I have been an early childhood educator for many years, and I enjoy my chosen profession. Outdoor play is close to my heart, especially in the winter time. The benefits for children are not just the fresh air and exercise but the learning experience they gain in the winter months.
In terms of pedagogy, in preparation for the experience one might turn to books for inspiration. Books offer ideas about what to do with snow, activities from science facts to sensory findings. One of my favorite children’s books is titled Snow Lion by David McPhail. When Lion finds the jungle too hot and travels to the mountain, he discovers cold, white, fluffy snow and brings it back to share with his friends. The learning continues as the snow melts and Lion then offers to take his friends to the mountain so they can also experience snow.
So, from the first snow fall when the snow covers the grass go outside and discover it! Let the children play in and experience it with all their senses.
Help the children develop self-help skills and build confidence by modeling as you are getting dressed. Try dressing in stages with the children as they dress. Good modelling and staying on the same step will help prevent overheating.
While transitioning outside, make it fun; step, shuffle, jump, shovel, or pretend to skate, ski or snowboard. Consider opportunities to enhance your environment by ensuring that there are sleds, shovels, buckets and natural materials such as branches, rocks, hay bales and logs to play with. Examine the snow; bring out magnifying glasses to observe its intricacies. Bring black cloth boards outside to better see these snowflakes. Do they sparkle? Experience the depth, coldness and sounds. What does the snow feel like? Be creative, instead of the traditional snowman, try building a snow horse.
Model shoveling snow; the children will imitate you. Make it more fun by singing songs like Shovelling Snow Chant and the poem by Robert Munsch, Heave Ho Buckets of Snow as you are building a cave, nest or mountain.
A warm child is a happy child! To stay warm, model jumping jacks or do the Hokey Pokey. Have a music and movement circle outside. Play winter sports like hockey but keep it loose and simple. Share the joy of being a good sport.
Go on a scavenger hunt. Find the mittens of the three little kittens; the hunt will surely create adventure. Document these moments by writing learning stories and share them with the parents and children.
Look for signs of animals tracks in the fresh fallen snow. Talk about where the animals may be. There is so much to do and discover. The joy of playing outside can be part of every child’s fond memories.
Find good books about the snow to share with the children when you come back inside to your warm cozy place, reinforcing that being outside is a wonderland.
Mary Pepler, RECE
Kanata Research Park Family Centre