As teachers, we spend a lot of time and thoughtful consideration when choosing learning materials. This week, however, nature did the planning for us. We were all delighted to arrive to a schoolyard covered with snow. Snow is the ultimate, natural, multi-sensory resource offering countless, open-ended opportunities for exploration and playful learning. The winter outdoor environment supports many aspects of our units of inquiry as well as our PE unit.
Arriving to snow covered school grounds was a special kind of magic.
In the Early Years, we have been carefully observing and experiencing seasonal changes in our environment throughout the year. Snow excitement was palpable as Jacob in EY2 eagerly greeted me Monday morning by inquring if I had seen the snow and would we go out to play in it? The children had already made many discoveries about the changing properties of snow, weather and the impact the cold has on the way we need to dress.
Naturally, opportunities to build gross motor skills are abundant during snow play. This was evident as we trekked up the snowy hill for some sledding adventures. The children acted as scientists as they collaboratively developed theories about ways to make the sleds go faster. Lola experimented with using the same patch of hill over and over again until she picked up some speed. Another group of children observed her work and then slowly joined in. Eventually, the group was successful in creating a path that supported their shared goal of sledding faster.
We trekked up the snow hill altogether.
Another group had the idea to make a “Snow Family”. There was negotiation about what that family should look like with rich discussion and debate about how many snow children and where “the snow baby” should sleep. Some children immediately began working on the “mama”. Akiva carefully made a “baby”. After mixed success with creating another grown-up snow person (the big balls kept falling apart upon assembly), Daisy shared her idea that the balls be a “a baby bed” instead. The others agreed and soon the baby snowman had a place to sleep as well as a birthday cake at the suggestion of Letizia. Along the way, there was investigation about how best to create bigger balls for the snow people. It was necessary to compromise, be flexible and to accommodate and build upon the emerging narrative of the “snowman family with a baby who has a birthday”.
The children worked together to build theories about ways to make the sleds ride faster.
Snow is an ideal learning material because it is completely open-ended with limitless possibilities. The children had agency over their play narratives and created their own opportunities for language , storytelling, scientific discoveries, mathematical thinking as well as social and physical development. We teachers were there to support the children to develop their theories and build their understandings, but mostly found that it was best to let the children do the driving. As our youngest learners explored the familiar themes of families, birthdays, fastest/ slowest sledding, the children constructed their own learning in a meaningful way.
The children negotiated about what kind of Snow Family to create.
Cooperation and perseverance were in abundance for a shared goal of creating a Snow Family.
Equally significant is the social context of this outdoor snow exploration. Arriving together to the familiar space of our school field, now transformed to a particular kind of winter loveliness and the child-initiated experiences that followed, are shared moments in time that become part of our collective experience. Joyful memories filled with beauty and connections which are unique to our learning community.
Snow as a natural resource for joyful learning.
Making discoveries and exploring ideas in a changed environment.
Photos by Rebecca Smith, Andrea Mills, Renata Andrez and Eva May Ernst
ICS Early Years Teachers and Teaching Assistants