When you plan for outdoor play experiences in four seasons, you can follow a basic outline that describes the invitation, the process that you are planning for, the materials that will be needed, possible variations and the resulting learning and development. Each of the photos depicts play that is possible only in a particular season. By clicking the words below each photo, you will see possibilities for programming in all weathers and times of year.
Snow and Ice
Invitation: Place buckets and shovels in the outdoor environment for children to collect snow and ice. Once these are collected, children will naturally want to construct a sculpture or create a design.
The Process: Depending on the conditions, children may need to chop at the ice or snow to create chunks that can be used in their creations. Filling the buckets will be a challenge that can be a collaborative process of children working together. Once the buckets are filled, you can engage the children in a dialogue of what they can make. Record their ideas and give them an opportunity to either vote on what they want to do or reach consensus. Explain to the children what the differences are between majority rules and consensus. You can also give children the freedom to decide spontaneously about their creation.
Materials: Buckets, shovels, snow and ice.
Variations: Freeze water in buckets to add to the ice and snow creations.
Learning and Development: Children will learn that play is possible in all weather and when dressed appropriately, winter offers interesting opportunities to try new experiences. As children extract and collect snow and ice, they will be faced with problems that will require solving. They will need to select the appropriate tools and strategies to solve their problems. Working together collaboratively supports children’s social and emotional development. As children create representations using the snow and ice, they will be able to make connections to other experiences and to communicate with each other. Experiencing vote taking and consensus taking, children learn about the importance of including everyone’s voice. The process of vote taking and consensus gives children opportunities to count and compare.
Ice Sculpture and Creativity
Invitation: Have some paintings by different artists available near the experience centre. Discuss with the children what they see in the different works of art. Ask questions about how they could create a piece of art using the materials within the environment and using the snow as their canvas.
The Process: Encourage children to find a blank piece of snow that they may use for their art creation. Put water and a large brush in a container and add a few drops of dye such as from carrots or beets for the colouring, or liquid paint. Have yellow, red and blue available so the children can experiment with the mixing of primary colours. Have them start with yellow then add some red, then add some blue. Show them that they can make new colours with just these three primary colours. Encourage children to create a piece of art and observe what happens as their colours slowly fade from the snow.
Materials: New unused toilet brushes and container, water, natural dye or liquid paint.
Variations: Use spray bottles instead of brushes.
Learning and Development: Learning about colours and using those colours to express ideas is done in a new and exciting way outside in the snow. The canvas is large and invites children to use their imaginations to think big and create larger than life designs not usually practical in the typical indoor classroom. Because of the snow as a canvas, children will need to practice careful movement when placing the paint onto their brushes so as not to spill. Children will use their colour recognition skills to place each brush back in the appropriate holder. Children will also learn to respect each other’s boundaries so that their artwork is not trampled on or splattered by someone else.
Dirt and Insects
Invitation: Anywhere there is a patch of dirt, there is an opportunity to collect insects. Children can dig with their hands, shovels or sticks. Once they find a specimen, they can use tweezers, forceps or their hands to capture it for further observation using the specimen jars.
The Process: After observing and identifying, the insects can be released back into their natural world. Before beginning the hunt for insects, discuss the release of the insects with the children so that they may build a respect for the creatures of the earth. Once captured, look for evidence of antennae, wings, legs, body parts (head, thorax and abdomen) and an exoskeleton (their skeleton is on the outside). Classify and record the insects that were found. Children can count the parts of the insects. Give children the opportunity to take photos and create drawings before they are released. For more information on insect collection see: http://www.kidactivities.net/category/Science-Kids-Collecting-Insects.aspx.
Materials: Butterfly nets, insect specimen jars made from bottles and lids, butterfly nets, magnifying glasses, tweezers or forceps
Variations: Look for insects under rocks, on bark, or under logs.
Learning and Development: Children can count the legs of the insects noting that if there are more than six legs, the specimen (such as a spider) is an arachnid not an insect. Children exercise mathematical and scientific thinking when classifying insects and recording their findings. Helping children to make connections to the creatures of the earth will encourage environmental stewardship.
Leaves and Feet
Invitation: The leaves that cover the ground in the fall are a natural invitation for unstructured play. There is not much prompting needed for children to want to run, jump and hide.
The Process: As long as there are leaves on the ground, a pile of leaves will serve as an invitation to play. Invite the children to play in the leaves and observe the play. Children will naturally throw, jump and hide in the leaves. You may want to limit the number of children in the pile depending on the size of the area for play. Having other experiences set up for rotation would ensure that hidden children are safe.
Variations: Collect leaves to create larger piles for play. Add wheelbarrows, wagons and pails to the area for children to collect and transport the leaves.
Learning and Development: Adventurous and exuberant play supports children’s full body development. There is great value to supporting an element of adventure or risk in children’s play. If rough and tumble play occurs, children will develop skills to overcome being hurt. Disappearing in leaves gives children a thrilling experience, adding to the sense of identity and independence. The experience supports their problem-solving skills and understanding of cause and effect.
Sticks and Stones
Invitation: Set up a display of different sized sticks. Introduce the concept of sorting by asking the children to tell you about how they see the sticks grouped. Have the children determine other ways that the sticks could be grouped.
The Process: Lay a sheet on the ground and have the children collect items from the surrounding area such as sticks, stones, pinecones, seeds, and twigs. Have the children add their findings to the display presented. Then ask the children to begin sorting the new items. Use words with the children such as I see long sticks here, short ones here. When the children have finished sorting, have them look at the sorted piles and decide if they can be sorted another way. By colour? By two or more similarities, etc.
Materials: Sheet, materials collected to sort (sticks, rocks, acorns, leaves, twigs).
Variations: Once children have sorted and classified their natural loose parts, have them look at their shoes. How could they group them (colour, size, laces, Velcro, type etc.)? Have the children in shoe groups go on a scavenger hunt for items to sort.
Learning and Development: Sorting experiences provide the foundation for later math and science experiences. Sorting experiences support children in observation skills, differentiating between specific characteristics and determining the similarities and differences. Children will learn to recognize the similarities and differences by having practice at grouping items based on different criteria. Children may practice math skills by counting the number of objects in the sorted groups and figuring out which is the smallest and largest group. Vocabulary skills are practiced as children are asked to describe what characteristics they used to sort the items.
Puddles and Boots
Invitation: Invite children to explore puddles as they develop knowledge about the consequence of weather. Ensure that families understand the importance of children having rain boots and appropriate clothing for any outdoor weather conditions.
The Process: Give children the freedom to explore the puddles and the effects of the actions on the puddle. What happens when they jump in the puddle? Give children the opportunity to observe the puddle over time. Does it get bigger or smaller the next day? Children can theorize about the puddle and think about big ideas such as evaporation and why water collects in puddles. Children can reflect on puddles and how they reflect the sky or themselves. They can see what happens when stones or sticks are thrown into the puddle. Children can also scoop up water in puddles using sand toys like shovels and pails.
Materials: Rubber boots, sticks, stones, shovels, pails, mirrors.
Variations: The child can adopt a puddle and create stories about the puddle. Add water and pipes to the puddle to encourage children to expand their exploration of the puddle.
Learning and Development: Reggio educator, Vea Vecchi (2010) describes puddles as “an upside fragment of the world” (p. 121). Vecchi describes what children can observe when they move closer to the puddle and the image that appears becomes larger. Children can reflect upon why when they move away the order is reversed. Children can also observe the changes in the puddle and their reflections as the weather changes, supporting their development of scientific knowledge. By becoming connected to a puddle, children can experience environmental stewardship as they care for the puddle similar to how they would care for other parts of the environment.