Children in our “neck of the woods” are so lucky to have four distinct seasons to explore and enjoy. Chances are you have heard about the importance of outdoor play, but many of us forget to keep this a regular part of our children’s everyday play during the winter months. As long as the temperature is safe, there are no health risks to being outside in the snow, just benefits! Playing outside allows children to explore nature, develop coordination and strength, as well as gain self-confidence. Here are a few suggestions to enhance your own backyard and take a fresh look at this charming season.
Perhaps the most, obvious benefit of winter outdoor play, is the ever-changing landscape! When you leave your yard at the end of the day, the space will inevitably look different on your return. This offers unlimited educational opportunities for children. A dusting of snow, a new icy layer or fresh animal tacks can capture your child’s interest quickly. Toys may need rescuing from beneath a layer of snow, or fresh animal tracks might spur a conversation to guess who visited your space last night. There is so much to learn about science, nature, and our own physical abilities, while playing in snow.
Winter also inspires great creativity, as the snow itself becomes a tool to engineer and create. Your child might dig a hole for a bed or pile snow for a chair. Heavy wet snow can be perfect for anchoring sticks, boards or milk crates to build sturdy forts. Creating paths, roads, and even obstacles can be an ongoing winter pleasure as the canvas refreshes so often.
Fun Backyard Explorations . . .
Enjoy the birds and bird songs. Notice the birds in your back yard. What color are they? When can you hear them singing? Do they all sound the same? Where do they live? You may enjoy hanging small bundles of nesting materials (yarn, sting, cotton, stuffing, etc.) from your trees to see if birds find them helpful for their homes. (Tip! Use brightly colored yarn/string, so if spotted around your neighborhood nests, you will know just where those clever birds found it!)
Go cloud gazing. Take time to notice the different types of clouds and talk about them with your children. Which clouds bring snow? What colors and shapes do you see in the winter clouds? Take a large mirror outside and place it across your laps as you sit together in the snow. Observe the winter sky from a different angel. If you have washable paint, add white and gray paint to the mirror and recreate the clouds you see. (Tip! Have your child help place painters tape around the frame of your mirror. This will aide in clean up, as well as offer extra fine motor practice.)
Measure yourselves! Snow can be an excellent tool in showing children concrete examples of their own size. Have children lay down in the snow and measure their body imprints, hand and footprints. Give them a yardstick, ruler, blocks and string to size up their impressions. (Tip! Offer a branch or board to help them pull up from their full body impression. This will keep the imprint clear, as well as add an extra-large muscle challenge!) Lie down in the snow beside your child and take a photo of both imprints together. Print this and post it on your fridge to enjoy this experience all season long.
Create colorful ice structures. Fill ice cube trays with water and encourage children to add color with paint, food coloring or bits of nature (twigs, berries, rocks, leaves). Allow cubes to freeze and let children build structures with these blocks. Offering spritz bottles or paintbrushes with water, helps freeze blocks together stabilizing creations. (Tip! For more full-body building, fill Tupperware, ice cream pails, and large bowls with water to freeze.) As you empty containers, fill them back up to continue revisiting and adding to this project in the days ahead.
Assemble a watercolor station. Fill your sled or wagon with fresh snow. Add brushes, branches and paint to explore painting on the snow. (Tip! Liquid watercolors work best.) Bowls, sticks and picture frames may provide further artistic inspiration for you and your child. Consider filling spritz bottles with paint and turning yourselves loose on the HUGE snowy canvas of your entire back yard. You’ll have a ball covering your entire space with color, then peeking out your window to admire your grand masterpiece together.
Take photos and make a book. Take photos of your child’s creations and talk about them. Make a book documenting the structures and stories. This will allow you to enjoy your 2020 backyard adventure for years to come- as well as start dreaming bigger dreams for next winter.
Our Favorite Winter Backyard Enhancements. . .
- Milk crates
- Birch branches and logs
- Paint cans
- Authentic pots, pans, muffin tins, colanders
- Cable spools
- Drain tubing
- PVC pipes and fittings
- Liquid watercolors & spritz bottles
Most importantly, take the time to bundle up and get outside with your child this season. Take a moment to remember the ways you embraced winter as a child and relive those memories with the little ones in your family. Your own joy and appreciation will spread to them. Be present, be silly, and be curious as you rediscover your own beautiful snow covered backyard this winter.
Sara Reichstadt is the Education Coordinator for the six NAEYC-accredited Twin Cities Kinderberry Hill Child Development Centers. Sara earned a bachelor’s degree in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota, where she trained in the Shirley G. Moore Lab School. Sara, who has been with Kinderberry Hill since 1999, has taught in infant, toddler and preschool classrooms as well as serving in management positions. As Education Coordinator, Sara helps implement curriculum, offer classroom support and conduct teacher trainings. Sara is also a MNCPD (Minnesota Center for Professional Development) registered trainer in the SEEDS of Early Literacy Program. She is passionate about early education and helping children, teachers and families. Sara has two young children and knows firsthand the importance of a quality early education.