Connecting Nature and Playgrounds

By Kathy Cassels

When does a badger hole contribute to the healthy development of children?  There is a growing body of evidence that connects healthy child development and exposure to nature.  Never was this truer than at Chief Matthews School in Old Masset, Haida Gwaii where students and the school community have a vision for a natural playground and nature trail at their school.

You could not find a flatter playground than the one at Chief Matthews School, on a flood plain at the top of Graham Island. It is here, where the nursery to grade 4 students were asked:  “what would you like to see in your playground space?”, the overall consensus was a grassy hill and a nature trail.  To support their interest, Principal Lesley Bellis submitted an inquiry question to the Healthy Schools Network with two components; how could we better serve students’ healthy exercise needs as well as teach them about their relationship with the natural world and their cultural history?

With load after load of dirt, a long piece of corrugated plastic pipe with a large enough circumference for students to climb through, drift wood collected from the nearby beach and grass seed,  and parent helpers, a natural  playground began to take shape.

This is where I come in, a well-timed visit to Haida Gwaii to learn more about rural, remote students and schools finds me in Old Masset the week after their natural playground and nature trail completes.  I had heard through the Healthy Schools Network of this inquiry project, and I wanted to see first-hand the outcome of their work.  As soon as I arrive at the school, it’s pretty obvious what they want me to see.  There are a number of students scurrying around, climbing, rolling and running over and through a newly planted grassy hill. Thankfully, I don’t need to climb through; it’s only the right size for students.  After a short while I’m asked, “Would you like to take a walk through our nature trail?”  “Of course”, I reply.  Did I realize how much up and over was going to be involved in a nature trail? Definitely not!  Better serving the needs of everyone’s healthy exercise, including mine was definitely achieved.  Later when I made a visit inside to the Grade 3 classroom, one little fellow pipes up, “Did you like our new badger hole?” With a big smile I reply, “Yes indeed”.   Thanks to the student volunteers who provided me with a guided tour and thank you to Chief Matthews School for a fun filled visit to their natural playground or perhaps better called, badger hole! To learn more about the health benefits for children through contact with nature and the outdoors visit the Children and Nature Network.

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