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Getting Outside in the Cold

March 04, 2016

Happy March! During these colder months it can be tricky to get children excited to be outside and active. When snow is freshly falling, children may delight in building snowmen and sledding or making footprints like Peter in The Snowy Day. When the cold snaps arrive, however, getting fresh air and exercise may not be on the top of everyone’s list. Growing up in snowy New England, many of us enjoyed countless hours outside sledding, skiing, skating, snow shoeing, ice fishing, and riding on snowmobiles with our families, and we have many fond memories of these experiences. Gross motor development happens year round, but there are many adults and children who do less moving around in the winter than in other seasons.

During these cold winter months, children especially can feel rather “house bound” and can experience “cabin fever.” In the face of the cold, it may take extra planning to create fun, movement-oriented outdoor or indoor activities. LEAP teachers continue to help children develop their large motor muscles both inside and outside and are constantly assessing curriculum needs based on how much children have been able to move!

In one of our full day staff in-service programs, Jeanine Fitzgerald of the Fitzgerald Institute of Lifelong Learning spoke about the need for children to access six types of movement in order to regulate arousal states. She encouraged us as educators to teach regulation of activity level through movement every day within our classrooms and on the playground. She firmly believes that the symptoms of negative behavior in children can often be related to a need that is not being met, namely movement. According to Jeanine, the six types of movement that are needed daily include:

  1. oscillation - moving up and down
  2. rotary- spinning and rolling
  3. linear- swinging and gliding
  4. heavy work- pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying for deep pressure input
  5. inverted- being upside down
  6. crashing- falling and banging into things

Teachers try to include as many of these types of movement each day while working with the children to develop their gross motor skill and strength, regulate arousal, and decrease negative behavior. Some favorites in both our indoor and outdoor environments are:

  • Holding loud parades with instruments and/or pots and pans with sticks
  • Playing group games such as parachute, obstacle courses, and treasure hunts
  • Rolling down hills, pulling each other in sleds, and taking nature walks
  • Painting snow with squeeze bottles, feeding the birds, and making snow creatures
  • Using kid-sized shovels and putting snow on the slides to make them extra slippery
  • Holding dance parties, getting into animal yoga poses, and setting up tents or forts 
  • Using 2-liter water bottles in our classrooms that children carry for “heavy work.” 
  • Getting in our “down dog” yoga pose at least once a day or bending forward so we are upside down to pick up toys 
  • Getting children to quickly dump and crash dry ingredients out of containers in the sensory table or to bang toys together
  • Having parachute games (you can use an old sheet) where children pop small stuffed animals up into the air, and using small balance beams, “romper stomper” type toys, and scooters
  • Playing large motor cooperative games like Duck Duck Goose, Red Light/Green Light, or What Time is it Mr. Fox?, which children love

At home, parents may need to jump in and take the lead on facilitating and encouraging outdoor play. Get out the summer sandbox shovels and dig in the fresh piles of snow when it is a snowy day or when it is muddy after a rainstorm. Throw a beach ball around or walk to an elderly neighbor’s house to help shovel, deliver treats, or walk the dog. Build a snow or stick fort and put beach chairs inside! Paint the snow with food coloring and water, making fantastic flower shapes.

You can organize your own “Fun Run” with neighborhood friends at the local park. Grab a camera and take some fun ice pictures! In the evening, you could even bundle up and head into the backyard or to the neighborhood park with flashlights for a cold “star/planet viewing” walk. Very soon, the vegetable and flower gardens will need to be planted again …and children love to help!

All children are movers by nature, and I hope that you take full advantage of this busy time in their lives to join in on the fun. If you do, I am sure you will create many new family memories that your children will cherish for years to come.