Winter is often thought of as a time of inactivity. The plants are resting, many birds have migrated to warmer climates and many mammals are hidden while they rest underground or in some other place hidden from human eyes. But it is within this season of rest that the possibilities for innovative play and problem solving grow immensely.
The autumn and winter seasons allow the trees a time to drop the branches and leaves that they no longer need. This provides us with plenty of loose parts under the trees for building.
The changing weather allows us to learn and play in an ever changing environment, creating new challenges, excitements and discoveries each and every week. One week we could be stomping through a gigantic puddle, wondering if there may be a crocodile lurking in its depths and the next we could be surrounded by the wonders of ice; sliding chunks across the frozen lake, testing how carefully we needed to work with the ice in order to carry a really big piece without it smashing.
A wonderful aspect of working outdoors with children is that nature provides the vast majority of materials for us to play with. The tools and supplies we bring in are carefully picked to work with the natural elements and not to distract from them. Bowls and ladles from our sand kitchen brought together with snow, ice, mud and imagination saw the creation of what could possibly be the next Vancouver ice cream hot spot! Serving scoops so good that each bowl cost hundreds or thousands of dollar depending on what flavour you wanted.
At Out and About Adventures, we work to expand the definition of “toy”. A stick, a rope, a friendly tree and a few good knots are all that is needed to create a wonderful swing. Children are often in awe while watching our facilitators build a familiar playground favourite, fairly quickly and with simple supplies. This session, some of our adventurers were inspired to create their own. They worked with creating swings to hang off of. Swings to sit on. Short swings, long swing. Swings for one and swings for many.
This interest quickly translated into an interest in tying knots of their own and what better way to practice than by tying up a friend! This activity is thrilling for a child and often sees the whole group coming together to help one another tie and untie knots and even sometimes conspiring as a team on the best way to trap the willing and enthusiastic adult or child.
We followed up on this interest in ropes and knots by bringing a pulley and bucket to add to our ropes. This is always a wonderful problem solving activity in many ways. For many children, this is the first time seeing such a mechanism. What is it? How does it work? How do we use it? There are a lot of questions and one of the great things about it is figuring out what role is can play within their creative play narratives. It is also an excellent opportunity to work with turn taking. Only so many children can pull it at once which leads to wonderful conversations on what is fair for the group as a whole. This is a time for our facilitators to actively observe and give the children space to figure out how to work together in community (only stepping if help is truly needed through modelling and asking questions about the emotions of everyone involved).
Community building is woven through our everyday lives at Trout Lake. Since we are outside, we are surrounded by the public and city workers and are able to observe them doing their jobs throughout the park. One day, there was a digger by one of our play spots. After checking in with the workers that it was safe for us to be in that space, we played alongside them and watched them at their work. When they were finished and heading out, they made sure to show off for our little ones before they left; waving to them with the shovel part of the machine and saying a cheerful goodbye.
Each week of our program, growth happens. Social, emotional, cognitive and physical development is amazing in the early years and all of these things are able work together in outdoor learning environments. As the children’s relationship and trust in their peers and their facilitators grow, so too does their knowledge base as they observe and ask questions about the things around them, and so too does their trust in their own bodies and their ability to handle the physical challenges an outdoor learning environment offers. The last couple of weeks of this term saw children taking to the trees. At one point, nobody had their feet on the ground and a people were busy tying knots, having a chat or simply having a quiet moment of rest among the supportive branches of our friendly cedar trees.
We finished off our season by making some bird feeders to bring home and help support our neighbourhood wildlife while we all make the transition into spring.