Dr. Mariana Brussoni, Associate Professor at the School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) and Director of the Human Early Learning Partnership, has received a Convening & Collaborating Award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research to fund her work on outdoor early childhood education in British Columbia.
Her research investigates child injury prevention and children’s risky play, focusing on parent and caregiver perceptions of risk, and design of outdoor play-friendly environments, with a special focus on promoting equitable access to outdoor play.
Dr. Mariana Brussoni
There are wide-reaching benefits to outdoor play, Dr. Brussoni notes. “When children play outside, they are more physically active, develop risk management skills, learn about their community and the natural world and their place in it, learn to play and co-operate with other children, and many more benefits.”
She adds that there is also an important health equity component to outdoor play. “It can help equalize the benefits of these experiences for children that would not have access to high quality outdoor play opportunities at home.”
Her team will leverage funds from the award to plan a summit aiming to bring together researchers and research users in order to collectively identify priorities and support a pathway to licensing outdoor early childhood education in the province.
Although this is a novel policy solution within British Columbia, it is a solution that other jurisdictions have implemented successfully. “Right now, childcare can only be licensed if there is a physical building,” Dr. Brussoni explains. “This is a costly requirement and we know from practice in other countries that childcare occurring solely outdoors is doable and can lead to wonderful outcomes for children and early childhood educators.”
SPPH PhD student Rachel Ramsden has been working with Dr. Brussoni on the project, including reviewing existing literature to identify existing outdoor childcare programs. “It has been fascinating to research the many outdoor childcare programs that provide enhanced outdoor play opportunities across the world, including programs in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, and most recently, across the border in Washington State,” Rachel explains.
The project has played an important role in contributing to Rachel’s training as a graduate student. “Participating on the Nature Based Childcare Advisory Committee has provided opportunities to collaborate on knowledge translation activities that also align with my research interests to enhance children’s outdoor play in childcare settings.”
The impact of this project goes beyond benefits to young children, Dr. Brussoni explains. “Supporting high quality outdoor play opportunities for children in childcare not only greatly benefits them but is also very impactful for the early childhood educators. Their relationships with the children improve and they also experience health and wellbeing benefits.”
You can read more about Dr. Brussoni’s work at the Brussoni Lab website and on the SPPH website.