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Learning to Love Winter

Kia ora, Morgan Clode 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 9 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 the “Farm School” for Gem’s Educational Childcare, Queenstown. 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.

What is your favourite season?

I find this question so difficult to answer, as each season has its own unique 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 a nature educator it is my job to find beauty in nature in all it’s elements and to see learning opportunities rather than inconveniences, discomforts, or barriers. We say at Gem’s, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”, which is our way of communicating to others that hey, a little rain, wind or snow isn’t going to stop us from getting outside.

Breaking the icy barriers

I’ve spent most of my career as a teacher pushing the barriers and advocating for the best for tamariki, and I hope that you are inspired to do the same. When planning on taking tamariki out into nature for a one-off excursion or establishing a more regular nature-based programme, educators can be faced with many potential barriers, and 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. So, let’s feel the fear and get out there anyway.

Risks vs Benefits

Parents are often the first to ask, “Are you still going out in this weather!?”, or say “I don’t want my child to catch a cold”, some ask in advance “do you still come out in winter?”. How do you prepare for parent resistance you wonder? Be confident, and able to talk about the learning opportunities and benefits that exposure to winter weather provides.

Worried about being cold or getting sick? Talk about ensuring their child is attending with appropriate waterproof clothing and footwear. Talk about the learning opportunities children face in the rain; puddles, shelter building, resilience, learning how their bodies work, and how seeing nature in a layer of moisture changes colours and brings different life out of their habitats.

For me, the Farm School Kaiako and Tamariki, winter means; hunting for ice puddles, lighting fires to keep warm, discovering frozen waterfalls, sledding in the snow and sliding down ice paths on our bottoms. Winter for us is also a time to teach our core value of “relationships”. Through the winter (Term 2) we use nature to build relationships with each other, the land, our whanau and our unique New Zealand culture. Children not only continue to experience the farm and other natural spaces throughout winter, but they get to explore Farm School at night at our annual Matariki Night Farm School, where whānau and their tamariki gather together for some kai and a torchlit hikoi around the farm.

10 steps to ensure winter success

1. Develop a clothing requirement list and enforce it. Children should come in appropriate, warm clothing. Ideally layers that can be removed if too warm. A bag of spare clothing is essential. At least 2 changes of socks. Once feet get wet it is difficult to get warm again.

2. Always carry a kit (backpack) with spare clothes, first-aid kit, fresh water and charged cell-phone for emergencies. Carry extra gloves, socks and beanies.

3. Develop a wet weather plan. Have a bank of activities or at least one that you can fall back on if weather turns.

4. Site assess and become familiar with places where you can go for shelter (full or partial). Look for good spots to build your own shelters with tamariki too. Alternatively have a permanent shelter or site where you can visit that provides more shelter.

5. Know your site. Plan seasonal experiences based on the flora and fauna of the land. The weather should aid the learning not hinder or prevent it.

6. Have all resources prepared in advance and keep it simple. Rain and wind adds extra noise, you don’t want to be teaching new skills or setting challenges in already challenging weather.

7. Constantly risk assess. Winter weather can cause erosion, make surfaces slippery, soften soil, expose tree roots and often encourages poisonous fungi to grow. Expose tamariki to these risks and make them aware of the changes so that they can adapt and learn.

8. Have your risks backed up with benefits for concerned parents or perhaps other educators.

9. Develop an agreement between Kaiako and Whānau, so both parties know your terms and conditions of operation. Make your expectations and reality clear.

10. Invite parents to a parent evening where you can demonstrate the benefits. Alternately, create a display of learning in your centre or school.

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


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