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Helping parents and teachers understand the LEARNING benefits of all those wiggles & giggles!

WEATHER TO PLAY: The Snow of August, Part 2

Weather is always a great excuse to get outside and play, but Caitlin's reluctance about the cold and the snow came as a surprise to me. She's usually a "go for it" kind of kid. (See The Snows of August, Part 1)

Despite all the convincing that needed to be done, I was quite sure once we were outside Caitlin's natural kid instinct to explore would kick in. But even so, it's best not to rush things when a little one is feeling timid. Instead, I try to follow the child's curiosity and pace while gently preparing them for new sensations. So here's what we did...

We crouched down and we felt the snow with our gloves. It felt soft and a little heavy in our hands. (Good snowman snow, I'm thinking.)

Then we decided to step on the snow. "It's like walking on the beach. Your feet sink down a little," I said, taking the first step so she could see what it looked like.

We walked across the garden feeling the snow sink under each step. Caitlin concentrated on her boots and wobbled a bit to steady herself. Caitlin agreed, "Like the beach."

In fact, except for the wardrobe, snow and sand play are remarkably similar when you think about it. And both provide great developmental benefits. For instance...

Because of the shifting nature of snow and sand, walking or running presents challenges for fundamental movement skills we otherwise take for granted.

STRENGTH. When we walk or run, we use our feet to push against the ground to propel ourselves forward. But on sand or snow, the ground gives way a bit. This changes our natural gait to a more deliberate, forceful dig to find firm ground which builds muscle strength, of course. But more...

BALANCE. On any unsteady surface, the body and brain must constantly coordinate to find the center of gravity and maintain balance. That's why we're all a bit "wobbly" when we start out.

PROPRIOCEPTION. And with each step the brain is learning about the uneven terrain. If you think about it, when you first step on the snow or the sand, you don't exactly know how firm the footing will be, so you adjust your step according to what happened with the last one. That's your proprioceptive sensors working with your brain to modify your movements to the immediate situation.

When we made it to the far side of the garden, we stopped and looked back at our footprints in the snow. "Look where we started and look where we are now," I said. Caitlin decided to retrace her steps in her own footprints. And so we did.

TEMPORAL AWARENESS. I'm a big fan of footprints for helping little ones understand important abstract concepts of time and space. Known as Temporal Awareness, footprints or anything that tracks your progress from here to there helps little ones physically experience the passage of space and time... the very idea of where I've come from and where I'm going next.

(For a fun game that can be played in snow, sand, or mud (yes, mud!), try the Muddo the Muddosaurus activity at the bottom of our recent posts... You Can't Run Uphill Indoors

By the time we finished with our footprints, Caitlin had fully warmed up to the snow, so I suggested we make a snowman. She knew about snowmen and had "helped" her mum draw one on paper that very morning, so she was anxious to try. But of course, this being her very first snowfall, she had no idea how. So I took her through the process step by step, demonstrating as we went along.

For brand new experiences, I find it's best to verbally prepare the child for what's going to happen, then get down on the ground and do a hands-on demonstration. I explained that we need to make two big snowballs, one for his head and one for his tummy. "Let's try to make one, shall we?"

I packed some snow into a snowball, and then together, we started to roll it around the ground gathering more snow as we went. "Look, as we roll, he's getting bigger and bigger," I narrated. (Narration sounds funny to an adult ear, but believe me, little ones are soaking it all in, so KEEP TALKING!)

We decided that he should stand just outside the window so we rolled our big snowball over to just the right spot.

Then Caitlin said something that I had to stop and think about. "Now let's make his tummy."

Earlier that morning, Caitlin had spent time drawing snowmen on paper. Typically, when we draw a snowman (or any other figure for that matter) start with the head. Think about that for a minute. As humans, when we imagine ourselves, we see our face first.  The head is our natural starting point, so of course, Caitlin, not understanding how physics and gravity work, was simply following her 2 1/2 year old human, head-first logic.

This is a perfect example of why young children need many different and varied experiences. Drawing on paper or an electronic tablet is great, of course. But a child's "diet" of creative activity must also include three-dimensional experiences to help them understand concepts such as shape, form, and yes, physics and gravity!

After making the tummy, we worked together to put his head on his body and then came all the fun of decorating him.

Again, it was up to me to coach my little first-timer along, so I said, "I wonder what we should we use for his face? I wonder what he would like to wear?" Caitlin gave this a good think, then we went inside to gather up all of our materials (including the classic carrot for his nose) and headed straight back out to finish up the job. (Clearly, the cold was no longer a bother for Caitlin.)

By offering your child as much of the decision making as you can, she is learning how to make choices for herself. And whether she chooses a carrot or an eggplant for the nose doesn't matter, because what you are witnessing is the very beginnings of real learning... confident, creative problem solving.

Caitlin started with the carrot and pushed it into the head a little too hard... actually with all the muscle she could muster! 

Oops! The head fell off. 

A little startled, she wasn't quite sure what to do, then smiled that "oopsie" smile of hers and we both had a grand giggle. A quick repair job and she was ready to try the nose again, this time going extra slowly.


Here again is another example of the "on the job training" our proprioceptive sensors do for us. Without me saying a word, Caitlin understood that she had used too much force the first time, and immediately adjusted her approach. The second time around, she started very slowly, and gradually added pressure to secure the carrot in place.

Two eyes, two ears, two arms and some hair (yes, hair) later, and we stood back and marveled at our creation. We high-fived, and I asked her what we should call him.

Caitlin didn't miss a beat. 


A Moving Smart Invitation to Play...

Snowmen never go out of season! So no matter where you are or what kind of weather you're enjoying right now, go make your own snowman out of snow, sand, dough, foam, or whatever you'd like!

And we'd love to see what you come up with, so please post pictures in our comments section, or leave us a link to your photos!

Have fun, and keep up the good play!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed that post. It's neat how you make room for her learning and give her the tools she needs to succeed. Thanks for showing me a good example of good parenting!