Winter is full of treasures with so much to discover, no matter where you are. The more we connect kids (and ourselves) to the seasons and to the natural cycles and rhythms of nature, the more rooted we all feel. Help kids sharpen their senses, discover all that a new season offers in their biome and say “Hello, Winter!”
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Step 1: Invite Play
Watch the read aloud of Hello, Ocean by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Take a moment to imagine the ocean in summer (ahhh). Then, start to talk about how wherever you are looks, smells, sounds and feels in winter.
Step 2: Activate the senses
Suggest taking a walk to sense the winter, just like the girl sensed the ocean in the book. Take a minute to get some of the senses you'll use (see, hear, smell, feel and taste) ready. You can "warm kids' senses up" a bit by looking around, listening for a sound, sniffing the air and rubbing hands together.
Try focusing on one sense at a time. Stop every now and then to discover how your sense of winter changes when your body is still. Lie down on the ground and experience the sensations of winter from a new perspective. Look up high at the treetops and down low on the ground to discover what creatures are doing in your area in wintertime. Close your eyes to discover how turning off one sense heightens others. If you can, take a few different winter walks at different times of day. Early mornings are a wonderful time to discover what birds migrate to your area in winter. Early darkness means more chances for stargazing.
Step 5: Share your discoveries
Draw or write down what you notice with your senses. Or, wait to do that together when you take a break or later, after the walk is done. You can also take pictures to remind you of the things you notice and talk later about all that you sensed. Before you wrap up your walk, stop for a minute to share how grateful you are for the marvelous things you discovered and invite kids to share which of the things they noticed were their favorites. "Hello, winter!"
Step 6: Make winter art
After your walk, give kids access to art materials (e.g. paper, markers, paints, etc.) and create "Hello, Winter!" art that captures the feeling of winter! Write down or record your child's thoughts, too. Take photos of your child’s art and send them to friends and family to share the sensations of winter in your biome and to invite them to share what winter looks, feels and smells like where they live. Share your discoveries with us, too in our Tinkergarten Outdoors All 4 community! We'd love to see what you discover!
Why is this activity great for kids?
Taking time to slow down and notice the sights, smells, sounds, feel and even taste of winter is a marvelous way to activate kids' senses and sharpen observation skills, all while connecting them to the rhythms of the natural world. Plus, if winter is cold or gray where you live, focusing on the beauty of winter helps kids (and ourselves) form positive feelings about the season and shows them that they can face (and even find joy) in all kinds of challenges!
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We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What are Problem Solving Skills?
When we talk about problem solving, we mean the ability to solve a problem in which the solution is not obvious and in which the possible paths to solution are many. To solve such problems, kids will need two things. First, they’ll need the self confidence and comfort to both attempt to find and persist in finding a solution. The only way to develop this is to be given the chance to struggle with ambiguous situations or open-ended problems. We parents are all guilty, from time to time, of helping kids avoid struggle or swooping in to alleviate frustration when our kid encounters challenge. The goal is actually to do the opposite whenever possible. As long as the problem is not too difficult to understand or challenging to solve, even young kids can get comfortable with the feeling of not knowing the solution and fall in love with the joy of finding a solution to a problem.
Kids also need strategies to attack problems with which they are faced. If adults are able to work with kids to solve problems “as a team” but in such a way that the children feel and act “in charge” of the decisions, adults can actually teach foundation problem solving skills and strategies through modeling. For example, when you solve a problem together, kids get practice with key parts of the process like brainstorming, testing ideas, revision and solution. It’s also pretty easy to model how to use simple strategies like trial and error or breaking a problem down into smaller parts. Although children age 1 to 7 should not be expected to name, catalog or identify when to use a particular problem solving strategy, they are able to form habits and repeat approaches once those habits or approaches have become familiar. The more problems they solve, the better they know and can use these methods.
Why does it matter?
“The highest ranked skills for students entering the workforce were not facts and basic skills; they were applied skills that enable workers to use the knowledge and basic skills they have acquired” (Source: Are They Really Ready for Work? Conference Board 2006).
Although it seems a long way to go before our young children are hitting the job market, the ability to solve challenging, ambiguous problems has already been identified as a critical skill for success in the 21st Century. With advances in technology, finding information has never been easier. However, knowing how to interpret a problem and use available information to devise a solution still needs to be learned. And, we fear that the classrooms of today are neither designed nor incentivized to teach these skills effectively. In most schools, so much time is spent learning discrete skills, that applied skills like problem solving are wildly underemphasized. In a world that demands it, it is increasingly necessary that children learn and practice these skills outside of school.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?