A playground rocker wrapped in caution tape at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when playgrounds were closed to the public, in April 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The NWT government has walked back its stance on children using outdoor play equipment during winter after outcry from childcare providers.
A letter last week, instructing operators of daycares and day homes to keep children away from fixed outdoor playground equipment in winter, was labelled “appalling” by a Yellowknife forest school founder.
Other operators said the letter’s request – that children not use equipment like monkey bars, climbers or slides for the entirety of winter – was unworkable in the North and did not allow for the kinds of “risky play” recommended as part of a child’s development.
In a news release on Thursday, the territorial government changed its position and said it was now only recommending that such equipment be avoided if protective surfacing below the equipment was frozen, or if manufacturer’s instructions could not be met.
Billing the shift as a “clarification,” the territory said its original letter “was not meant to restrict children’s access to playground equipment.”
Instead, Thursday’s statement read, the GNWT was concerned about safety given past incidents, “including serious injuries to children, resulting from playground equipment that was unsafe due to winter conditions.”
Operators were sent a letter earlier on Thursday outlining the amended approach. One day home operator said they were satisfied that the letter had addressed all of the concerns providers expressed.
“If playground equipment is used in the winter, strict supervision is required, and consideration must be given to the hazards presented by the winter clothing children are wearing and the effect of freezing temperatures on the protective surface,” the Department of Education, Culture and Employment said it had told operators.
“Risky play is an important part of learning and development. Collectively, it is important that those of us in roles of responsibility for children’s safety distinguish between risky versus dangerous play situations.”
The department concluded that training for operators, as they had requested in a letter of their own earlier this week, would be provided “to support safe indoor and outdoor play experiences for young children.”