In Kidsfirst’s Big Backyards, it doesn’t matter what the weather looks like – tamariki learn so much about the natural world by experiencing the changing seasons – and kindergarten is the perfect place to do it.
It’s tough for young tamariki to get cooped up inside – they get so much out of the great outdoors, regardless of the weather. Our Big Backyards are an important part of the day at kindergarten all year round, and our kaiako have some great tips and tricks for making the most of them, no matter the weather.
Winter creates a series of new challenges for outdoor play: slush lawns, puddles just waiting to be splashed, and muddy clothes at the end of it all.
While the cooler seasons can be a challenge for whānau, they’re just another opportunity for more fun and learning for tamariki as they discover more about the world around them, explore the changing environment and learn about nature and its cycles.
“Winter can be a great time for children to play outside,” says Kidsfirst Hawthornden Head Teacher, Kerry Smith. “They get exposed to different weather events, and get the chance to explore how the natural world works with support from a kaiako. They can help them develop open mindedness and investigate working theories about what they see.” Kerry says, “we know from a young age tamariki develop relationships with the natural world by things like seeing the sky colour, listening to the rain or breaking bits of ice.”
Outdoor play gives children a chance to exercise and stretch their imaginations. When they explore through play it helps them gather new skills and overcome challenges, this also helps their social development, resilience and collaboration. All that physical exercise also helps them become better and more engaged learners.
“It’s important to keep providing challenges for tamariki, especially during winter. It helps keep them engaged and active which is important physically, but also helps increase attention and focus in their surrounding environment.”
Kerry says that tamariki are naturally inclined to play, so even during cooler months, they don’t take much persuading.
“Children innately want to play, and often they’re led by their friends or whānau. It’s important to make it fun and interesting – at kindergarten, for example, we might build huts, or do something special they may not have seen the day before.”
Kidsfirst’s Big Backyards are ripe for exploration all year round. “We have such lovely big outdoor areas and lots of green open spaces, so everyone really wants to be outside. Children are often led by their friends, and once one child does something, the others want to follow,” Kerry says.
Kidsfirst Maniototo Head Teacher, Deb McNally, says unpredictable weather is just a part of living in Aotearoa, and It’s important for children to understand that it shouldn’t get in the way.
“In early childhood education, we always say ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather’. As long as you have the gear and resources, any day is a great opportunity to play. Tamariki learn from a young age that if they put their hats on and get their jackets, they can go and do anything. This is the environment we live in. It can get cold, and change within minutes – but being curious and adventurous is what being a ‘Kiwi Kid’ is all about.”
In Central Otago, cold weather is just a part of everyday life – but like all our kaiako, Deb always makes the most of the learning opportunities on offer.
“Tamariki have a chance to explore their environment in a totally different way, and there are so many experiences that come with that. Kaiako try make the play as interesting as possible to encourage tamariki to genuinely want to be outside and make that choice themselves. At kindergarten, we’re lucky to have a big track with lots of bikes and tractors, so they are intrigued and want to get moving.”
It helps to have wet weather gear at the ready. “We always make sure there are lots of gumboots, hats, track pants and tools to make sure everyone is warm. If we see children getting cold, we play more active games and keep them moving so the blood is constantly flowing.”
Deb says the key is making the experience exciting, “Remind them of all the fun they’re going to have, and always keep a positive attitude. If their friends are playing and they can see kaiako or whānau there too, it will encourage them to do the same.”
Got a child who’s reluctant to brave the cold? Kerry Smith recommends lots of support and understanding, “We reassure them that kaiako are with them and their friends are there too. Children need to be warm and comfortable, and once they feel safe, then the fun really begins.”
Ready to get outside and get into it? Here are a few tips and tricks from our teaching team on how to make the most of winter play:
- Don’t wait until it’s sunny to go for a walk
Often a first-hand experience of cold weather, or a shift in temperatures can make all the difference in a child’s understanding of the world around them. Allowing them to experience this also leaves room for them to observe the changes themselves, without explicitly explaining it to them.
- Let the messy play begin!
At Kidsfirst, we integrate messy play into every day – and often that’s where the most significant learning happens. Winter brings a number of changes to the way we play, but doesn’t hold us back. There’ll often need to be a fresh set of clothes somewhere during the day, but it’s worth it.
- Follow their lead
Tamariki are natural born learners who learn best through their own interests, in their own time. There are so many opportunities for learning every day, doing simple activities like going out for walks, or exploring your own garden can offer valuable learning experiences for young minds.
- Remember their resilience
We’ve all been in situations where whānau are huddled inside for warmth while tamariki are racing around in a tee-shirt in single-digit weather. Children have a remarkable ability to get lost in whatever they’re doing and not be so sensitive to changing temperatures, and they’re masters at warming themselves up, from the inside out. Even if it’s too cold for you out there, an extra layer and a bit of movement might be all your child needs.
Check out our kaiako-approved links for a few ideas for activities you can do outside with your preschooler, during those chilly days: