Tips for Outdoor Learning in Spring: Interview with Dr. Beverlie Dietze

Quality Classrooms had the opportunity to interview Dr. Beverlie Dietze, for her input on playing outdoors in Spring, as well as her unique view on outdoor learning. You can read this blog and watch the interview for more interesting discussions. Quality Classrooms will also have a webinar with Beverlie soon in May. Stay tuned for more updates!

Toai (Quality Classrooms): 

Hello, everyone! I am Toai, the new host of the Quality Classrooms talk show. Well, I’m not officially a host yet, but if I do well in this interview, I will soon have my own talk show! My guest today is Dr. Beverlie Dietze. She is a researcher, author and educator who’s specialized in outdoor play. Today we’ll talk about why Spring is a great time to get outside and do some outdoor learning activities! For the new listeners, can you please introduce yourself? 


Sure, and thank you so much for this opportunity. I am Beverly Dietze, a researcher, and more importantly, I’m passionate about supporting educators, families, and children to engage in many experiences that will follow their sense of curiosity, and wonderment outdoors. So that’s my whole focus – how can we support advancing new ways of experimentation and that sense of wonderment outdoors. 

Learn more about Dr. Beverlie Dietze and her work here 



As we know, Spring is here! The days are longer, warmer, the snow is melting, the grass is growing. The environment just looks so inviting, like it’s asking us to come outside and play. This is great because in the winter, the cold, extreme weather usually discourages us from going outside. From your experience, what are the benefits of outdoor learning after a season change? 


It is important to know that children require opportunities to play in all seasons, so we can support children in understanding new information about the environment. Example: To experience the sense of snow on their cheeks; the raindrops falling; the flowers,… Children can see the puddle and run through that puddle, make it splash. Then, they can learn what kind of body movement is required to get the big splashes versus smaller splashes, and the ripple effect.  

So, when we think about Spring in particular, this is the time when you want to pause and ask the children to look at the sky. What do they see? How is the sun different from what it may have been in the winter? What do they see on the trees? What do they smell? What do they hear? Are they beginning to see those bugs come and go? And if so, what are those bugs? 

This is the time when children should see a renewal in life. They may see plants that are coming, they may see those fresh flowers that are coming to people’s gardens. It really is a time to support the children in advancing their interests, their desire, and their abilities to draw upon previous information that they know of seasons and bring in new information. When I think about children and getting them outdoors, this is the time when you want to have magnifying glasses always in your pockets so children can take them out and just imagine what they see. It is when you want children to touch and feel the grass or the bushes to engage in that piece, when you want to support children in skipping and engage in body movements. Spring is a time when you really want to support children in being able to move and to experience the cold because at times it’s still going to be cold! They may still find ice on the paddles. 


Here in Winnipeg, for sure you can experience the cold! 

A baby enjoying Spring in Winnipeg.



I’ve read your blogs and I’m very impressed by the recommendations for activities for outdoor play you came up with. You list the benefits of the activities, you back up with scientific sources, citations, and sometimes even examples from your own experience. Do you have any recommendations for activities to do in spring? 


When we think about children in play, we want to look at their space and place. As adults, our role is to offer children the materials that will provoke their thinking. So as opposed to suggesting activities, what we really want to do is to work with the children to see what they’re interested in, and then support the children in pursuing that. When we think of children, and the first time they see a worm, what are they going to do? They will ask “Where are the digging materials? I need something to dig, I need to see if I can find more worms.” So, they find the worms and then they’ll wonder again “What am I going to do with these worms? Ah, I really want to watch these worms!” So that’s when you have the worm containers. That’s when you have the books that will support the children in thinking about those pieces. When you think about children and tricycles, we’re not going to say “Today, let’s go on your tricycles”.  You’re going to put the tricycles in some very interesting spaces, and then see what the children do with them.  

For me, it’s not about “Here are the activities that we will do”, but rather how can we be a facilitator of opportunity that will really trigger that sense of curiosity with the children. Therefore, it’s the support materials that we put nearby that will lead children to put this piece of information together with this, and then they move into a process that we call ideation – “Oh, I see this, I could do this with this”. And then you can see that the play will go on in very unique and innovative ways. 


We usually think of “what activities to do in this kind of season”. But from your answer, I learn that…just let children go outside! And then whenever they like something, we will be there to support them in exploring that further. And of course, having the necessary materials nearby will facilitate their imagination, and the inspiration to let them go and do more activities. Great answer!  

Instead of thinking “what activities”, we should consider “how can we inspire them?”



With the advancement of technology, children have more options to entertain themselves. They don’t even need to go outside to find entertainment. Today, outdoor learning has to compete against video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment. How do you encourage children to go outside and learn? 


The key is to have role models for the children, and with the children. If I am an adult, and I want my children to really embrace the outdoor environment, I have to illustrate how important that is to me, I have to talk about the beauty of the season with the children. I want to build that sense of wonder, so that the children do want to go out. It starts with the adults in the children’s lives. 

 If you have children that are really connected to that technology, then as an adult, we have to say, how can we start to support the child in building that love for outdoor play and at the same time, have the opportunity to use that technology? If we have little munchkins – as I like to call them with a term of endearment, if we have them hooked on technology, get them out to find things! Geocaching is a very important way in which we can get children to use their technology and at the same time, tromping through the woods, going from one street to another in a neighborhood to try and find those items. If children have the ability to use camera, or whatever tools they can to document what they are seeing, have the children take those tools outside and say, “We’re going to find five trees that have different bark on them!” And then we’re going to take the photos so that we remember and then we can come back and talk about that. That’s how we trigger children to actually redefine how they can connect outdoors. Remember, we all have a very important role in supporting the children in building that love of outdoors, from an environmental stewardship perspective, from a climate change perspective, on from the notion of how we are going to build sustainable opportunities within the environments in which we live. We take it one step at a time. Again, we try to figure out what the children are interested in. And then how can we connect that with the outdoors?  


So instead of fighting technology for the children’s attention, like “Okay, you shouldn’t be on your phone anymore, go outside and play”, your solution is that we should try to incorporate technology (or whatever children are into) with outdoor play. It will inspire children to go outside and expand more. Then they’ll fall in love with the outdoor environment. 


Just to expand on that. So, we’re always trying to trigger children’s curiosity, right? Going back to the example that I had of the trees, if I knew which five trees, I was going to have the children actually take photos off, I would also have baskets of intriguing materials there. So that they’ll take the photos, but they also look at the baskets to see what is there. So, again, you’re trying to enhance or entice them to see the world from multiple lenses, and from the perspective of how they may deviate from that technology to really embrace that open ended opportunity. 

More on the importance of language in outdoor learning in the interview

Trigger children’s curiosity!



What are some characteristics of the Spring weather and environment that educators can utilize to give children a great outdoor learning experience?  


There are just so many! The puddles, of course. The new sticks that children find because during the winter, that’s mother nature’s way of trimming the trees. There is the sense of mud. And then there are pinecones. They provide opportunities to bring math and science into the outdoor space.  

When we think about Spring, it is looking, feeling the rain and the wind. Sometimes we’ll think “Oh, it’s too windy for the children.” Now, we want the children to feel, and think about that. I often provide children with umbrellas. I look at umbrellas as a scientific marvel for children, not only because children have to put them up and down and utilize the mechanism to get them to stand out, but also the imaginary play that occurs with an umbrella. The moment that they have umbrellas outdoors and it’s raining, then music comes to their mind! Tip, tap, top, you know, whatever is happening to the umbrella. It’s that sense of I can be Mary Poppins outdoors on a windy day. Right?  

So just looking at what is beneficial in your environment and then not stopping the children – that’s the key piece. Yes, it might be a little chilly for us as adults. Maybe we don’t want to go out.  “Is the wind going to cause our hair to blow all over?”. However, we want the children to experience that. We want them to connect with all aspects of the weather conditions. Let them have their snack outdoors with the sun shining on their face, so they can see and feel the heat of the sun. There isn’t one particular thing that I can identify. It’s to observe, and then act upon whatever those gifts of nature are within the local community. 

Let children connect with all aspects of the environment.



What are some must-have outdoor toys?  For example, tricycles,…


Sure, tricycles are important. Children want to be carrying things. So, they need buckets. They need shovels, because we want them to have instruments that they can engage in the mud on. They need things to cart items from one spot to another. I also believe that there should be wagons in space. I always like to put moving dollies, so that children can utilize those items, or that piece of apparatus to move one thing to another. I want children to have opportunities to have lots of wood. So certainly, put the blocks into the space. When you have wood, you will also think about planks, or pieces of plywood so that children can embrace those pieces. Where is it that the children can have that creative moment? Whether it’s in our diesel, or on paper, or on a piece of plywood, where are those opportunities? 

 Mirrors are absolutely vital during the Spring, because they’re the opportunity to reflect. It’s when we put mirrors near trees that are just starting to bud and then the children are engaged in utilizing that as an experience of science and wonderment. It helps them to solidify what the shadow is and how shadows are created. So, we also want to offer unique, innovative materials that are going to advance children’s sense of “I wonder if” “I wonder what happens”. 

We sometimes forget the importance of having baskets of books outside. When we think about what we like to do as adults, it can be very joyful to take a book outside, look at it and experience it. Well, that would be very similar to children! I always like to put great big boots outside that children can slip in. If you can get men’s large boots and have those outside, then it adds a new dimension. Children put their feet in and then when they’re trying to move, we’re advancing their physical activity. Certainly, there should be items for them to climb on. Whatever those items are, whether it’s a structured piece of play apparatus, or tree stumps that they can move, they need to be able to make decisions about moving their bodies in unique ways.  

When I think about outdoor play and Spring, I would also look at what tools to have. If there are bushes in the play space, you can begin to support children in understanding the importance of pruning in the Spring and bring that experience to the children. So, we want to have gardening materials. Do you have gloves? And do you know those kinds of tools so that they can embrace their environment that way as well? 


It’s more about looking at the environment and see “With this environment, what tools can I put that will encourage children’s sense of exploration, and curiosity?” Understanding the materials helps too – today I learned about the importance of books in outdoor play! 

Adventure time!



From your experience working with different childcare, and you see how they operate outdoor play, do you have any suggestions on how to organize great outdoor plays? 


Well, I think that when we examine outdoor learning, it has to start with the adults. You have to develop that sense of passion. That is the key piece to this, particularly adults that are working in early learning and childcare programs, because they are incredible influencers of the experiences that children engage. Another point is to understand that children need elements that are going to trigger their curiosity. So, it can’t be the same space with the same materials on a daily basis, you want to add some unique pieces of materials, and you want to put those materials in places that you normally wouldn’t think children would look for. What happens when you put paper around the trunk of the tree, and then have children engage in an art experience there? It’s very different from them working on a flat by easel. You want to be looking at the attributes of the space, and then how you can add new opportunities there.  

Where is it that children can have that dramatic play experience? Dramatic play is more than a housekeeping center. It should expand into all kinds of opportunities for children to use their imagination, because that imaginary play then influences their language and their literacy skills later. So, we really need to do some brainstorming and say, “what do we want the children to experience?”. If this is what we want the children to experience, then what are the gaps in our current practice? And then how might we be able to facilitate new ways of thinking and doing to provide new options for the children? 


Great. And with that, I conclude our interview today! Thank you, Beverlie, for some great points. We’ve learned so much about the importance of role models, and how we inspire children to fall in love with outdoor play. Thank you for your time, and for the listener, have a great Spring ahead! 

We had a great time talking! I missed the opportunity to say: “It’s time to SPRING outside for some outdoor play”, so here is another Spring joke: 

How excited was the gardener about Spring? So excited he wet his plants! 

Fun in the Mud

Spring is hard in daycares. You’ve been stuck inside more often than not all winter, due to extreme cold, icy winds and freezing rain. You’re going stir-crazy and your kiddos are too! Finally, the temperature starts to rise and everything starts to thaw. Everyone is so excited to be out…until the first fall into a mud puddle, which occurs approximately 3 seconds after the kids are let loose. You forgot…spring means mud. And dirt. And puddles. And MESS!

Despite frying your last sane nerve, it would be easier to remain indoors until the weather dries up. Being outside, however, is so beneficial for children (and for adults, too!). There is so much to see, explore, touch, and learn outdoors. Climbing, jumping, and other forms of outdoor play encourage risk-taking and improve kids’ balance, coordination, and sense of confidence. The list of benefits of being outside goes on and on. So how to enjoy the outdoors without having multiple toddlers completely destroy your house every time they go in and out?

Tip 1: Dress for the Weather

Invest in proper outdoor weather gear. Tall rubber boots (without cracks along the soles!) are essential for surviving puddles and muddy playgrounds, and one-piece splash suits are more than worth the initial cost. Buy a set in multiple sizes, all in one colour so your kiddos are easy to spot, and you won’t have to worry about parents remembering to send splash pants. Multiple pairs of spare mittens for cold mornings are also a good idea.

Designate certain toys as “outdoor toys,” and be ok with them getting dirty or possibly broken. Pick durable, hard-wearing toys that are designed for fun outside and easy to clean; they are even a selection of play-learning toys specifically made for your mud kitchen. Instead of play food that could get destroyed or cracked, use the new Fruit or Vegetable Sensory Play Stones that can hold up to the elements.

You can also use materials found outside like sticks, branches, rocks, bark, pinecones and more in non-conventional ways; enlist the children’s help in a scavenger hunt and have them help decide how to use the items they find!

Tip 3: Get the Kids Involved with Cleanup

Allow the children to help you clean toys and themselves before heading indoors. Provide a tub of warm soapy water and encourage them to wash the cars, animals, or any other toys that have made their way outside. If you can, keep a boot tray right outside or inside your door for muddy boots to dry. Teach your kiddos to hang their mittens and scarves to dry (simple clothespins on a string work well), and keep a mop handy near your entrance.

Getting outside in the spring does take extra effort and planning, but in the end, it will be well worth it, for you and your kiddos. Happy puddle jumping!

Written by Erin Rifkin, owner of a Reggio/Montessori daycare in Ontario

Big Results From Taking Risks

“You didn’t eat enough dirt as a kid.”

These words were said to me after I caught my third cold in a month (the flu-pocalypse was strong this winter). The idea of exposing ourselves to all those icky germs is pretty taboo nowadays, but it’s necessary to build a strong immune system (within reason, of course).  Just like germs help build our immune system, experiences build our risk-management skills, which is why risky play can be so important.

Risky play is all about children exploring and trying new things; they experiment with their environment and learn from the results. Kids are full of curiosity and while we may know the outcome of their next endeavour, they need to learn from their mistakes. As a kid, I used to take my bike to the very top of a large hill and bike down, picking up quite a bit of speed. My parents told me to slow down, but I never listened until I hit a pothole and literally ate dirt (though apparently not enough *coughcough*). My parents cleaned up my scraped elbow and knee, and I learned to slow down.

The Power of Play documentary breaks down the benefits of risky play and how you can incorporate it into your childcare centre. Risky play encourages a child’s confidence as they learn about their capabilities, teaches resilience and, of course, risk-management skills.

Maria Brussoni, a professor at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital, studied how nature play meets risky play, using natural elements to encourage development and growth. Brussoni introduced “nature and challenging play opportunities” to the outdoor environment of two childcare centres. The early childhood educators observed increased focus, social skills, self-regulation, self-confidence and more benefits in the children.

Brussoni recommends a 17-second rule. If you’re worried a situation is too risky, give it a moment – 17 seconds to be exact – and see how the children handle the situation. You and the children will discover what they’re capable of and they learn risk-management skills.

Through Brussoni’s research, we can understand how important outdoor play, coupled with risky play, is for a child’s development. A 2017 survey conducted across Canada concluded that children spend considerably more time indoors than they do outside – almost three times as much. There’s a lot of factors for this, including weather, the pressure to put kids into organized and structured activities and the ever-prevalent lure of screens. The same survey found that 35% of children said they prefer screen time to play outside.

So how can you incorporate risky play into your centre? Think of risky play as the loose parts of the outdoors. There’s only so much a child can do with a slide or swing, but the elements of nature are limitless. Allow children to use their imagination and go a little wild. Maybe they’ll climb a tree? Or sword fight with sticks? (Even writing that my brain was screaming, “You’ll poke your eye out!”)

Risky play may result in some bumps and scrapes, but its benefits are so important for children developing into well-rounded people, that the pros outweigh the risks. Besides, we’ll be ready with the alcohol wipes to help clean them up after their next adventure.

Just Add Water

April showers bring May flowers…and MUD!

Spring is here and underneath all that melted snow is wonderful mud. Now before you pull out the wet wipes, hear us out. Mud is a severely underappreciated educational resource. Mud play is a great way to get kids outdoors and is perfect for dramatic play.

Yes, they’re going to get dirty, but throw them in some old clothes and let your children loose. Encountering bacteria is actually good for our immune systems, plus mud has plenty of healthy minerals too!

To combat mud’s bad reputation, Australian educators founded International Mud Day. On June 29, introduce children to the fun of a mud kitchen. Build sculptures and mud cakes, teaching children how adding water or more dirt affects the consistency.

Use Mud Kitchen Activity Cards for muddy inspiration! From Gruffalo stew to a seafood platter to the classic mud pie, recipes are fun to recreate. Encourage children to forage for ingredients and present problem-solving opportunities if they have to substitute an ingredient. No acorns in your yard? Ask your children what they can use instead. Develop math skills by measuring ingredients and counting out how many of each you need. You can even introduce multiplication or fractions by doubling or halving a recipe.

Not sure where to start? We’ve compiled a list of tips to make mud fun!

Tip 1 – Pick a Mud Play Area

Providing a designated area for mud play will contain the mess and save your yard from dogged mud artists. The perfect way to do this is to build a mud kitchen. A mud kitchen incorporates all the benefits of kitchen play with the fun of playing with mud.

A mud kitchen can be anything your child imagines, but we recommend The Outdoor Farmhouse Sink. This kid-sized sink makes water accessible for easy clean ups and mud making and has a wide work area for masterpieces to be built. The white sink liner is removable, and the lower shelf is a great place to store backyard toys. The wood is treated so it won’t rot, plus the edges and corners are sanded down for safety. You can even add an additional two shelves with the Hutch for more storage.

Tip 2 – Use Tools

While children are likely to have fun squishing the mud around their fingers, introducing toys and tools takes the fun to a whole other level. Many of the toys used for sand and water activities make excellent mud tools. Use sand shovels to dig, pails for foraging, sifters for finding rocks and whatever else their imagination can cook up.

To keep the mess outside, use the Lil Gusher for a portable water system. Children pump the water by hand so there is no water hook up necessary.

If you’re stuck for storage space, nesting bowls are a great way to go! The Rustic Bowls are perfect for mixing and “cooking” in the mud kitchen. And they’re pretty enough that children can display their collections or a culinary masterpiece in them. Rustic Pourers are a teardrop shape, making them perfect for pouring liquids and solids. Children can pour from the little ones to the bigger ones to see how containers hold different volumes.

Tip 3 – Make it smaller to keep it cleaner

If the thought of a mud-soaked child sounds immensely unappealing, you can still offer the benefits of mud play in a more contained way. Scale it down by making a homemade mud pit using a kiddie pool or contain it even further by using Sand & Water Activity Tubs.

Tubs are a great alternative because you still promote exploration and a little bit of mess, but the cleanup is as simple as dumping the contents and cleaning the tub. To battle splashes or spills from the tub, use Mess’n Play Splash Mats. Washable Smocks keep clothing clean too!

Tip 4 – Have fun with it!

Mud play is meant to be a time to be a little wild and let loose. We spend so much time trying to keep children clean, mud play is a great way to let them unleash their messier sides. You’ll be amazed by how excited your child will be, stomping through the mud making footprints and splashing in puddles.

Just have a hose handy before they head into the house or back into daycare!