I regularly receive emails from people who want to know how they can start a nature/forest/outdoor learning program or just work with children in outdoor environments. My own career path has been convoluted and I definitely did not plan any of this out! And it is evolving as I take the next step of pursuing an Early Learning and Child Care diploma starting this fall (I am excited).
What advice do I give when I get these questions? Well, as with most things in life, it depends! Here are few of my thoughts.
Are you already an established professional? Before you jump ship from your current position, consider how you can innovate and advocate for outdoor play and learning WITHIN the system you already work in. We need passionate, knowledgeable professionals to work within the existing systems including urban planning, health care, education, early learning, etc. to ensure accessibility of outdoor spaces and experiences for all children. This isn’t easy! It can be frustrating and slow but I promise you, you are not the only one in your profession who is thinking this way, seek out others and collaborate to make the change from within your current system.
Do you want to work directly with children outside? If you are considering a career change, I strongly recommend seeking out the general official training and certification you need whether it is as an early childhood educator, K-12 teacher, or other child-centered profession. Having the degree or diploma will open up more possibilities of working within the existing systems and impacting more children with your passion and focus on outdoor play and learning. I have built a successful career with a BSc. in Geography, not an Education degree or ECE diploma but I feel if I want to really increase my impact, an official certification will increase my knowledge and allow me to support educators and children in a better way. I know I will receive very little direct outdoor play and learning instruction in this formal environment so I plan on focusing my assignments on outdoor play and bringing this lens to the course work, hopefully curating my own outdoor play-focused diploma program! There are other trainings available, like the Forest School Canada program for example that will give you specific skills around working outside with children but I think you also need the credentials recognized by a profession.
Want to strike out on your own, start your own program? We need this to happen as well, we need unique, child-focused, fully outdoor programs to show what is possible, to push the systems from the outside. I have never started my own program so I cannot speak from personal experience but from what I have heard, it isn’t easy. Simply finding an appropriate outdoor space, especially in an urban setting, is a huge challenge. You also need to consider that there will be no pension, no health benefits and the pay isn’t great. But you will be outside all day, in control of your own philosophy, and be able to see first-hand the magic that happens when children are outdoors.
These are only a few of my opinions! You are on your own path and there is room for everyone in the outdoor play and learning movement. In fact, we need people who are able to bring diverse perspectives to this work because all children have the right to accessible spaces and programs outdoors, and this will only happen when we have more than the usual suspects involved. What I love about the outdoor play and learning movement is that it brings together people from different backgrounds - teachers, early childhood educators, recreation leaders, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors, health professionals, urban planners, and the list goes on! If we are truly going to change children’s experiences outdoors, we need everyone on board.
How did you come to outdoor play and learning? What has your professional path looked like? I would love to hear your story! Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.