Beyond the classroom: Creating a nature-based learning environment for nursery children in the winter
Winter is a perfect season to get outside and explore your outdoor environment. There are lots of possibilities for learning and exploring in windy, icy and frosty days.
Beyond the confines of traditional classrooms, educators are discovering the enriching possibilities of nature-based learning environments for children. Embracing the winter chill, you can transform outdoor spaces into captivating arenas of exploration, offering children a unique blend of education and adventure.
Although the winter months can sometimes feel more challenging, there are so many opportunities to embrace. Below are a range of ways you can provide opportunities for your little ones this upcoming season, plus tips to create activities that align with the EYFS framework.
Embracing the winter wonderland
In a nature-based learning environment, winter becomes a canvas for hands-on learning experiences. Snow-covered grounds invite children to engage in sensory play, feeling the cold crunch beneath their boots and witnessing the uniqueness of snowflakes on their mittens. Educators can facilitate activities such as snow sculpting, where children create their miniature winter masterpieces, fostering creativity and fine motor skills.
Learning through nature's classroom
Nature's classroom is open year-round, and winter provides distinct lessons in science and biology. Educators can guide nursery children in observing changes in the environment, from the hibernation of animals to the transformative properties of frozen water. Nature walks take on a new dimension as children track animal footprints in the snow or frost and explore the unique flora that thrives in winter.
The winter garden
Creating a winter garden within the outdoor space introduces nursery children to the wonders of seasonal flora. Hardy winter plants, evergreen trees and strategically placed bird feeders become focal points for exploration. Through hands-on gardening activities, children learn about plant life cycles, the importance of biodiversity, and the role of winter in the natural world.
Harvesting and growing
One of the best things about having a vegetable patch in your setting is that you can grow all year round, even when temperatures drop. If your setting already has an allotment then you’ll be able to harvest winter vegetables such as brussels sprouts, swedes, leeks and parsnips. While harvesting you can also bring other activities into the mix like story time. For example, reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Jack and the Beanstalk. Planting vegetables throughout the winter can be a bit more tricky, but winter onions can persist through the harshest months.
Winter wildlife watching
Winter offers a prime opportunity for nursery children to engage in birdwatching. Equipped with binoculars and bird guides, children can observe and identify local bird species that visit during the colder months. This activity not only enhances observational skills but also instils an appreciation for the diversity of wildlife in their surroundings.
Making a bird feeder is a great way to teach children about life cycles, and why in winter it’s harder for some animals to find their food than at other times of the year.
There are also bug and animal tracking activities that can set out a full day of outdoor adventures. As well as the typical small animals and insects you may come across, educators can also incorporate learning activities around animals associated with wintery weather. For example, by just using rope and some stuffed animals, you can create tracks that lead to different winter animals such as polar bears and penguins.
Dressing for the outdoors
Creating a nature-based learning environment in winter involves proper preparation. Educators and parents can collaborate to ensure that children are dressed in layers, with waterproof clothing and insulated boots. This not only keeps them warm but also allows them to fully immerse themselves in the winter wonderland, without the hindrance of chilly discomfort. No such thing as bad weather – just wrap up and get outdoors.
Fostering a love for our environment
Beyond the classroom walls, a nature-based learning environment in winter nurtures a love for the environment that will have a life-long lasting impact. Children develop resilience as they embrace the elements, curiosity as they investigate winter phenomena, and a sense of wonder that only the great outdoors can inspire. These experiences lay the foundation for a connection and care for the natural world and will hopefully lead to a generation that strives to preserve our environment.
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