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Troubles & Triumphs of Nature Play in the Winter months

As the mountains shut down for the season and we pause our nature program for the school holidays, I take a moment to reflect on the Winter season that has just passed. This year it is fair to say that Queenstown hasn't had much snow, which caused a slow start to the ski season, and on a more disappointing note, there was never a significant "dumping" of snow to ground level. As a nature educator in Queenstown I spend my Winters keeping a close eye on the forecast and when there is word on the streets that snow is coming, the morning ritual involves a hopeful peep out the window hoping to be treated to a blanket of white. Snow in it's rarity, brings so much joy, excitement and an additional touch of beauty to our landscapes. It adds an extra element to our nature play spaces that provides children with the unique experience of awe and wonder that nature brings. Moments and experiences that contribute to a greater sense of love, connection and appreciation with the natural world.... But this year it never came. Trouble, check.

Although the snow didn't come to ground for long enough for us to play, we shared our weekend whanau experiences of learning how to ski with our peers. To celebrate the tamariki and their efforts and achievements of learning a sport that is part and parcel of growing up in Queenstown, our whanau were invited and encouraged to bring along or email in a picture of their child up the mountain. Their photo was added to a display amongst their peers so that they could recognise themselves, reflect on their experiences, talk about it with their friends and kaiako and make connections with other children, recognising similarities in interests and being able to potentially form new friendships through a common interest. Triumph, check.

The Winter months in the deep south bring some chilly temps, mostly staying in the single digits, sometimes breaking through into the minus'! This is where your clothing plays a vital role in keeping not only the bodies of the group warm, but the vibes and attitudes warm too. This year we said goodbye to our stoney creek waterproof pants, that didn't stand up to the test of our wear and tear. We jumped back on board with the puddle jumpers and were delighted with the quality, durability and waterproofing of their products. These cold temperatures provide us with lots of learning opportunities and interesting new things in nature to explore and discover. A popular element is ice. We all know that ice, once being held in warm hands, melts... and gloves get wet. Once gloves gets wet, then they become pretty useless and defeat their purpose. I have found that although woolen gloves provide ease of movement, they become wet easily. The other alternative is to wear mittens or ski gloves, which are bulky, and reduce dexterity, not to mention expensive. After searching for a local supplier with the right sizes for little hands, we have found the perfect solution for next winter... Little Sprouts Kids Gardening Gloves! The rubber fingers and palm provide a waterproof barrier yet they are thin and flexible enough to allow children to have full use of their hands... perfect for picking up and shattering sheets of ice. Triumph, check.

Another way we kept ourselves warm this winter was with fire! Each group completed a mini fire first, learning the skills and behaviours required to successfully light, maintain and navigate around a fire. Next we moved onto using flames to cook food. We used a fire wok to contain the fire and keep it elevated off the ground. Tamariki remembered what made a successful fire and worked together to gather the sticks/wood. We selected our own marshmallow stick, about shoulder height, and used potato peelers to whittle the end of the sticks to a point sharp enough to poke through a marshmallow. We spent the morning toasting marshmallows and making chocolate banana splits on the hot embers. The experience was all I had hoped for and more. A very special learning experience that brought the group closer together, mesmerised by the flames. Triumph, check.

This winter on the farm we were faced with an event that was out of the ordinary expectations that winter brings... tree felling. Over the past year or so there has been some significant removal of trees at the farm that we explore. Although the trees that were removed have been replaced with new native trees, our tamariki lost access to some of their favourite play spaces. We watched from a distance as the heavy machinery slowly took down the trees and as they watched they were only left with fond memories. This original tree felling, found us planting our roots at the north of the farm where we had a fire pit, hut, log piles, bee hives and our favourite spot of all, the mud slide! Until one day, the machines came back... over a week or two the children mourned the loss of their favourite play spaces and were left again with memories. Trouble, check.

As educators promoting resilience in these situations we should always choose to talk about the losses and acknowledge any feelings that may arise, but we should use these times to highlight the gains, and the positive feelings which come from new challenges and some problem solving the groups were about to tackle. We talked about how yes it was sad that we couldn't visit there any more, but we became excited at the thought of finding some new play spaces and testing out some new ground for potential mudslide sites. There was opportunity to discuss previous places, visit new and strengthen our risk assessment skills as we scanned new sites for hazards. After a full tour of the farm on the back of Farmer Mike's quad bike we established three new sites that have become part of our farm school play and exploration map. Triumph, check.

Some would expect that the cold winters we get in the deep south cause disruption to our nature-based program. Some may experience some hesitance to get out in below zero conditions, and some may experience resistance from parents, often due to the concerns about increased illnesses in winter. From my experience which is evident from the record of our 2019 winter above, that the triumphs most certainly outweigh the troubles. More puddles, gumboots. Rain, wet weather gear. Below zero temps, layers, layers, layers. Ice & snow, waterproof gloves. The only true troubles in winter come with clothing, and when your dressed for success, winter provides our tamariki with learning opportunities that only the cold can bring!

Thanks winter! See you next year,

Morgan Clode

Good Natured Education

Gems Educational Childcare


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