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!

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.

Treasured Moments

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Much of the content featured in this blog might seem intimidating to some. A lot of what I’ve posted about necessitates some kind of planning or forethought, but I also wanted to share the other side. Most of life is not made up of pre-planned curriculum. Instead, many of the most beautiful learning moments happen naturally while children play.

What dictates how much value your children receive in these moments and how much they will be able to thrive as curious and independent learners has to do with your attitude. If you dismiss and limit these moments (example: “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty!” “Don’t be silly, there’s not really a pink three-headed monster hiding behind that bush,” “It’s too __________ to go outside”) you pass on your biases and limitations to your children. You are creating the very box that you will demand they learn to think outside of as they grow.

Alternatively, cherish those small moments. While they may seem insignificant at the time, they are not only setting the course of your relationship with your child (possibly the single biggest predictor of later success), but they are going to act as a trove for future inspiration.

Here are some photos from a walk we took in September, just as summer was getting ready to melt into Autumn bliss. We didn’t know where we were going or what lay ahead. We had a lunch bag full of snacks, and an adventurous spirit one afternoon while visiting H’s grandparents and decided we needed to get outside.

One of the reasons that this was such a memorable excursion for us was that it was spontaneous. This removed a lot of the stress and work from it. We had no expectations other than to go outside. Another big reason that this was one of my favourite outings was that the natural environment provides so many deep and valuable opportunities for learning. Here are some of the concepts/play that emerged that day:

  • Bridges – we crossed a bridge and while we didn’t spend time making explicit observations, things that can be extracted (either right then or in the future when photos and memories are revisited) are that bridges usually join two things, in this case, two different types of terrain. This bridge signaled that we were leaving behind the pavement and traffic of the city and about to slip into a natural escape.
  • Shadows – not only are shadows fun, but if a child spends enough time playing with shadows, he learns that the size and position of shadows are linked to something greater, in this case, the sun. My daughter’s most frequent observation about shadows, is “Look! I’m big!” as she excitedly imagines herself much taller than she actually is.  There’s a lot of cool stuff that can be done with shadows, some of which I hope to explore in a future post.
  • Bugs – My guess is that most children are not inherently afraid of bugs. It is a learned behaviour, so try to control your squirms. My daughter marveled at discovering multiple ladybugs on the slide and we talked about how many spots they had and how they had wings hidden under their shells (she was elated to see them fly away). My summers were filled with trying to catch grasshoppers in my backyard and enumerating the variety of bugs my brother and I could find.
  • Pebbles/Sand – Some of the newer playgrounds now have this rubber type of floor but as an educator, I love the pebble/sand-filled playgrounds. The volume of loose parts this provides and the potential for open-ended play makes them significant.  Through the pictures, you can see my daughter using an empty Starbucks bottle she found on the playground to fill and pour pebbles and then later using these pebbles as “money” to for the ice cream she ordered.
  • Natural found items – At one point, I asked my daughter to find anything she thought was beautiful and place it on the platform where I was sitting. I joined her in this task and at the end we admired our collection. The park is filled with so many varying and rich materials – drawing children’s attention to their properties can help create an eye for detail.
  • Dandelion Puffs– On our walk back home, we stopped to rest in a field where dandelion puffs blossomed in abundance. H was intrigued by these and I showed her how we can make a wish/duah and blow them away. It’s truly a magical moment for children to witness the dandelion seeds blowing into the wind.

We didn’t bring any toys or special equipment on this trip. All we had was time and a sense of peace that filled the space. So if you’re at a loss about what to do with your child, take a deep breath and head outside. Let go of your expectations and follow your child’s lead.