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Learning to Love Winter

Kia ora, Morgan here, advocating on behalf of Mother Nature’s winter in all its glory. Growing up in the deep south (Invercargill) as a child and moving to the mountainous region of Queenstown 14 years ago, I am no stranger to cold, crisp winters. My childhood was filled with play in and exposure to the natural elements at our family crib at Colac Bay, and it is upon reflection on these experiences teamed with my Early Childhood Education experience, where my passion for nature-based education came to light. I moved to London in 2014, where I trained as a UK Forest School Leader and established an Urban Forest School at the primary school I worked in. The natural elements of New Zealand were calling me back with an exciting opportunity to run a nature play programme for a local Queenstown preschool, which gave me the burning desire to create more opportunities for kids in our region. The combination of my personal childhood experiences and my experience as a nature educator has me, what I call “leading loud”; being a voice for nature-based education, sustainability and kaitiakitanga.

Seasonal Learning

Nature-based education gives children the opportunities to truly witness, experience and feel with their whole selves the changes to their outdoor "classrooms" as each season reveals change and beauty. The new growth and life of spring, the long warm days of summer, the stunning colours of autumn, and then winter with its snow, ice and frosts. As nature educators it is our job and our joy to find beauty in nature in all it’s elements and to see learning opportunities rather than inconveniences, discomforts, or barriers. Our Wild Guides bring what children may typically walk past to their attention, highlighting it's wonder and inspiring awe for the natural world. We believe that noticing and paying attention to the little things in life, is a key element to our future generations success and wellbeing... There is beauty around ever corner, and as each season unfolds here in Queenstown, we are blessed with significant observable changes to the physical environment we walk and play amongst, yet Winter sure does bring some extra special additional features to be discovered and explored.

Risks vs Benefits

Over time we have been conditioned to believe that rain or cold weather means to stay indoors, and that joy can only be found when the sun is shining. Yet, in our experience there is SO much joy to be had whilst exploring the wonders of winter too.

Our primitive brain is in tune with our environment and the risks around us. In the cooler months these can increase with winter conditions causing our adult minds to go in overdrive as risks heighten. Yet as risks heighten so do the learning opportunities. With some extra risk assessment, and intentional teaching about seasonal risks, we can create an environment where children feel encouraged and empowered to engage with natures elements, make discoveries and develop a strong understanding of the natural world and their bodies all year round.

At Wild School we guide children in the exploration of the world through "risk play". There are 9 types of risky play (which we will unpack in a coming blog post), each of which we acknowledge are ways children seek thrill, learn their own and others boundaries, challenge themselves and develop working theories. In the Winter months nature provides us with physical changes to our environment that creates more opportunity for risky play and also requires children to develop awareness of themselves, movements and choices as we navigate winter elements such as; ice, frost, mud, wet trees, and sometimes snow.

For us in winter joy is found through play experiences such as; smashing or skating on ice puddles, lighting fires to toast marshmallows, discovering frozen waterfalls, sledding down frosty banks, experimenting with ice, watching the misty fog rest across the lake or river and seeing our breath turn us into winter dragons. Winter at Wild School is also a time to learn more about our bodies and to build responsibility for our personal wellbeing by ensuring we come prepared with the right clothing and food to keep our body and mind operating at its best. There are great lessons to be had in Winter and great opportunities to truly notice and observe how our bodies work.

10 steps to ensure winter success (for your Wild Schooler)

1. Dress in layers - Layers can be removed if kids get hot, and put back on if they are cold. Layer up for the coldest forecasted temp of the day.

2. Check the forecast in the morning. Know the weather your child will be playing in for the day and help them to pack appropriately.

3. Pack a substantial healthy lunchbox. Our bodies use more energy to just keep warm, so extra food in the winter months is key. Use a thermos for warm food or pack something to be toasted on the camp cooker.

4. Waterproof footwear! The ability to walk through wet grass, puddles, mud or ice without having to potentially withdraw from the enjoyment because their feet might get wet, is ultimately freeing. Waterproof hiking, snow boots or a fleece lined gumboot is best. Remember rubber from gumboots is not insulating.

5. Thick socks. The goal is to reduce the amount of air that can circulate around the feet. The more snug the boot and sock is the more insulated and warm the feet will be.

6. Invest in pocket hand warmers. They provide instant on demand heat to warm up little fingers and can be reused by boiling in a pot of water.

7. Keep family walks going all year round. You may want to keep them shorter, or bring a bike instead. Keeping active together builds connection and being outside in all seasons becomes "the norm"

8. Embrace the winter elements - rent or borrow a sled, go looking for hills to race down next time it's frosty or snowing

9. Try to withhold our natural instincts to tell kids to "be careful". Instead help them to identify any risks before giving them space to explore and feel out any dangers themselves. This teaches them to be risk aware, and how to minimise harm when experimenting when adults are not present.

10. Know when to call it a day. Remember that the goal is to create positive associations with outdoor adventures. Pay attention to their mood & energy levels and pivot if needed.

Practical Winter activities

· Ice hunts

· Painting ice with warm water

· Shelter building

· Fire lighting & cooking

· Storytelling

· Rain collection/measuring

· Monitoring water levels/quality

· Sledding, sliding and skating on snow and ice

· Building snowmen, igloos and walls

· Setting traps for pests

· Mud slides

· Mud painting

· Potions and mixtures

If you would like your child to join us for Winter learning (or all 4 seasons), visit our "what's on" page for our current programmes available. This Winter we will be diving deeper into our values through our new local heroes programme.

Stay wild,

Morgan and Sarah

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