Partner Profile: Playful Mindset

Chatting with Marnie Power, Executive Director of Ottawa’s Playful Mindset, is truly a breath of fresh air. Playful Mindset, a collaborative initiative striving to be both evidence-based and creative in approach, was built on the concept of “playing with play”.   


First introduced to OCYI last year, Marnie ran a workshop at OCYI’s 2022 Critical Hours Training Day titled Supporting Youth through Play in the Critical Hours.  


Marnie says that Playful Mindset’s and OCYI’s missions are well-aligned. “Our mission is to ‘disrupt’ adverse childhood experiences and support the mental health of children from birth to age twelve through outdoor play and play-based learning.”


With a background in social work and education, and other related work over the past two decades, Marnie has witnessed the power of play as a supportive tool for children. She is fascinated by the learning and discovery, brought by play, but perhaps most intrigued by the social emotional outcomes.


“Play can be a beautiful disruptor to trauma. We need to disrupt and support and I think that play holds so much power for children and adults. Play saved me as a child. And as a single parent, I was the best parent I could be when I stepped outside. The second I opened the door, anytime I was feeling overwhelmed, I was a different parent and very proud of what I could offer there.”


And the message to adults, caring for children, is that it is okay to stop directing every experience and interaction.


“Children need time for unstructured outdoor play. To engage in risk, awe, wonder and self-agency that is on offer through play. This is where the beneficial social and emotional outcomes come from. Children experience and come to understand the world through play, play is the language of childhood. When children are supported in play they can really be seen and heard, they have self agency and can step into their imagination. Nature has the power to really hold us in that play, provide a buffer from a chaotic world, and act as a soothing balm to the nervous system.”


According to Marnie, an unstructured play experience can be had in many accessible and urban spaces. “A patch of five trees is a vast woodland for a three-year-old. An unused parking lot can provide endless play affordances. Loose parts like planks, pinecones, tires, blocks, sticks, and stumps are ideal and open-ended play materials. Little ones are seeking an element of magic and want their own land and agency over that space.”


With much societal pressure on caregivers to orchestrate every activity, the teachings of Playful Mindset also give adults permission to let go, slow down and find wonder. “It is about seeing and stepping back. Being attuned but not attached. Dipping and weaving in during a special moment or helping children with a difficult skill, but also getting out of their way to play.”


Asked why it is important to help Ottawa’s children to grow up great, Marnie references time spent visiting nature schools in Denmark. “The programming was developed with the belief that children deserve to go through childhood with a twinkle in their eye. And this stuck with me. Growing up great, and maintaining a twinkle in children’s eyes, means playing in abundance, and this can significantly and positively impact their future.”  


This fall, OCYI’s Ottawa Collaborative for Parenting Support hosted Marnie and Playful Mindset for a two-part workshop to support organization staff in their work with parents.  Click here to learn more: https://www.growingupgreat.ca/english/ottawa-collaborative-for-parenting-support/

For more information about Playful Mindset or to contact Marnie, please visit: https://playfulmindset.ca


Marnie’s Tips and Tricks for Outdoor Winter Play:

  • A trip to Value Village or a local second-hand shop to buy extra mitts, hats, gloves, socks and tube scarves or buffs is a good idea! Keep these in a basket at your door or in a Ziploc bag in your backpack or car (Wherever you'll need to grab them from for easy access).
  • Look for wool or fleece and avoid cotton as it doesn't wick moisture from the body and will make you feel colder.
  • Plastic bags can be used inside boots and over socks to keep feet dry if a child has holes in their boots.
  • You will start getting cold outside when you stay still for too long, or if you sweat under your clothes. Keep moving, and keep activities moderate to limit sweat. Or come inside to dry off after sweating.
  • Bring tea or warm drinks! Bring a thermos of herbal tea with reusable cups to share with children as a ritual in play and to help keep everyone warm. 
  • For infants and toddlers, plan outdoor play time in the morning when moods are at their best, and late morning or early afternoon when the sun is shining it's brightest to stay warm. Find nearby nature sites that offer lots to see, hear, touch and experience without long transportation times where they're sitting still in the cold for too long. 
  • Do less. Remove half of your plans from your schedule and day. You will be amazed at what can happen in these spontaneous and open moments.
  • Move slow. Slower still. 
  • Wonder together (also called shared wondering).
  • Support a child's awe, wonder and curiosity through standing back when they're exploring, showing interest in their ideas, stepping in as a co-conspirator of their play, or asking meaningful questions like "I wonder.." or "This reminds me of..."
  • Remember and remind yourself that the weather always looks worse through the window!

Learn more about Playful Mindset at https://playfulmindset.ca/

This story is part of the December 2023 Ovation. This story is also available in French.