Even in the face of a nasty winter, Cheryl Tremblay finds it important to give the kids at her home daycare time outdoors.
"We do spend a lot of time outside. Normally, between morning snack and lunchtime is our outdoor time," she said. "Only one day this whole winter, we didn’t play outside. The weather is not going to stop us from going outside."
In June, Tremblay’s Hart Avenue daycare will embark on its second year in the Two Weeks Outdoors Challenge, a Manitoba Nature Action Collaborative for Children (MNACC) initiative encouraging daycares and other early childhood educators to get kids into the fresh air. The initiative was started by Doris Story in 2011.
Each centre can participate as it sees fit, so Tremblay originally planned to participate for one week, spending the entirety of each day outside last year.
"I wanted to try it, so I did it with my preschoolers just in June, and we did spend the whole week outside from the time the (older) kids left for school until they came back," she said.
Tremblay spent full days outside with the entire eight-child contingent in the summer after school let out, but avoided having several back-to-back days, as it was too difficult to modify the meal program for an outdoor day.
Tremblay said she’s seen children benefit more than just physically from outdoor play, as she has seen their imagination improve as well. She said she used to have a play structure in her back yard, but got rid of it in favour of letting the kids run around and making their own fun with sticks and pieces of wood.
"I find they’re a lot more creative," she said.
MNACC co-founder Ron Blatz said kids in other countries with similar climates can spend up to two-and-a-half times as much time outdoors as Canadian children.
Couple that with a presentation where he and other attendees were encouraged to remember their favourite childhood places, and none recalled an indoor location, Blatz became committed to the cause.
"Kids would be outside more if we just let them," he said. "Children will take care of what they love, and they are so excluded from nature. They are not connected to it, and my feeling is they may not be good caregivers for the earth when they become adults."
Tremblay explained there is support for those working with young people, as MNACC holds an annual workshop for them at Camp Manitou each summer.
"A lot of people who work in daycares didn’t grow up with outdoor play," she said. "They’re the first generation of people who have had technologies, so they didn’t have the outdoor play we used to have.
"Now, they’re working with kids and don’t know what to do with them outside."
MNACC is holding an information night for first-timers at Discovery Children’s Centre, located at 367 Hampton St. in St. James, on April 17 at 7 p.m. Those interested in attending can RSVP with Blatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.