Tag Archives: Winter

Winter Yard 2

We plan go outside to play every day throughout the year in all types of weather. In winter there is only one restriction that I put on our outdoor time – we don’t go on long hikes. We do still go on some shorter walks on warmer days but on cold days we just stay in the yard.

In winter the weather conditions are unpredictable. Even on short walks we’ve discovered that what feels like a lovely mild winter day can suddenly feel like a blizzard when you round a corner and face the wind. Toddlers in particular can go from comfortable to too cold in a very short period of time and the return trip will be nearly impossible if we’ve wandered very far.

My yard is sheltered from the wind and faces South so it gets plenty of sunlight. There are very rarely days that we feel are too cold to go outside to play – in fact, this year so far there have been no days that we didn’t venture outside for at least a little time. There may be days that are too cold to sit or stand outside and do nothing, but the children don’t do this and neither do I. When we are outside I spend the majority of my time ‘sculpting’ the yard.

Yard sculpting is a continuous process which some of the children enjoy helping me create but most just ‘use’. There are some children who would still love playing in the snow if I did nothing to the yard at all. Others – especially the littlest ones – sometimes find the snow and ice frustrating. I don’t want them to become discouraged and end up sitting somewhere shivering – learning only that winter is simply a miserable cold season.

I have a fairly small yard – only about 650 square feet – so I make the most of it by ensuring there are some special places and enough variety that no one gets too bored. There are many different spaces and activities to keep the children engaged, moving, exploring and most importantly enjoying their winter play experience. The little ‘cave’ under the cedars which provides a natural shelter from the hot summer sun also provides shelter from the cold winter wind.

The tipi is a constructed shelter which also serves as a storage area for loose parts. All our warm weather toys are not available here in the winter but we still have our pots, sticks and pipes.

Instead of toys I’ve added some coloured blocks of ice. I thought the children might like to use them for building blocks but so far they mostly just use them as hockey pucks.

As the children run and play I use my shovel to clear snow from some areas and pile it in others. I don’t just have one path from the house to the gate, I have multiple interconnecting trails that allow the children to go over and around obstacles. There are places to climb, jump, roll or slide and places to build and dig;

There are six circles to run around, five tunnels to crawl through, a bridge to go over, many steps/stumps, four different elevations to provide a variety of viewpoints, some flat open areas for building or playing group games and two hills. All together there is roughly 250 feet of trail with many forks and endless route options.

When I’m not shoveling I’m packing the trails. My Fitbit has auto-recognized a 30 minute hike while I repeatedly walked all the circles and loops around my yard. It is not unusual for a little toddler train to follow along behind me while I traverse the trails. When people marvel at the super long summer hikes my toddlers are capable of, I point out that summer hikes are pretty easy compared to our winter adventures on ice and snow while bundled in layers of heavy clothing.

Most of the pictures in this post were taken before the last big snowfall so we do have a little more snow than what is shown here – we would still like much more though. Sure, we love the other seasons too but we’re not tired of winter yet so come on Mother Nature – let it snow!

Frigid Cold

I’ve been working on a post about our winter yard and what we like to do out there. I will not have time to complete that post today but I did want to write a quick post about the weather.

Today’s weather forecast states the high temperature will be minus 25 C with wind chill of minus 44 in the morning and minus 35 in the afternoon. Yet, the children and I will still be going outside for at least a brief period of time.

Why? Well, first of all, any of the children who arrive here today will have at some point had to go outside so saying ‘It is too cold to go outside’ would not be true.

Second, if I don’t take them outside there will at some point be a mutiny because at least some of the children really want to go outside and I definitely don’t want to keep them inside all day.

Third, and probably most important, cold weather like this is a fantastic learning opportunity. As we prepare to go outside we will discuss how to dress appropriately for the weather. All the children (even the littlest ones) will work on completing self help skills, independence and decision making. We will experience the way the sun warms us and the trees shelter us from the wind. We will build resilience.

The children will make the decision as to how long we can play outside. They will learn to realize how they and others feel – are they warm enough but their friends are too cold? What can they do to help?

So, I didn’t get a chance to complete my post about our winter yard, but this quick little post may be the perfect introduction to the importance of having a outdoor play space designed for winter.

Sensory Play

Sometimes I can be a hoarder – buying and hiding supplies for ‘later’.  It could be that I think it may be a fun activity but not interesting for the group currently in care.  It may be that the time or space is not yet appropriate and the activity will be offered when the conditions are right. Yes, admittedly there have been times I’ve forgotten about some supplies and then re-discovered them while looking for something else.

Last summer I set aside supplies for two sensory play activities that I wanted to do in the winter.  Usually I like to do messy play activities outside so summer would be best but for these activities I thought a ‘cleaner’, indoor environment would be better.  Besides sometimes in the winter we can’t be outside as much as we’d like to and we need something different to do when we are cooped up inside.

So, earlier this month when it was bitterly cold outside, we tried a new play dough recipe.  Yes, we’ve made and played with play dough many, many times but this recipe claimed to make ‘stretchy’ play dough.  It used one part hair conditioner and two parts corn flour.  I let the children each mix their own batch.

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There was a lot of trial and error – too wet, add more flour – too dry, add more conditioner.  Maybe it was the quality of the dollar store conditioner but the mixture never did become stretchy however the ‘coconut’ scent was a pleasant break from winter.  Later the children added the paint colour of their choice and when done we bagged each one separately so we could play with them again on other days too.  Not exactly the result I envisioned but still enjoyable.

The second activity I offered was water beads. I’ll admit that when I first got them I doubted that teeny tiny bag of wee little dry beads would be enough for all the children and thought maybe I should have ordered two bags.  I put the package in my desk drawer to save for a week when it was really cold outside.

Last week I filled two bins with nice warm water and added some dry water beads – at first they were barely noticeable in all that water so I also added some pipettes and other water toys too.  The children enjoyed the water play and eventually the beads soaked up enough water that we could see them better but they were still almost impossible to pick up.

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Later that afternoon we checked and they had soaked up all the water – this was really exciting!  This is what HALF a teeny, tiny bag of water beads looks like when they are all wet;

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I love the way the water beads feel – they may be one of my favourite sensory bin items 🙂 and the children really like them too.  I don’t even mind when the occasional one bounces out of the bin – even when I accidentally step on one it doesn’t break. Picking up strays is a whole additional activity.

The instructions say the beads are reusable so we experimented by putting a few in a smaller container and letting them dry out.  It took just two days for them to dehydrate back to their original size.  If I had taken a ‘before’ picture you would see that when wet these beads had filled the whole bottom of this container – magic

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I’m certain this is an activity we will enjoy many more times to come.  In fact, I’m wondering if we might even try putting some in a container on the light panel…

Warm in Winter

The weather recently has been a bit of a deterrent to long periods of outdoor play.  Even when bundled up in warm clothing the littlest ones can get chilly crawling around in the snow.  The heavy clothing and deep snow can cause a lot of frustration yet we have still managed to be outside for at least some time every day.  After all, long periods of being stuck indoors is very frustrating too.

One perk to having my husband home from work during winter break means I have an extra set of hands.  So, for an extra special treat we had an outdoor fun day complete with lunch cooked on the fire. I did most of the food prep before the children arrived and hubby had the fire good and hot before the children and I headed outside.

The foil baked potatoes had been cooked first – I thought I had a taken a picture of them cooking but I guess not – it was funny because the fire nearly melted the metal colander I stored them in 😉  The bannock went on second – I chose to make them biscuit style instead of cooking on sticks because few in this group would have the attention span to stand still long enough to cook them.

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The children were much more interested in mostly playing on the hills and just occasionally stopping by to check on the food and warm up by the fire.

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Of course the tipi on the far side of the yard is another favourite place too;

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The wieners were the last thing left to cook.  Some of the children helped briefly but were a little too far away to get much heat.  It probably would have been better if we had more flames like we did at the beginning but the low fire worked eventually;

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It was a learning experience for all of us – not our first fire but our first entire meal cooked on the fire in the winter. Oh so yummy;

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Everyone just devoured their lunch – and two fell asleep at the table – after all, it was a long morning full of outdoor play.

Winter Yard

Last summer I rearranged the stumps in the yard to create a path to and over the rocks on the little hill/tunnel.

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At that time I wasn’t thinking about winter but now that the snow is here we have been creating a BIG hill in the yard by piling all the snow inside the stump circle.

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This picture was taken before the recent snowfall.  Yesterday we spent nearly two hours adding more snow to the pile so now the hill is much bigger 🙂 Watching the children play on this hill makes me dream of permanently filling that stump circle so we have a big hill in the summer too – but I would miss the inner stump circle and the tunnel too.

With all the snow piled up one side of the tunnel is now blocked so the ‘tunnel’ is actually a ‘cave’.

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This cave is now a favourite – not so secret – hiding spot.

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Found you!

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Another favourite space is inside the tipi.  In summer it is nice to be able to see through the tipi and into the lane beyond the fence.

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In the winter I pile snow behind the tipi and it becomes a wonderful place to sit when you want shelter from the wind.

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We love our winter yard.

Winter Clothes

It is that time of the year again – sweaters, ski pants, hats, mitts, coats and boots.  All that clothing for every one of the toddlers in my group.  Getting ready to go outside to play now takes a large chunk of time out of our morning.  For some, the arduous process of getting dressed can briefly interrupt their excitement for outdoor play.

I usually lay out all the children’s clothing and then begin with the youngest child and start dressing.  When the youngest is dressed I move on the the second youngest who may, or may not have already started getting dressed.  The oldest child always gets the most time to get dressed independently – our ultimate goal.

This year, the two youngest children in the group both really, really dislike all the bulky, ‘tight’ outerwear and resist every step of the process.  The youngest child is sometimes so worn out from the struggle to get dressed that he will fall asleep while waiting for me to dress the second child.

So, I made a slight change in the routine.  Instead of dressing the first child completely before moving on the child two, I began alternating between these two for each step of the dressing process. Ski pants on child one then ski pants on child two.  Coat & mitts on child one then coat & mitts on child two.  Hat and boots on child one then hat & boots on child two.

Several shorter battle rounds with a break between each step allows the toddlers a brief period of time to adapt to the feel of one piece of heavy outerwear before another is added.  Throughout the process of dressing the youngest two, toddler three usually sits and waits patiently singing songs but making no effort to get dressed.

The oldest in the current group is fully capable of completing the task without assistance except for the jacket zipper.  She usually dresses, undresses, and dresses again several times while the others struggle through.  Occasionally, just to add a little excitement to an otherwise boring task, she’ll do something to annoy one of the toddlers.  Sigh.

Last week I saw a small glimmer of progress.  Toddler two put on his ski pants without any assistance.  Instead of just sitting and waiting, toddler three put her ski pants on too!  The resistance to getting dressed is lessening.  The oldest now sometimes feigns helplessness because she feels I have too little work to do.

Now things will change again.  We’re welcoming a new toddler into the group so we’ll have to adjust the routine a little more.  All the struggles are worth it though – we LOVE our outdoor play in all types of weather. 🙂

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Snow Days

More snow.  I’m beginning to wonder if this winter will ever end.

I’ve tried to keep the pathways clear but there is no where left to pile the snow.  Usually I clear the full circle through the garden but this year it is barely one quarter done.  Just enough to walk in and turn around;

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The second entrance to the garden is completely blocked but occasionally one of the little ones attempts to go this way;

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Some of the snow in the garden was originally on the shed roof but my husband cleared it off the shed and into the garden – good thing the little one are not great climbers or they might attempt to get on the roof;

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I have cleared the full circle around the hill in the ‘gravel’ area;

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That center snow pile is over four feet tall – if the little ones are on the opposite side they can’t see me.  ‘Where are you?’ is the most popular question.

I usually clear the snow from around the benches and stumps so we have places to sit and play.  This year we just have the single file circle path to walk on.  I have cleared the snow from the tunnel entrances but there’s not enough room for any of us to crawl through;

SD06There is a small pathway to the tipi and the snow around it has created a nice cozy shelter – we like it;

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The biggest snow pile is on the ‘grass’ area adjacent to the deck.  The older children like to climb up and slide down towards the deck – there are obstacles on the other three sides so there is no sliding or rolling down them 😦

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The little ones have tried to climb up but it is too steep for them to make it all the way to the top.  We have too much snow – and we got a whole bunch more after these pictures were taken.

Of course there is a plus side to the recent snowfall – the rural schools were closed so a couple of our ‘old’ friends came to spend the day with us.  It was a really nice way to spend a snow day 🙂