Snow Play

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One of the best parts of winter is getting outside and playing in the snow. I’ve come across quite a few people (cough* adults* cough) who hate winter because it’s cold. I admit, winter is cold. But it can be a lot more enjoyable for you and your family if you find reasons to get outside.

You don’t have to be a “ski family” to take advantage of winter (although, I do aspire to become one at some point). Something as simple as just going for a walk and stopping to observe changes can make winter more pleasant. Not to mention that winter is full of rich opportunities for learning and development across various domains. Here are some photos of us at play in the winter.

1.Take a walk: Sometimes the simple act of walking outside can lead to discoveries and rich exploration.

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Earlier this winter when we were playing in our local playground, my daughter became entranced by the sheer number of geese that kept flying overhead. Soon she started making the association between honking and geese flying above so as soon as she heard the honking, she would stop and say, “Momma! The Geese are coming!” She hypothesized about where they were going (to work and to look for food, specifically waffles). These ideas prompted us to borrow a book from the library called Honk, Honk, Goose!

In the past, one of H’s favourite things to do was to pull at snow-covered Evergreen tree branches and get a face full of snow.

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As temperatures started to drop and rise, H discovered icicles. Here she can be seen breaking off icicles and using them to draw in the snow.

In the past, she has also drawn with twigs and marveled at how big her shadow becomes on the beautiful white canvas that freshly fallen snow leaves behind.

One of H’s favourite discoveries from this winter was to see how as ice forms and melts, it creates routes for water to travel. She became fascinated by this “river” that was flowing outside of our house and checks regularly to see if has come back.

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She made similar discoveries when she went under the slide at our local park and watched ice dripping.

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She was also captivated by the water flowing out of the eavestrough/gutter. She insisted it was water for Dora (her snowman) to drink.

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Another fun thing children are usually drawn to while outside is making and looking for footprints. It’s fun to retrace our own steps as we walk in a circle or try to determine what animal created the footprints we see while on our walk.

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There is a lot of opportunity for rich discussion while going on walks. Children will point out things that you may have never noticed and share their theories with you. The following exchange happened with us as we passed by some bare trees:

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“Plants grow. There are very different plants. Big ones and small ones. Momma ones and bushy ones. Don’t you love how they grow?”

2. Visit the Park: The reality that it is covered with snow will add an extra layer of novelty and challenge.

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H loves going to the park, no matter the weather. While this year she discovered it’s quite difficult to swing in the winter with the snow being so high and the swing being so low, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year.

She did, however, find other reasons to love the park this year: she loves the gross motor challenge that climbing over snow banks provides. She spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to climb over and slide down walls of snow.

She also enjoyed cleaning off the slide and didn’t mind landing on her bum. What ordinarily might cause tears resulted in hysterical laughter as she tried to get up off the snow.

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I also introduced some basic physics to this experience – I made a snowball and let it slide down the hot slide on a sunny day. H had fun racing against the snowball while she pondered about how smoothly it slid and how it became smaller by the time it reached the bottom. We raced different sizes of snowballs.

3. Create: There is something so beautiful and inviting about a blanket of white snow- like a canvas beckoning.

Snow is one of those versatile mediums that can be completely empowering or very discouraging depending on other weather conditions and what you are trying to achieve. H wanted to build a snowman for so many days but the conditions just didn’t work for us. Finally as temperatures started warming up, the snow started packing together and we were able to finally build a snowman this year. Mind you, it melted by the end of the day and she was a little sad.

Other classics include snow angels and forts. This winter we brought sand toys to the park and used them as molds.

We also found this cool structure at a different park although we didn’t hang out too long since the floor was all iced over and H slipped as she tried to run across.

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Other fun ideas could include using coloured water in spray bottles to paint pictures on the snow. I remember going on a field trip as a child in Ontario (which is full of maple trees). We tapped sap and added it to fresh snow to make (and eat) taffy. It was a great experience!

4. Travel through the snow and ice: Many modern winter sports seem to have originated from people simply trying to travel over snow and ice. Even though we have found more efficient ways of doing so, these activities have become great hobbies.

Our family is not particularly athletic so here are some ideas in case your family isn’t either!

Pull your child through the snow on a sled. While sledding downhill is fun, with younger children, a pull sled may be easier. Last winter before my daughter was comfortable (and fast enough) to walk long distances in the snow, I would strap her in the sled to take her to playdates in our neighbourhood. This worked out well for me since I was usually carrying food.

Snowshoeing is an easy winter activity. Last year, we rented snowshoes from the University of Calgary and headed over to Confederation park. We brought extra rope and attached my daughter’s sled to a caribiner on our backpack to pull her along hand’s free. This year, I hope to get H to try out snowshoes for herself!

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Dog sledding was another easy winter activity we tried last year. H really enjoyed this activity. She got to sit cozily in the sled and quickly learned the commands. It was quite cute to hear her yelling “mush!” She also got to interact with the dogs which is something she enjoys doing (but doesn’t have much opportunity to in her daily life).

Next winter (post-pregnancy), I hope to be able to go skating and cross country skiing with H. By then, I can push baby along in the stroller (and lean on the stroller for support as I brush up on my skating skills) or use a covered ski pull during cross country skiing.

5. Bring in the snow: If all else fails, bring some snow indoors!

Depending on how much snow you use, how particular you are about mess and whether you have a water table at your house, you can structure this experience to meet your needs.

When H was about 14 months, I would bring snow inside the house for her to play with. You can use a shallow container, but I just used a table cloth near the entrance of our door. You can add tools (I just added things from around the house) and other loose parts depending on if your child will mouth them. H was pretty good about fine-motor play and didn’t try to eat everything. On this day, she played with dried kidney beans and stayed engaged for a long time.

In Calgary, we are also blessed with chinooks. This means that the temperature can get ridiculously warm while we still have snow on the ground. On those kinds of days, we would bring H out to the porch and play with the snow there. Here she is exploring and making snow muffins with her dad.

Here are some photos of children I worked with exploring snow in an indoor setting (at a water table).

Along with bringing in snow, you can freeze ice all year long to use for sensory play. Here are some photos of ice blocks I froze over the summer with my students. I froze small items in big blocks of ice so multiple children could play at once.

This was just an overview of the easy winter/snow play we did over the past few years. I hope it has given you some ideas to make your winter more enjoyable!

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Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

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The holidays were a really nice time for our family this year. The break from work, preschool and other day-to-day activities afforded us the opportunity to host and entertain. Our house saw its fair share of pint-sized visitors as H’s social circle continues to grow. While each playdate was special in it’s own way, this one was particularly meaningful because it felt just like the “good old days” when these friends used to live just next door.

I can’t quite remember how H become acquainted with the Gingerbread Man. I know she’s heard of him indirectly through some of the media she has consumed, but perhaps it was the purchase of a Gingerbread Man cookie cutter that really set things in motion for us. Since then, we have read the book and continue to find other ways to bring the story to life.

I’ve never made gingerbread cookies before but followed this simple recipe that can be found here. I adapted it by cutting out the spices and just using a club house pumpkin spice blend. I made the dough just before the girls arrived because I knew time would be tight considering the energy levels of the 6, 4 and 3 year old I’d be spending the day with.

Basically, after a family-style breakfast of homemade pancakes and fruit, I called the girls, one-by-one to wash their hands and roll out the dough. My reason for doing in one-on-one was simple: my extra rolling pins were being used for playdough at Grandma’s house so we only had one. I also thought it might get chaotic trying to help all 3 of them at once so instead we took turns. While I worked independently with one child, my husband played soccer with the others. I remember how patiently and eagerly the girls waited for their turns, peeking at what was going on. They each picked cookie cutters that appealed to them and cut out some shapes. I had made sugar cookies using cookie cutters with H earlier that month and knew how much she loved using them. Fortunately, this dough was definitely easier to work with.

I was surprised by how all of the girls jumped right in – they did not wait for instruction and just started rolling and cutting. It was a bit of a learning process and I was okay with this guided learning since I knew the decorating portion would be free.

As the cookies baked and cooled, the girls engaged in dress up play. Once again, my husband’s playful nature made the experience so much fun! When the cookies were finally ready, I tried to present the various elements in a beautiful way, as to invite the children to interact with them.

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The invitation worked! I was so intrigued as they worked so quietly and carefully decorating their cookies. I looked at how they had a vision of what they wanted, which candy they prefered to use, how they held the icing tubes and their intentional design choices like patterning. Given the variation of age and developmental levels, it was valuable for me as an educator to see the different approaches and think about all of the different skills this process was helping to develop and reinforce. Also, given the open-ended nature of this part of the process, I was able to just sit back and observe- something I love to do!

Along with the differences, there were commonalities: all of the girls were so excited to make, decorate, eat and share their cookies. They were all so proud of their creations –  they were literally beaming and that moment of self-validation was so rewarding for me to see.

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The cookies were yummy. The girls had them for snack with milk and took home the leftovers. Now a little secret to share with you about children and eating (especially for picky eaters): INVOLVE THEM IN THE PROCESS! Children have an affinity towards eating something they have helped cook. For some reason, it just tastes better to them if they’ve stuck their ooey-gooey fingers in it (lol okay so that’s not the scientific reason; their desire to eat is more of a socioeomtional one because they feel ownership over the outcome). As for our the rest of our work with the Gingerbread Man, I will post updates as things shape up.

 

I Like Pumpkins- Post #7: Reflections

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When I decided to do some focused work around pumpkins this year, I knew there was a danger of traditional thematic learning hijacking best practices around early learning. While I know the experiences and activities were valuable, I had a nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me the approach wasn’t right – it wasn’t responsive, nor was it guided by H’s big questions.

I thought about developmental domains that were underrepresented and activity ideas that could enhance them, like content surrounding growth and gardening, additional sensory experiences like making and playing with pumpkin spice playdough, tangibly exploring different types of pumpkins and cooking and eating more pumpkin-based dishes. I also became acutely aware of the lack of opportunity to engage with art. But again, these ideas were coming from me and not necessarily respecting H’s interests.

Not only does this go against the vision I have for myself as an educator, but it also feels uncomfortable – I just spent the entire summer planning environments emergently (something I will share in future posts). And here I was planning and implementing around a theme. Sigh.

Moving forward, I want to dig deeper. Having meetings is a good place to start. What this entails is meeting with the children and determining their interests, what they want to learn about, their existing knowledge about the topic and what skills they need to develop. Then webbing and altering those webs so that they are responsive as time progresses.

I have a few more posts to draft and publish about activities we’ve done recently, but moving forward, a lot of my time is being spent on observing and planning.

I look forward to sharing the process with you!

 

I Like Pumpkins- Post #6: Numerical Connections

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When you read up on early childhood education (ECE), there is a lot of talk surrounding literacy and numeracy (I intend to do an overview of ECE jargon in a future post). Numeracy, in a nutshell is being literate about numbers. While traditionally there has been a big focus on mathematics, we know that children can start understanding numerical concepts at a very early age, and that deep understanding of concepts will hopefully lead to better success with mathematics later in life.

I am more inclined towards language arts so the way that I interact with H in our day-to-day life naturally highlights those aspects. Numbers and math do not come as naturally to me so I have to make more of an effort to think about how I can incorporate opportunities to focus on those elements. With this activity I wanted to deepen H’s counting skills and introduce her to measurement.

H has never done a worksheet. You have to understand that in the way I was trained, worksheet is almost a bad word. So I designed my own “worksheet” (I use the term loosely here) as a way to not only improve upon her (visual) literacy skills, but to provide a place to record information.

I chose three everyday objects and drew a quick picture of them. Instead of telling her what the objects were, I asked her to identify them (she thought my pen was a crayon and that’s okay). I asked her to find the objects in our house and bring them back to me. This was a fun mini scavenger hunt and in an attempt to introduce more french into our day-to-day lives, I shared the french names of the items with her.  We then used pumpkin seeds (our unit of measurement) to measure length.

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We had a conversation around what is longer or shorter; whether more seeds were needed or less and the consistent orientation of the seeds. H really enjoyed this experience and wanted to keep measuring. So this time I asked her to identify three objects she wanted to measure. On the back of the sheet I quickly drew them and she started measuring.

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I took a more hands off approach, curious to see where things would go. She ended up measuring around the fish and the pom pom so I introduced words like perimeter and circumference.

If you were to ask her what those words meant today, she would not know. But by labelling things then, I have created a tangible memory she can refer back to the next time those concepts come up. Also, by adding a physical/sensory aspect to math and counting, it has impressioned her brain differently than simply talking about numbers (an abstract concept) would.

Ideally I would have left the container of seeds for her to explore on her own in the coming days, but I ate all of them. Blame the baby.

I Like Pumpkins- Post #5: Gutting Time

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This year we bought two pumpkins. The idea was to use the first one for lots of hands-on activities that would essentially render the first pumpkin inedible, and use the second one for baking and cooking.

As I mentioned in the introductory post, our pumpkin work got off to a late start. And with my decreased energy levels, we worked through this series rather slowly. In fact, our first pumpkin started losing shape (thats my discrete way of saying that is started to rot) and my husband kept insisting we throw them both out. This was shortly after halloween and the City was collecting pumpkins. I kept saying that we would be cutting it open tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow finally came. And might I say…

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EWWWWW!

So I explained to my daughter that the pumpkin had rotted and was full of fungus. This invited a lot of questions. In the moment, I gave her a simple explanation (the water we had used in our initial washing off the pumpkins had seeped in and led to fungal growth, the same way we sometimes discover fungus-filled produce in our fridge). It also provided an opportunity to learn about day-to-day life (how to handle and store produce). In hindsight, this would have been a good starting place for doing an inquiry-based project together. Older children could definitely explore ideas surrounding decomposition, fertilizer and what happens to excess produce on farms and in grocery stores.

So clearly we did not want to consume those seeds. We threw away the first pumpkin and I made an executive decision to cut into the other one – there would be no puree this year (and I was secretly relieved).

H was not as interested in sensory play this year as she was last year.She really enjoyed getting into the pumpkin last year and pulling at the wet strings and carefully removing the seeds. This year, she removed some seeds and then lost interest. I was left alone to remove the rest of them and roast them.

We did make a fascinating discovery while removing the seeds – some of them had started sprouting!

I hope we can make reference to these sprouting seeds in the spring when we do some gardening. H has asked to grow/care for a tomato plant this year.

I Like Pumpkins- Post #4: Hammer Time!

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Not only was I excited about this part of our pumpkin work because MC Hammer’s lyrics kept running through my head, but I was really excited to get my little girl her first real tool! This idea was actually inspired by something H did in her preschool class this year (and then I realized it was all over the internet too!)

This activity basically consists of providing children with a big pumpkin, golf tees (or any other kind of safe peg) and a hammer. I know some people are weary about handing off hammers to their toddlers. If you really want to play it safe, use a toy hammer or a wooden block (I say this begrudgingly), but I strongly recommend you allow them to handle authentic tools and materials. Not only will the experience be more authentic, but it will affect how they view themselves – hopefully as competent and intelligent learners that can be trusted with real things.

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Show them how to use it first. Hold their hand a few times, guiding the motion it required. Talk to them about the level of force that needs to be used. My daughter was having trouble holding both the pegs, and the hammer, so I held the pegs for her (while quietly praying she wouldn’t smash my fingers).

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While a five-year old may be able to do this independently, I stayed close by, providing active supervision. H was excited to try this but didn’t do it for more than ten-fifteen minutes. At the preschool, there were children who hammered in nearly 100 pegs being super engaged in the process.

This activity can be extended by showing the children how to remove the pegs- either manually, or by using the back of the hammer to wedge them out. In addition to fostering fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and self-esteem, this experience can be used to augment numeracy and math skills too. You can  give the children elastic bands to stretch over the pegs in different shapes (like a geoboard) and explore geometry as well as count the number of pegs used (this is a great time to practice counting in a second language!)

I purchased this child-sized hammer at the Home Depot for less than $8.00. My husband was a little bit confused about why our then two-year old daughter needed a real hammer but I’m sure we will do more projects with it over the summer. You can buy golf tees in the sports department of any store, or if you need to be frugal, post an ad online or visit a golf course and ask them for any loose golf tees they may have lying around.

I can also happily report that H has taken an active interest in tools over the past few weeks. Not only has her fondness of Paw Patrol and Animal Mechanicals contributed to this budding interest, but she has been engaging with a dramatic play tool set and asking us the names of the various tools as she has seen lying around the house. Further fostering her interest in using tools would be a good application of emergent curriculum.

I Like Pumpkins- Post #3: Let’s Talk about Feelings

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In our family, we don’t celebrate halloween but I love the idea of using pumpkins for something beyond cooking. H doesn’t yet have the fine motor control to carve intricate designs (I’m not sure that I do either) but I feel like pumpkins make a good canvas, so to speak. On our trip to Cobb’s Corn Maze, we got a really cool no-carve decorating kit that reminded me of Mr. Potato Head. It contained different facial features that could be pierced into the pumpkin and make faces. I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore and discuss various emotions.

I complimented the opportunity by adding a mirror and asking H to look at her own face. We practiced expressions like happy, sad, angry, and scared, talking about things that made us feel that way. We sometimes replicated these feelings on her pumpkin and then experimented with Mr. Potato Head. She really enjoyed this experience but I wish I would have added a book about feelings- something that could go deeper than these four basic emotions. Having the proper comprehension and vocabulary surrounding expressing one’s self is a lifelong gift that can greatly enhance the quality of relationships.

Adding in the mirror also adds an interesting aspect – children can start to notice the way their facial features change when they experience different emotions and then eventually start reflecting these changes in visual representations, depictions and artwork. They can also start to interpret what these changes in other people’s faces signify, leading to socioemotional growth.

Years ago I had a mentor who employed a strategy that I loved and adopted. When a child does something to hurt another child (alternatively, it can be used when they have caused any emotion, including a positive one), draw the child’s attention to the other child’s face. It can be quite powerful for a child to really notice and internalize another person’s emotions.

Example:

Annie and David are playing with the blocks. David is carefully building a tower and Annie decides to knock it over. David starts to cry. Instead of telling Annie to “say sorry” to David, ask her to look at David’s face. How does his face look? Get her to notice, acknowledge and assign meaning to that facial expression. And then continue to use questions to prompt an appropriate reaction. So if Annie acknowledges that David looks sad, you can continue to ask her why David might feel sad. After she responds, ask her what she could do to make David feel better? If she says something like “say sorry,” “give him a hug,” “help him re-build his tower” ask David what he thinks about those ideas and go with a course of action that both children agree to.

This strategy puts us adults in a facilitative role while equiping children with the skills and tools they will need to grow to independently resolve their own conflicts.