On my way home from work, I stopped at Giant to get gingerbread supplies. At the check-out, the talk turned to the weather, as it does when winter finally arrives. I mentioned that I teach at an outdoor kindergarten. “You what? Does that even exist? You are outside even on a day like today?”
A day like today. Below freezing, with wind. Sun so bright, our ice art sparkled like the first line of our December poem. Cheeks rosy, breath white. Children layered in fleece and wool, snow pants and jackets, tiny fingers tucked safely away in mittens. Running, tumbling in the grass. A beautiful day.
I read about other outdoor preschools and how they manage cold weather. “As long as it’s above -15℉, we go out,” wrote one teacher. “They can eat apple sauce pouches and cheese sticks with their mittens on,” wrote another about winter snacks. Most of the forest kindergartens I read about are in cold places. Really cold places. Canada, New York, Michigan, Maine, Montana, Norway. A high of 20 here in Maryland is downright balmy. So it’s all a matter of perspective.
We celebrate winter, the ice, the bare trees, the cold on your nose as you run. But we’ll ease into it with some time inside too to warm up and dry out damp mittens. Nature preschool shouldn’t feel like Nature Boot Camp. We want being outside to be fun. Plus for us, being inside is like a reverse field trip!
On Monday, the Salad Science team brought us a Salad Party at lunchtime. The Oaks snipped (and nibbled) lettuce, arugula, baby spinach, sorrel and kale from the garden. They made a beautiful salad, added some toppings and dressing and ate it for dessert. Not all children were as excited about eating salad, but even the reticent ones watched, and one day they might decide it’s time to give the greens a try…
Our topsy turvy week left us with just one day at Hilltop. But we made it count by starting a new project: a Treasure Tree. We found a cool log with branches just right for hanging treasures. So the Oaks dug a deep hole, measured and dug some more, then stood the Treasure Tree up, and hung the first treasure. There will be more to come.
Wednesday we explored, stopping at the pond to hypothesize about how much of the water would freeze, if any. The children were given collecting containers to gather small treasures for ice art. Winter pares nature down until you really see all her fabulous shapes, and any splash of color is a gift.
The Tunnel Log is another gift. “We should stay here ALL DAY!” one child exclaimed. So much to do in one small place. Widening the tunnel so “two children can fit at once,” digging just because, tunneling of course, climbing the magnificent root structure, balancing on the log, and leaping. “Let’s pretend we’re birds! Flap your wings!”
At below zero temperatures on Thursday, we saved our fingers and ate lunch inside on picnic blankets. We then introduced some favorite games, inviting parents to join us in our Games Day. There is so much that happens when children play games. There are rules. You have to agree to play the same game, with the same rules. This is a new world for 4 and 5 year-old children, and not always easy. You have to wait your turn. You might not get what you want. You might not win. You have to pay attention. You might have to figure and figure again. There was a lot of game “taste-testing”, but also some persistence and lots of collaboration.
- Count Down
- What’s Missing?
- Spot it!
- Animal upon Animal
- Three Little Pigs
- Guess Who?
- Hoot Owl Hoot
Then we bundled up to play Freeze Tag outside. The Planet Pal for ice should be named Icy, they agreed. Sunny Ray can melt you if Icy turns you into a frozen icicle. This game too tested the tenuous bonds of rule-bound game playing. Not everyone wanted to be or stay frozen. Being Icy the chaser feels more powerful. We took a lot of turns and soothed some disappointed feelings. Then we ran some more.
We ended our week, the last before Winter Break, on a celebratory note. We hiked past the pond to check on the ice. All frozen! We found that when you crack the ice hard, it shatters in a star shape and makes rainbows!
Then at the mansion, we read The Gingerbread Man, then made and decorated our own gingerbread cookies. Watch out winter, we’ll run and run as fast as we can!