How To Set Up a Natural Playground

Including natural elements in a playground is now considered the best thing we can do for our kids.

Children themselves say the spaces are more fun. It is evident that they play better and have more natural team building as well as enhanced learning in having more to do themselves.

building a natural playground @david derocco
© CWF | David DeRocco

Advice From the Professionals

But don’t just take our word for it! Adam Bienenstock and his highly respected team at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds are inspiring positive change, supporting educators and creating “nature-based playspaces around the world.”

“As a kid, nature was everywhere — it was part of us and it was fun,” says Adam. “Play is the greatest teacher. The more sensory rich the play, the better the lesson. A natural playground is the perfect venue for children’s minds to expand and their immune systems to grow strong.”

We need to stop looking at contact with nature as a problem to be fixed and start looking at contact with nature as a solution to the problems we must solve. ~ Adam Bienenstock

@ Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds
© Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam says: “These great tips will help you and your kids have a blast — you don’t even need to tell them that it’s good for them!”

  • Include what natural materials are at hand – straw bales in the fall, slices from an old tree as stepping stones or building pieces, some sturdy sticks for making a teepee or lean-to and hanging rope from a strong tree branch.
  • Partner with locals such as a hydro or tree removal for chipped mulch below play structures and retired carpentry teachers, wood working groups or high school woodworking classes to help make structures.
  • If you have a budget consider adding larger elements like a sand pit.
  • Involve all players including all teachers, administrative and grounds staff etc. in the planning as well as exploring solutions to problems that arise.
  • Encourage positive involvement from parents by explaining how the benefits outweigh any risks and give them options to minimize distrust and maximize participation. For example, do they want their child to have a change of clothing for playtime.

In the Field

These two videos from three UK schools and an American child care offer wonderful insights into how they changed their outdoor play area. They also outline the many benefits noted by all adults involved with behavior, mental states, physical abilities and learning.

For instance, children began naturally using mathematics in building and organizing items. They looked forward to going to school! Imagination and desire to play, move and create increased and boundaries between the ages dropped.

While supervisors need to be actively engaged, they found the environment to be more peaceful – to the point that their own enjoyment in the experience increased.

Did you do this at your playground? Do you have tips or resources to share? Please comment below!

Chickadees Lead to Owls?

Julien is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

One day during my Stage 2 field placement I was assisting the visitor safety team of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve with upgrading the signage of an unofficial trail. As it often happens within our field unit, two members of the ecological integrity team crossed path with us on their way back from an amphibian survey. We were still exchanging pleasantries when Jonas, a walking encyclopedia for wildlife, squealed with his binoculars in hand. “OWL!” A northern pygmy owl, to be more precise.

“Where?”

“Oh, I see it. Hello tiny buddy,” excitedly followed a coworker while I continued to scan the trees aimlessly, feeling somewhat stupid.

Handing me the binoculars, Jonas ultimately proceeded to expertly describe the location of the tree branch on which the owl stood still 30-40 meters away—not a small feat.

At last, I could see. Stunning—probably my first owl sighting ever. A magnificent creature.

Impressed, I asked Jonas how he spotted the owl. It turns out he had not “spotted” the owl like I thought he might have had by chance walking down the trail. No, rather, he heard it. Or rather, he heard the commotion of agitated chickadees trying to mob the owl away. That’s how he knew to look up. I learned something.

“How do you know all those things?” I keenly asked?

His simple answer: he spends a lot of time outside, observing and attuning to signs.

Are you listening?

Power of the Pack: Reflections From A Wilderness Adventure

Brock is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I joined the CCC program to reconnect with nature and test myself. Stage 1 did not disappoint.

Sleeping in a tent in -30C and waking up in a sleeping bag covered in ice made me feel tougher, especially when the woodstove went out in the middle of the night. It is a story I look forward to recounting for my future grandchildren until they’re sick of hearing it, as I lament the state of “kids these days.”

Jokes aside, I learned crucial skills over the course of January from knots to shelter building, animal track identification to snowshoeing, and I feel more comfortable in nature than ever. I also developed a strong affinity for cedar tea.

Dogsledding in Ontario’s Algonquin Park for the first time was an experience I will never forget. Hearing only the sound of panting dogs and the crunch of snow on an otherwise silent and frozen lake is a beautiful feeling.

I was thrilled that my co-pilots loved the dogs as much as me, and somehow we avoided falling off the sled as we whipped around corners. I took a few videos before putting the camera away, because I knew I could not capture what I was experiencing.

I was impressed by the strength of the dogs, and it took considerable effort to hold them back on the brake. Back at camp, I enjoyed chopping massive blocks of frozen meat with an axe for their dinner stew. Hearing the dogs howl together at night was worth waking up for.

brock

I’m quite happy with the quinzhee we built, which fit five people comfortably, even though it was too cold to sleep in it per Outward Bound policy. We did sleep in a tarp shelter we built one night, which was a satisfying accomplishment.

By the end of our wilderness adventure, I found myself at ease knowing that we could have stayed out in the cold longer if we needed to. I felt more competent, I trusted my groupmates, and I experienced the value of teamwork in survival situations.

brock

It took a couple of days for my hands to fully thaw after the expedition, and I appreciated the feeling of being inside playing board games in a way I never had before.

More than anything, it is my fellow Pack members that stand out in my mind from Stage 1. In many cases, I think who you surround yourself with is more important than where you are, and my CCC experience so far is a great example of that.

Through a combination of lighthearted humour and mutual respect, we quickly gelled as a group. We laughed in all conditions, learned from our mistakes and powered through all challenges presented to us.

We solved the human knot in two minutes and 22 seconds, after several failed attempts. We snowshoed almost double the expected distance to our first camp and arrived in the dark due to unforeseen changes. We played games together, cooked, danced, sang, and roasted each other in a fun way. We cut wood together, made fires, and put out fires when needed.

In most groups that I’ve been part of, either through school or sports, there is usually some discord or conflict of personalities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that any disagreements in our group were solved maturely, immediately and respectfully.

I am happy to note that we all keep in touch from across Canada when we can. The Pack is strong.

A Refreshing Experience

Giuli is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I am so grateful for the experiences I got to be part of in my CCC adventure.

From building a fire to doing yoga on the lake, I will cherish these memories forever.

I remember when I was crossing the frozen lake while dogsledding. I started tearing up from how beautiful and special my surroundings were. I felt so alive in that moment and wanted to hold on to it forever! It was easily one of the best moments from the expedition.

When we finished one of our many hikes, the Pack decided to stand in silence on the lake ice. It was such a refreshing experience that was needed after travel.

When we came back from our expedition and had our first shower in 10 days… that was one of the best showers of my life. NOT A JOKE!

The people I met during stage one were the best people I have ever met! Each one had something special to bring to our group.

There were tons of laughs and smiles all around, there was never a dull moment in our group. I hope we can get together again.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

The Nature Connection: A New Tool for Educators Who Love Nature

At the Canadian Wildlife Federation, one of our goals is to help Canadians of all ages discover, enjoy, appreciate and conserve the nature we both love and need. We aspire to give you the tools that you need to help reconnect yourselves and those you work with you to the natural world.

With that in mind, we present The Nature Connection, a free e-newsletter to better support you.

The Nature Connection e-newsletter will bring you:

  • Research proving the benefits of being in nature
  • Ideas to use in your school or community
  • Real life examples of educators and others around the world who are applying these methods
  • Canadian resources such as local natural playgrounds to visit
  • Plus we will continue to provide WILD updates from our magazines and programs.

With the addition of guest experts, we hope to inspire you and empower you in the great work you do.

To celebrate this change, we are offering a contest with many great prizes.

Watch for details March 2019 when we launch the first issue.

Want to subscribe to this free resource? Sign up to receive The Nature Connection.

New Friends in The Pack

David Freeman is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I have never met a more diverse group of people who are also so similar in my life.

As part of Group 6 (or The Pack as we call ourselves), I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life with some of my favourite people. Even in the short amount of time we spent together, I feel like I’ve known the other members of The Pack my entire life. I guess living together and camping together for a month will do that.

The first few days of the Canadian Conservation Corps program were a bit awkward because we were still getting used to each other. We’re lucky we had facilitators Tirian and Grant during this first week.  They definitely got us more comfortable with each other faster than we would have on our own. We did a ton of team building exercises and learned different skills to incorporate in our everyday lives and use on the ten-day wilderness journey that we were about to embark on.

We went winter camping in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. It was such an incredible experience. Stuck for ten days in the wilderness with no showers was a bit strange to me but I was able to get through it with all of my fantastic new friends! I hadn’t done a lot of snowshoeing in my life so when we got there and our leader told us we were snowshoeing six km into the bush my body already felt tired.

When we got to camp, I was so exhausted I just wanted to get to bed but of course we still had to get set up and make dinner. For some reason our equipment did not want to co-operate with us and it took us a much longer to make dinner than originally expected. The second day was much easier by then I was much more used to the snowshoeing and dinner did not take us nearly as long to make. By the time the end of our journey rolled around, I think we were all experts at winter survival, snowshoeing and dogsledding.

The last week that we were together I think there was a lot of relief from everyone because we finally got to shower again! Unfortunately mixed in with all of that relief was a bit of sorrow, knowing that we had to leave each other in only a week. By the end of the last week of our Stage One journey together, we had all bonded like brothers and sisters.

Hopefully one day soon we are able to reconnect and once again be The Pack in full.

All My Love

Lesley is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I fell in love.

The brisk air – a chilled, analeptic voice of indomitability.

The artisan sky – an ever-changing masterpiece of endless wonder.

The angelic snow – a steadfast enchantment of mesmerizing glamour.

The stoic forest – a vast village of kin-shipped allegiance.

The spright dogs – devoted behemoths of genuine spirit.

The enlivening people – resilient stalwarts of admired prowess.

 

How thankful am I to be smitten by such endearing facets?

 

Each breath, giving me life.

Each view, giving me question.

Each snowflake, giving me fantasies.

Each tree, giving me grandeur.

Each dog, giving me honour.

Each person, giving me grace.

 

All my love for the places I’ve been,

All my love for the things I’ve seen,

All my love for the creatures in-between,

 

All my love, for all of you.

The Algonquin Adventure: A Photo Gallery

Olivia Richardson is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I am very privileged to be part of the CCC program.

The first month has been a whirlwind of adventure and emotions. From meeting the gang in the airport in Toronto to impromptu team bonding in the grocery store (our first group task) to spending five days at camp Kandalore doing leadership training, first aid and team bonding.

It was all fun and exciting. Before we knew it all 10 of us were loaded into the 15- passenger van trading our modern conveniences for our winter gear headed to the bush for 10 days.

Now were back into reality, showered and clean. Back to camp Kandalore for some more training before the pack parts ways and heads home to prepare for stage two.

We’ve become very attached to each other, grown as individuals and as leaders.

I am thrilled and excited to be venturing to the Calgary Zoo for the next stage of my #CCCAdventure.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Reviewing the Risks: The Latest Assessments at the COSEWIC Meeting

Three Canadian species at risk of disappearing from Canada are…

The assessment of 22 wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in November has highlighted a need for provincial and federal governments to work towards preventing the loss of Canada’s native species.  COSEWIC found the risk status of three species at risk of disappearing from Canada – the Polar Bear, Black Ash tree and Chinook Salmon.

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

These gorgeous bears rely on seal hunting to survive. However, scientists are predicting longer Arctic summers which will make hunting this crucial prey harder. Inuit are hopeful that Polar Bears will be able to adapt and that this ability may save this at-risk bear. The Committee has listed the bear as of Special Concern.

Chinook Salmon

The Chinook salmon migration to the Upper Yukon River must travel around the Whitehorse Rapids Generating Facility via a 300 m long fish ladder. A viewing chamber partway through the ladder provides an incredible opportunity for the public to observe Chinook salmon as they approach spawning grounds

Did you know that Chinook Salmon complete the longest migration in Canada? Sadly, their journey is wrought with challenges and threats along the way.  The committee found 13 populations to be in significant decline and has listed eight populations as Endangered, four as Threatened and one as of Special Concern.

“As a founding member of the Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, CWF is concerned that 13 of the 16 population groups of Chinook Salmon assessed from southern British Columbia are at risk of extinction,” says David Browne, CWF Director of Conservation Science. “Declining quality of marine and freshwater habitat is sighted as a key factor. This is yet more reason to invest in habitat restoration and protection in the Fraser River watershed and address the Cohen Commission recommendations. This is also sad news for Southern Resident Killer Whales as their main prey, Fraser River Chinook Salmon, are determined to be at risk of extinction by Canada’s experts.”

Black Ash

Black ash leaves
@ Keith Kanoti

The malicious Emerald Ash Borer has wedeled its way into many forests in Canada. This invasive species has wiped out approximately two billion trees in North America and has no intention of slowing down (or showing much mercy).

It’s unclear how the 162 million Black Ash trees still standing will survive, and so the committee listed the tree as Threatened. Black Ash are a very important tree to our forests. They’re the most widely distributed trees in Canada and are used to make commercial items like baskets, furniture, flooring and snowshoes.

What You Can Do

upload observations to inaturalist.ca
Upload observations to iNaturalist.ca

The last thing we’d want is for you to feel helpless after reading the state of some of Canada’s wildlife. That’s why, we’ve got plenty that you can do to help!  Did you know 13 of the 22 species assessed have been observed by iNaturalist users? You can help to inform assessments of other species by downloading the iNaturalist app and be part of Canada’s biodiversity monitoring team!

 

Santa’s Got Company

The Arctic tundra is a fascinating area between the edge of the boreal forest and the permanent ice caps closer to the North Pole.

This areas spans across Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Northeastern Manitoba, Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec and Northern Labrador. Such a vast and harsh arctic climate is home to a limited variety of species that must adapt to the long, cold months and major snow fall.

The Great White Bear

polar bears

The North Pole wouldn’t be complete without the Polar Bear. Unfortunately, the Polar Bear is a species at-risk in the tundra. One of the main threats is climate change which is impacting the sea ice patterns. Sea ice patterns doesn’t sound like a big deal but the Polar Bears, along with many other species at-risk rely on the ice for migration and foraging. When the ice is sparse, it can result in famine and even death.

The Arctic Fox

arctic fox

The Arctic Fox is another common and welcomed sight in the tundra. This mammal perfectly adapts to the harsh conditions by changing the colour of its fur from a brownish-grey to white in the winter months. They also use their thick bushy tails as a warm cover to protect themselves from the harsh cold wind. The Artic Fox, like many other fox species, will travel long distances in search of food like lemmings, birds and their eggs, leftover carcasses and even plants.

Arctic Hare

arctic hare

Like the Arctic Fox, the Arctic Hare have adapted to survive the tundra. They sport short ears, black eyelashes that protect the eye from the glaring sun, and have incredibly thick fur that changes from a blueish-grey to white in the winter. To protect themselves from the cold and predators, the Arctic Hare will dig dens in the snow or soil which helps them conserve body heat. Here, under the snow, they can also find some winter grubs like shrubs, mosses and lichens to keep them full all winter long.

Arctic Char

arctic char

Very few fish species call the Great White North home in its coldest months. One of the fish that lives in the lakes and rivers of the tundra is the Arctic Char. It plays an important role in the tundra as these fish are an important source of food for many birds of prey in the summer and for mammals in the winter. The Arctic Char spends part of its life cycle in fresh water and the other part in salt water. However, some Arctic Char have adapted and made fresh water their primary address after become land locked.

Birds in the Tundra

Greater White-fronted Geese © Nathan Clements
Greater White-fronted Geese | Oies rieuses © Nathan Clements

Birds are the most diverse group in the tundra! It is home to important birds like the Common Eider, Thick-billed Murre and the Arctic Tern. These birds primarily live near the Arctic Ocean and rely on the marine environment for some grubs to feast on.

Plants and Fungi

tundra
@ Martin Prentice

When you think of life in the tundra, plant and fungi aren’t exactly the first thing to come to mind. There are nearly 2,000 species of plants, mosses, sedges, grasses and flowering plants thriving there! Adaptation isn’t only for birds and mammals, plants in the tundra have adapted to shorter growing seasons, lack of humidity and low nutrient level in the soil. Plants grow shorter and closer to the soil which aids when tumultuous windstorms arise. Huddling together for warmth isn’t only for mammals! Plants have adapted to grow huddled together to stay warm.