When preparing children for school, parents and teachers acquire all the tools that will be essential for their success in the classroom. Pencils, paper, crayons, blocks, baby dolls and books are all accessible for making the year successful. They are considered important pieces of the education process.
If you are fortunate enough to have a program that also provides fresh air and time for play outdoors in the winter months, consider yourself extremely lucky! However, your child will need a whole different list of supplies to make sure this time is equally successful.
A few years ago it became clear to me that if I was supplying stumps, loose parts and the time to be outdoors in nature, our program had to have clothing available for backup. Clothing is a crucial piece of the outdoor experience. Teachers often ask me how long it takes to get everyone dressed to go outdoors? Trust me, the time it takes will get shorter and shorter very quickly. And the process is a learning lesson in itself. There is a sequential order involved. It is a lesson in self-sufficiency. What could be a better use of our time? With so many children attempting to get ready at the same time, children learn to independently get ready on their own. Our children love to play in the snow and they know that getting ready is part of the process. A few years ago I had a two year old that could Suit Up and Boot Up faster than her older counterparts.
I am always curious how others make this work in their programs. Like anything else in our classroom, I start with baby steps and tweak it as I go. I encourage you to try and get outdoors every day. It is so good for both our mental and physical health. However, you need the tools for this to be successful. If you have children who don’t bring their “pencils” to class, you must supply them.
You can do this! Baby steps!
Which brings us to mittens or gloves. For the very young, I am a big fan of mittens, just because they are so much easier to get on. As the children get older though, sometimes they just need the flexibility and precision to build or pick things up with gloves. This is where I am on a one-woman campaign for new vocabulary words.
Car mittens vs Snow Mittens (gloves qualify but it ruins my campaign slogan!) Fleece and wool mittens are good for car rides, but if you are going to sled, build snowmen, eat icicles or just PLAY in the snow you need SNOW mittens or gloves. Any waterproof glove or mitten will work, but really great ones go up past your wrist. They allow you to play for longer periods of time and stay warm in the winter temperatures. I knew my vocabulary word was catching on when a four year old sadly walked in the door and announced, “I could only find my car mittens today.” Poor kid. He looked devastated. He knew the consequences. There are of course natural consequences to not wearing the proper clothing. You get wet, cold, tired and very crabby! Many times, children will not remember the snow play from a year ago. This is a brand new experience for them, even if they were outdoors daily last year! We want this to be a successful and enjoyable experience for them. We need to supply the tools for our day to be fun and stress free!
I often get asked, “What do you do in the snow?” We play! The night before the first predicted snowfall, I retrieve all the sand buckets and shovels and molds. These are great tools to add to snow play. If they are buried or frozen in the sandbox, it is an impossible task. Trust the voice of experience on this one!
Our little friends love to help shovel, build snow friends and snow angels. This is a whole new world of adventure and investigations for them. Just walking or running in snow is a new adventure! We have spent hours searching for ice and then working to remove it from whatever container it may have formed in. Slipping and sliding on ice? Ice skating without the cost of skates! Giggles galore, no broken bones to report! One hard fall will usually send a child off to find something else to do, but there are always a lot more laughs than tears. Trust the child! Jumping off any height only to land in a pile of fluffy white stuff to break the fall, can entertain us for long periods of time. Sliding down snow filled slides or jumping off a swing when the snow is just inches below it, are all new experiences. Finding animal tracks from brave squirrels, hungry birds or the neighbor’s cat can buy us a good half hour of fun. When the winter days are so short that the children are coming to us in the dark, and heading home in the dark, getting outdoors in sunshine or at least daylight is so very good for our mental health.
After hours of play, the order is reversed. I set up laundry baskets and child size benches outdoors, with the last basket for boots next to the door so they can step right in on a dry floor. The children strip off their clothes and put them in the proper basket. This works well for separating wet clothing and boots away from our dry hats and coats. It also reinforces independence and sequencing as the children try to do this process on their own! (Those snow pants can be ornery sometimes!)
Of course nothing completes outdoor winter play quite like a big warm cup of soup or hot cocoa! If the temperatures cooperate and the sun is warming your soul, try an outdoor lunch. Hot soup, cheese and crackers, apples and carrots and milk! You can do this! Start with little steps and build your way up!
Researchers say 24 percent of Iowa residents live in child care deserts, places where child care is scant. That figure jumped to 37 percent in rural areas.