• Our Work

    Our focus is on supporting children’s mental health and addressing adverse childhood experiences in the early years (age 0-12 years old) through unstructured outdoor play and play-based learning.

    Play is a necessary part of how children exist in the world, how they relate to themselves and others, how they connect with the natural world, and how they make sense of the human experience. 

Playful mindset is a collaborative initiative, a not-for-profit organization (charitable status pending) that strives to be both evidence-based, and creative in our approach. We are playing with play, and invite you to join us.

  • We're excited about the possibilities for PLAY as both an upstream (preventative) children's mental health strategy as well as a supportive response for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

    We’re also excited about testing and innovating ideas that will have a direct and meaningful impact for equity-deserving and equity-seeking groups. 


We imagine a world where all children can play and thrive.


Our mission is to offer outdoor play and play-based learning programs and initiatives that serve to ‘disrupt’ adverse childhood experiences, and support the mental health of children from birth to age twelve.



We collaborate with others to make a meaningful difference. We’re most jazzed about relationships that are reciprocal and finding ways to make magic, with others, together. 


We walk the walk and talk the talk…in other words, we strive to PLAY in our work in all kinds of ways. We also show integrity by bringing our whole selves to work, being open and transparent about our capacity in any given moment, having difficult conversations when needed, and to operate with transparency.


We have learned that trust is foundational for meaningful play experiences, and for children when they are overcoming the challenges and healing from adverse experiences in childhood. Building trust takes time, and we work hard at building this with the people we serve. 

Self Agency

A core tenant of play and play-based learning is self agency. We believe children thrive when they have a voice in their play (and day), and when this self agency is matched with some structure and predictability (what we call a ‘safe home and a place to roam’) then beautiful things can unfold.

Wonder and Awe

A sense of wonder in the natural world, in the emotions of others (our internal worlds), and the feeling of awe that comes when we’re open to play is a sweet spot we seek out regularly for ourselves and for children. This wonder and awe is fueled by curiosity and you’ll hear us come to fewer conclusions or assumptions in our work, and more shared wonderings. 

Risky Play

We know that when we are balancing benefits with risks, and supporting ourselves and children to make informed but brave decisions, we thrive. We don’t aim to remove risks, we aim to embrace and learn from them. 


We are seeking creative, innovative, and imaginative spaces to work in, in some ways we joke that Playful Mindset is one big art project. We leave room in our programs and initiatives for the unknown and unexpected. 


We value all kinds of knowledge including qualitative and quantitative research, lived experience, practice, stories, and other community and cultural forms of knowledge that are shared with us. Our programs are iterative, and we’re constantly learning from these knowledge sources to inform our practices. We also seek out research partnerships to build upon the knowledge and evidence base around outdoor play.


How do we define Outdoor Play?

Play is universal yet a culturally and socially constructed concept. There is no one definition of play, and play that happens in one community will look different than play in another place. At Playful Mindset we acknowledge that what is often lacking in children’s lives is unstructured, outdoor, free play and so we’re engaged in providing more of these opportunities. We also acknowledge that early research shows that the positive mental and emotional outcomes are seen on this end of the play continuum where self agency for children is prioritized. 

Generally speaking we see outdoor play as play that happens in the open air that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated.

What does play have to do with children’s mental health?

Across Canada, we live in a time where childhood has drastically changed, where children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences is on the rise and where mental health challenges abound. Although this is a complex web of challenges, with no one source or cause, there is one solution that can offer hope, relief, support, and joy in a developmentally appropriate way…and that is play! In outdoor play children tap into their own imagination, inner wisdom, fresh ideas, big feelings, and so much more. They connect with themselves, with nature, with each other in profound ways and the supportive capacity in this is great.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences [ACE’s]?

According to the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario), “Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic or stressful events occurring in the first 18 years of life. The list of commonly recognized ACEs includes emotional, physical or sexual abuse; emotional or physical neglect; growing up in a household with a parent or caregiver who uses alcohol or substances; has a mental health problem; exposure to intimate partner violence; separation or divorce; and criminal behaviour resulting in incarceration.

Although the 10 ACEs identified by Felliti et al. are well-established, there are other exposures in childhood that may cause traumatic experiences, including structural and contextual forms of trauma. Sometimes referred to as ‘adverse community experiences,’ situational circumstances such as structural violence, living in extreme poverty and homelessness are also forms of adversity in childhood. ACEs threaten the foundations of health (stable, responsive relationships; safe, supportive environments; and appropriate nutrition) that support healthy biological development. Adversity in childhood can occur as a prolonged exposure; for example, having a parent with addiction or in a single occurrence, such as a sexual abuse event. ACEs may be mitigated by positive interpersonal experiences with family and friends and by building resilience and other protective factors, such as quality of relationships.”

Source: Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario). Carsley S, Oei T. Interventions to prevent and mitigate the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in Canada: a literature review. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario; 2020

What are the Effects of ACEs?

According to the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario), “the link between ACEs and poor health and wellbeing outcomes has been well documented. Exposure to ACEs during childhood can result in toxic stress that negatively affects brain architecture (e.g., impaired neural circuits), compromises immune response and increases vulnerabilities to poor health outcomes across the lifespan. Adults who experienced ACEs are more likely to report mental health conditions,cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other chronic conditions. 

There is evidence to suggest that the increased risk for these diseases may be due to physiological changes during childhood as a result of toxic stress responses. Further, detrimental psychological effects may result in a higher likelihood that these individuals adopt poorer health behaviours, such as substance use and smoking and may have higher rates of overweight and obesity than those who did not experience ACEs. There is evidence to demonstrate a dose-response relationship; as the number of ACEs an individual experiences increases, the poorer the health outcomes, including impacts on mortality. One study showed exposure to six or more ACEs may decrease lifespan by 20 years. Finally, there is evidence of intergenerational effects in adults who experienced ACEs, which may impact their ability to parent their own children.”

Source: Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario). Carsley S, Oei T. Interventions to prevent and mitigate the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in Canada: a literature review. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario; 2020.

How can play be an effective Upstream (preventative) mental health strategy?

A Downstream approach reacts to problems after they've occurred, while Upstream approach aims to prevent problems from happening in the first place. Upstream approach looks at systemic factors that influence the mushrooming of problems into even bigger problems.

Our work in outdoor play and play-based learning is both an upstream approach as well as a downstream approach, as we’re delivering programs and initiatives that are supportive for children and families who’ve experienced trauma and adverse experiences, AND we are offering programs and initiatives, particularly in early childhood education and schools, that seek to shape and shift the systemic causes that have a negative impact on children’s mental health. We see outdoor play as a tool and approach to prevent negative social and emotional outcomes in children’s lives that can be felt and experienced well past childhood, and across the lifespan.

Why are you only focused on the early years (between 0-12 years old)?

In the early years attachment and attunement to caregivers has a far-reaching impact into a child’s life, and we believe experiences in play and a relationship with nature also serves as a buffer to the hardship that can be experienced in life. We aim to reach children early to provide support, coping, resiliency and even to prevent the negative effects that adverse experiences have on a child’s life.