a place is new or different it will take longer to get deep into play. The more familiar a place is, when they know where the materials are, where they remember a game, exploration or play scenario they have set up that they want to revisit the faster they will get into deep play.

2. Familiarity of others – in much the same a way place is a factor other children are a factor as well. Trying to negotiate with a child for the second or third time takes a lot more effort and concentration than negotiating with a child after knowing them for a year. Also familiar games and roles lessen the amount of set up time so they can get deeper in the play faster. 

3. Familiarity of yes environments – this means yes environments for exploration, for choices and for play with almost no rules or constraints. A child who is not used to having environment where they are in control of their play may check in with adults or other children to make sure their decisions are ok. This can be all the way from stopping to ask “can I do this?” to even just stopping their play to look at an adult. But the result is the same the play is stopped, interrupted and must begin again. Every new beginning means it takes longer to get back into the play. 

The longer kids are allowed to play the better and faster they get at getting deeper into play. Kids who are routinely given 30-40 minutes spend all of, or almost all of their time trying to get deep into learning play without ever really reaching it. To really reach that deep learning play children must be given large chucks of time of more than an hour to play with the schemas, to play with the concepts the schemas naturally transition to and to just be able to have fun.
If you would like to listen to the podcast you can listen to the first one 


Or the second one 


Or download from iTunes – just search dirty playologists!

For information on Schemas click here

Workshop announcement !

We are pleased to announce Barbara Sheridan will be a facilitating two workshops at the COEO conference.

The workshops will take place at the annual Outdoor Educator Conference in September.

The first is a workshop where attendees can learn about risk and how to apply positive risk to children under 7.

The second workshop Barbara is presenting with Gail Molenaar, an experienced outdoor educator presenter and Kindergarten Teacher with Simcoe County District School Board, on Forest Kindergartens. They will be presenting on some history, do’s and don’ts and Barbara will present specifically on our Forest Kindergarten Model at Barrie Forest Kindergarten.

The Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario (COEO) is a non profit organisation dedicated to providing safe and high quality outdoor experiences, workshops, conferences and is a professional body for outdoor educators in Ontario.


Details about the conference are here and details on all the workshops are here

Digging Deep!

We have one rare full time and one rare part time spot for our fall session. Message or email for details!

This last week at Barrie Forest Kindergarten….

We had such fun building bridges, exploring the creek, playing in our natural sandbox -covering ourselves, each other and building magical element piles. Climbing, running and splashing. Just don’t tell the kids they are learning!

We met 106 Kindergarten Goals of the Ontario Kindergarten Curriculum and all 15 levels of play (Parten, Smilansky  and Smith & Pellegrini)


New Session, New Ideas

This Last month at Barrie Forest Kindergarten….

It has been a busy month with a new session starting. New faces, new ideas and new beginnings. The children are constructing a new shelter, making pulleys and traps with the ropes, playing in the mud during the rain. Learning about tent caterpillars, plantain, poison ivy and so much more!

So far this session we met 116 goals over all 7 areas of the kindergarten curriculumn and all 15 Play areas from Smilanksy, Parten and Smith & Pellegrini. 

More Writing, More People, More Play Empowered!

I am pleased to announce I will be a resident author for Play Empowers, a project comprised of the leaders of the revolution for Child Directed Play Based Learning throughout North America. It reaches out to promote play based child directed learning through blog articles, information and are working towards a conference next year.


This Last Week at Forest Kindergarten…..

We explored the differences that winter has brought!

During the ventures into main camp that was fraught with dragons the children were excited to see signs of other wild creatures – including deer tracks “because they are round” and rabbit “because they are long” as we ventured in to main camp and then they added their tracks, and made dragon tracks and “snow shoe” tracks.






Once at main camp the kids were drawn to our creek excited about how winter had changed it and the experiments and explorations of the water, and ice over the water began.

On Friday the explorations centred around a decision to go ice fishing so each child started on tasks that got them closer to their goal of ice fishing. From smashing the ice to prying it up, to testing the water for fish.

One child decided to make more mud for his task so he carefully set about getting snowballs and pushing them in the water with a stick to watch them disappear and “turn into” mud colour and then later proudly proclaimed he was making mud.




Place Based is the ground in which learning takes root

Last week at Forest Kindergarten…

Place based education is focus for the kids this week as all the benefits of it are starting to take root within the class. Place based education is developing a relationship with your local forest or natural area. From this relationship everything is born – inquiry based learning, interest in the forest and their learning (academically, socially, physically) and capabilities within it both ecologically, historically and culturally. True holistic learning.

The kids are enjoying the changing of the seasons, building their own relationship with our forest. From jumping in puddles to throwing the leaves to collecting acorns and plantain by name. They can navigate to our main classroom by themselves and request their favourite camps instead of waiting for me to list their options when they want to adventure out. The seek comfort in their own sit spots for a quiet moment and also run through the woods using the trees as an additional playmate when they are full of excitement and energy. They also look to the trees, the rocks and the stream to learning to trust the environment and trust themselves to make decisions about their limits and capabilities.



Kids Outdoors Just Naturally Follow the Ontario Kindergarten Curriculum

We had our first Field trip with two classes from Marchmont Public School in Orillia. It really inspired my soul to see these 3-5 year olds dive right in and play creative, play messy and play with eachother in a world full of iPads, 300 TV channels, the kids connected with nature in their own way, in their own comfort and then pushed themselves to the next level. It was a great success no matter how you measure. Here are 5 of the ways it was a great success!

1. Projects – from beautiful fairy houses to building bridges to shelters from the rain the kids worked together to build, create and beautify.






2. No one went home clean – from muddy pants to muddy hands. And I won’t ever forget the group that had an old fashioned water fight!



3. Screaming, yelling and chanting. “Mud is Great, Mud is great” was my favourite.

4. Mud Pies – there was more mud pies, soups and stews than I could count.


5. Sharing, talking, listening – it was great to hear the kids really working things out – from offering to share materials to listening to who wants to participate to working together to build projects the kids respected each other and tried to help where they could!


Through child directed play based learning they met 72 Kindergarten goals over 12 areas in the projects, 43 Goals over 8 areas in the Mud Play, 35 goals over 8 areas in the screaming, yelling chanting, 70 goals over 12 areas during mud pie making and 39 goals over 6 areas during the sharing, listening and talking!

Children outdoors just naturally follow the kindergarten curriculum!

Our children deserve the happiness that we strive for

As I sat at forest school one thing occurred to me as the kids were working on some project or another. The lack of bells. When I was a child the morning, recess and period changes were marked by a loud shrill bell inside the school and outside only for recess. I still remember my gym teacher watching the time because we could not hear the bells outside.

Now it is no longer a shrill bell but a melodic series of 3 chimes that rings not only in the schoolyard but the entire neighbourhood for blocks around. Every recess, every period change, every end of day can be heard throughout the neighbourhood. When I lived close enough to the school to hear the chimes I would still feel hurried as the familiar yet unfamiliar signal sounded.

I remember last year around this time heading out to the car with my two young sons. They stopped to splash in the puddle as I started daydreaming enjoying the cool breeze. The bing bing bong snapped me out of my daydream and I felt an instant need to rush everyone to the car. To literally rush my children’s childhood.

But at forest school there are no bells. I heard the sound of the water babbling down the creek. The sound of the trees swooshing in the wind and the thunk of sticks as the children worked on some project with the trees. These sounds slow us down, help us focus, help us breath deep.

I remember the study saying that fast paced infant and toddler videos that show a scene for 2-3 seconds, dubbed kids MTV, was ruining kids attention spans but I can’t help but think those bells do the same. Some would argue that at a certain age children need to follow schedules and timelines but surely when children are learning from play, immersed in a world of their own making to learn life lessons, this is not the time to rush them to the next subject or activity. Either at the school or especially at home where the bells now can be heard.

We are saying to the children your attention to detail on a project, your social enjoyment are not as important as some outside timeline that need to be met. Saying learning how to enjoy the moment, to enjoy simple things is less important than the need to make sure that everything comes to completion.

These are the things my peers strive for, seek therapy to help with, write and read endless self help books to try and capture. Enjoying simple pleasures, being in the moment, focus and connecting with others.
If we deserve this, why don’t our children.