The new Early Learning and Child Care regulation update is due to come into effect February 1, 2021. As of writing this blog, we have not seen the regulations but a summary of the changes has been released, find it here. This regulation update was a tremendous opportunity to ensure the 100,000 children in child care in Alberta had better access to engaging outdoor spaces, abundant time outdoors and skilled educators with the confidence guiding children outdoors.
My overall assessment for outdoor play and the new regulations is dismal. I will expand in a moment, but first I would like to thank everyone who spoke up for outdoor play in child care settings during the consultations this past June! I heard that it was mentioned at every single virtual round table, amazing. It fills my heart to know that outdoor play is important to so many educators and champions for children in Alberta. This work is important and there is still much to be done!
In 2019, I released Outdoor Play in Child Care Settings: Recommendations for Child Care Licensing in Alberta. This paper gave recommendations to update the regulations based on research, best practices and regulations across the country. I know this paper was circulated widely and used in several submissions to the Ministry. So, how did we do? I will start with the positive…
NOTE: This is my interpretation of the changes document, if I have misinterpreted anything, please let me know!
Consent for off-site activities. Programs will be able to obtain one-time (annual) consent from parents to off-site activities that are recurring in the program like visits to local parks. This is great news as there was not a consistent practice across programs. This will open up opportunities for spontaneous community walks and explorations.
Now to the rest. I will go through the recommendations from the paper and connect them to the changes to regulations. There are two streams now for licensing - facility based or home based. This change has impacted how the regulations are presented and they have been adjusted to accommodate daycare, out of school care and preschools all under the same regulations.
Size of space. Alberta has the least amount of space required per child in any province. And we still do. No changes were made to this regulation. This is not a surprise as many programs have to pay for their outdoor space so increasing the amount of space would increase costs for programs.
Location of space. This is the one change that is especially disappointing. Any daycare can now apply for an exemption to having an outdoor space adjacent to their program premises. I believe one reason this change was made is that preschools, who were not required to have an outdoor space under the previous regulation, are now included with daycares as facility-based care. This exemption can only be granted if there is an outdoor play space within safe and easy walking distance of the premise. Not having an outdoor space connected to the centre adds one more barrier to getting children outside and will reduce the amount of outdoor time for children in full-time child care programs.
Materials. No change. We requested natural materials be included in the list of outdoor play equipment required. This was a simple, no-cost change that could have supported a move away from the plastic and rubber dominated play spaces that seem to be the norm.
Time. No change. We suggested adding a minimum amount of time outdoors for different age groups. This was another change that would not have cost programs any extra money but it would have pushed programs to consider their outdoor time more thoughtfully and could have sparked other changes in outdoor spaces and experiences.
Educators. The paper supported AECEA’s call for a minimum 2 year diploma. This has not been implemented but the changes document says this will be expanded in a policy document released in the future.
Changing the regulations was a powerful way to signal to programs and parents the value and importance of outdoor play and experiences, we did not see this happen this time around. Perhaps policies released by the Ministry will expand on outdoor play, we will have to wait and see.
What now? Regulations were one lever to support outdoor play in child care settings, there are others. Below are a few ideas on where we can now focus our attention:
- Program policies. What is the outdoor policy for your program? Do you talk about space, time and materials? The recommendation paper can be adopted and applied to your individual program to make a difference for the children in your program. I would love to see your outdoor policies and share them to inspire others… contact me.
- Professional development. Adults are the gatekeepers to outdoor play in the early years. If we aren’t confident with children outside, time will be limited. How can we support educators in creating engaging spaces and experiences outdoors? Is it workshops? Mentorship? Coaching? What is the most effective way to change professional practice?
- Post-secondary. Ensure that educators entering the field receive specific training in outdoor pedagogy and they begin their career ready to engage with children outdoors.
- Regulators. Develop relationships with Licensing Officers and Health Inspectors, share your outdoor play plans and how it supports child development. We are all working towards the same goal.
What is your idea? How can we work together to ensure all children in Alberta have access to engaging outdoor spaces, abundant time outside and supportive educators? Please share your ideas with me!