The Pre-K class at Alphabet Academy’s South Campus has been preparing for winter by suiting up in cold weather gear and spending time outside everyday, no matter what. Over the past month our class has learned that every kind of weather is a unique occasion to try something new. Brisk windy days have provided us with the opportunity to fly leaf-kites and listen to wind chimes. Rain storms have lent themselves to mud baths and puddle jumping competitions. Some might even say that exhilarating hikes around the campus grounds in the sleet and snow rival the rush of climbing Mt. Everest. And, with every joyous outdoor exploration, I have observed my students growing socially, emotionally, and academically in ways that are not possible indoors.
As teachers and parents we have the privilege of exposing our children to the natural world, a world in which their sense of wonder and curiosity can be unleashed so that deep and meaningful learning can occur. A few of our favorite activities this season include obstacle courses, fort building, and tree jumping. Here at South Campus we have an old tree in our sandbox. A couple of weeks ago a few of my Pre-K students rolled a tire next to the base of the tree and began to climb up it. Before long other students were joining them adding large sticks and logs to climb. They worked at this task for forty minutes without successfully reaching the top but still they pressed on. Finally, when the teachers leaned a wooden pallet against the tree, the children were able to reach the top. For me, knowing when to step in and provide a way up the tree became a metaphor for knowing when to push my students on to greater challenges and when to step back and let them rise or fall independently. Sometimes it can be difficult for us as adults to push our children (and push ourselves) to stretch beyond our comfort levels, but by doing so we provide the opportunity for new growth.
Throughout my teaching career I have experienced many preschool programs and I can truly say that the deep level of interest-lead learning I observe in my students this year exceeds years past because of the freedom we have in our outdoor curriculum here at Alphabet. During outdoor play I daily observe students solving problems together and expressing thoughts and emotions in words. As our Pre-K class has overcome fears and obstacles in outdoor play they have developed the confidence to overcome challenges in the classroom. One of the biggest factors that contributes to a child’s ability to learn how to read and write is whether or not she feels confident enough to make mistakes. Learning in nature can calm and focus a child while still exciting her senses and enhancing her capacity to try new and sometimes scary things.
The best thing we can do to foster our children’s appreciation for winter weather is to lead by example. By spending time outside together everyday you build your immune systems, provide your child with new social and emotional skills, and form deep and meaningful memories that will inform your child’s view of the world for the rest of his or her life. Create a wintery hideout in your yard and imagine that you are a family of hibernating bears. Go on a cold weather scavenger hunt or play outdoor Eye Spy. Grab a flash light and take an early evening walk around your neighborhood. Bundle up, go outside, get dirty, laugh, and have fun together, and if all else fails, take comfort knowing that your child spent time outside at Alphabet. For more activities you can do as a family and for inspiration check out these resources:
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv