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Getting Ready for Winter Outdoor Play

Classroom Development

11/18/2021 | Sasha Kopp

Now that Halloween is over, there is no denying that winter is quickly upon us. With the changing of seasons and colder temperatures, there are fewer outdoor play opportunities for children. However, even in colder, but safe temps children thrive on their time outside. Being outside promotes socialization and lowers anxiety. It also can help children’s time in the classroom be more focused and supportive of productive and deeper play.

        

As adults, we may not know how to engage in deep outdoor play – particularly in colder weather. If cold weather play is new to your center, I recommend developing an action plan that informs families and staff how it aligns with existing philosophies around play, what’s needed from them logistically, and how it relates to the established curriculum. Even if your students just see it as fun, there’s always an opportunity to reinforce classroom themes. 

Philosophies:

At a high level, I’ve found there to be two cold-weather play philosophies that resonate with most childcare centers. One is to bring the indoors outside. Bringing indoor play outside gives you an opportunity to create activity centers utilizing blocks, dramatic play, and sensory play using outdoor tables or setting up blankets on the ground as centers around your play area. If this is a new investment for your center, it’s important to have systems so toys and supplies can be stored and kept clean. Also, it’s great to have waterproof materials to play with that withstand rain or snow. 

The other philosophy is letting the environment be a third teacher. This philosophy requires that your school or center has access to fields, woods, or other natural outdoor spaces. Letting the environment be the third teacher empowers your students to explore nature on their own, without as many toys or activities set up. They explore with rocks, leaves, and twigs. They can run and create their own games. This might be confusing or awkward for children at first because they are used to having toys and equipment outside. However, by removing some of these pieces, you can help foster children’s imaginations and creativity in new ways.

Logistics:        

Nothing is more important than dressing appropriately for the weather! Remind teachers that they can use the Playground app to send an announcement to the class that they will still be headed outside even though it's cold, or that they can message individual families to send extra clothing. Create a guide for how to dress for colder weather and then send the PDF to the families in the school. Remind families that shirts with thumb holes are great to protect wrists from chilly weather and that children stay warmer when shirts are tucked in! Directors can also send reminders to teachers to wear warmer clothing! The more comfortable teachers are playing outside the more comfortable children will be!

Other logistics of outdoor play are knowing which class or teacher is responsible for bringing new toys outside and storing them appropriately. It is important to remember when children are wearing snow pants that bathrooming might take longer and it’s helpful to have a floater teacher outside to help with coverage to keep in ratio. Thinking about these details ahead of time helps create smooth transitions and positive outdoor experiences for children and adults alike.

Curriculum:

There are so many ways to explore the outside world in winter and fall...  use this as an opportunity to figure out what children are interested in and build upon their natural curiosities! A lot of children are curious about animals and ask questions such as, “how do animals find food in winter?” or “why do bears sleep all winter?” These basic questions are a great transition to indulge those interested in science and might be curious about why water freezes or the properties of snow and ice. Teachers can find ways to do experiments outside by freezing objects in water and then exploring how to get to them or seeing how long it takes the ice to melt. You can paint with frozen paint or add coloring into the water to make ice-pop paint! 

Children will soon be captivated by Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays. Use these current events to find ways to explore objects or themes about those holidays through bringing dramatic play outside. As shared in the article, “Using Dramatic Play As A Tool For Processing” it’s important to both “Mix-it-Up” and “Add Props.” There is so much rich curriculum that can be explored through playing outside!

As days get shorter it’s important for educators to get excited about all the opportunities for this new season. Fallen leaves, snow, ice, and cold add new variety to your outdoor space. It is important that the administration, teachers, and families are all on the same page about the philosophy of outdoor play as well as the logistics. The Playground app can help make sure that communication is quick and easy so that everyone can enjoy their time outside safely and warmly all winter long.

Sasha Kopp is a community early childhood and family engagement consultant for The Jewish Education Project and an adjunct professor at American Jewish University. Sasha has worked in a variety of teaching and administrative roles in early childhood programs in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. You can connect with Sasha through her website at sashakopp.com or through Twitter @SashaKopp.

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