OPAL in Canada
OPAL was introduced into Canada was by Brenda Simon, a human rights lawyer and teacher, who began with PLAYbynature in 2011 to advocate for play provision in Ontario, Canada. In 2013, Brenda travelled to Bristol to learn about OPAL U.K., becoming Canada’s first certified OPAL mentor. In 2014, Brenda contributed to the Position Statement on Outdoor Active Play, which created a new public awareness of play deprivation in Canada. With support from the Lawson Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Brenda joined forces with Earth Day Canada to form a partnership with the Toronto District School Board.
OPAL grew, under Brenda’s leadership, from a small early years pilot at 6 schools to a $1.3 million programme, reaching almost 50 schools over 4 years and approx.16,000 school children from kindergarten to Grade 6. Three school boards eventually participated: the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the York Region District School Board. The project included a commissioned study and 3 professional learning days reaching over 600 educators. In 2020 Transform Lab completed a second study of the OPAL.
In 2019, the Dr Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School (JICS) at the University of Toronto became Canada’s first laboratory school to adopt OPAL. Hundreds of educators visit the JICS Lab School each year from across the globe to learn more about its developmental focus, the research and inquiry-led teaching practices that make it a global leader in education.
Brenda has written Recommendations for a Play Policy that would bring play-work principles to all of the 451 elementary schools in the TDSB, Canada’s largest school board.
Brenda (Twitter: @BrendaRoseSimon) is currently the Program Director of Natural Curiosity (Twitter: @naturlcuriosity) at the JICS Lab School, Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto.