It’s the middle of winter with cold, damp, grey days and Spring seems so very far away. These days don’t always give us the motivation to get outside in comparison to a hot summer’s day. With wellies, coats, hats and gloves to put on – our own as well as a class of eager children – getting out can sometimes feel like it takes forever. There are some children who, regardless of the weather, love to be outside. The same can be said for adults too – some of us love to be outside whereas others prefer being indoors protected from the elements.
However, even a cold Winters day has potential for children to engage with their environment, to play and learn. Outdoors is a place to be free, to run, jump, hide and play games without the confines of the indoors. It’s also a place where we, as adults, can connect with the natural world, bringing ourselves down to the level of a child. What can you see?
Experiencing the cold weather helps children understand the effect on their bodies and why its necessary to wrap up warm. Adults can give meaning to these experiences, helping children notice how our noses and cheeks turn red or our feet feel cold. Touching ice or snow gives us a real hands on experience that we feel by ‘doing’ rather than watching or reading about. We can offer children opportunities to think about how we can warm our bodies up after being outside. There are some things we just need to ‘feel’ to know how to respond and being cold is one of them.
The Winter months can be an ideal time to audit the outdoor environment ready for the blooming months of Spring. Perhaps you could consider the following:
- Which areas are popular with the children and are used more than others?
- Are there any areas which children tend to avoid – why could this be?
- Have children got spaces for different types of play – areas to run as well as quiet spaces to talk or read?
- Are there different textures for children to explore – stones, grass, logs, tyres etc?
- What do the children think of their outdoor space?
Even the coldest day can offer up learning and play potential. Here are some of my favourite activities:
- Making bird feeders with the children. You could use lard mixed with bird seed or even threading Cheerios on to a pipe cleaner can be effective. Head outside then to decide where the children would like to hang them. Once the birds realise there is food in your area, they’ll soon be flocking to enjoy the treats. Remember to keep it up though as birds may become reliant on your offerings.
- Texture rubbings are a great activity for the Winter months as everything around us seems bare, exposing interesting features in the environment.
- Stick hunts are fantastic for promoting mathematical language and encouraging comparisons. Who has the longest stick? Which one is the thinnest? Is there a bendy one? We can then use the sticks for mark making, making patterns in sand or mud or turning them into wands using pieces of ribbon.
- Treasure hunts are good fun and really help us get a feel for what children find interesting in the world around them. Offer them an egg carton and give them the task of placing six items which they find interesting in the separate compartments. The challenge is only finding six, meaning children have to make choices!
- Leaving trays of water outside to freeze overnight. Perhaps you could leave some objects in the water – children could help you choose! They might keep it natural with stones, feathers or cones but you could even end up with a car or a Lego man! The next morning when the water has frozen, you can work out how to release the objects.
A joy of the Winter months can be children’s awe at the changes taking place around them. Even though we’re still in the depths of Winter, we are beginning to see the shoots appear from bulbs planted last year, tiny buds can be seen on the branches of trees and the sun is setting later. All signs that Spring is around the corner with a whole host of new opportunities for playing and learning in the outdoors.
“…the best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky” Margaret McMillan