Local outdoors teacher encourages wintertime play

MUNCY ­- Concerned that cold weather may lead to sickness or injury, many caregivers keep toddlers and preschoolers inside once the temperature drops. But local Tinkergarten teacher Alicia Colonie believes simple modifications can encourage safe and engaging outdoor play all winter long.

“Outdoor play in winter presents children with new challenges and helps them build skills like resilience, the ability to recover quickly from failures and difficulties and persistence with the ability to stick with something and keep trying,” Colonie, who teaches nature play to children ages 18 months through elementary school in an outdoor classroom all year, said.

To caregivers concerned about cold harming kids, Colonie said many health professionals agree when children wear the right clothing, outdoor play in winter is beneficial for children’s health.

“It has been said, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’ Within reason, I tend to agree,” Colonie said. She recommends layers when it comes to winter clothing, which trap body heat and let sweat evaporate.

“First, closest to the skin, one should have a base layer, preferably non-cotton, of long underwear or tights and socks that will wick away moisture. The second layer is considered the insulation layer and consists of items such as sweatpants and sweaters, preferably of down or fleece.”

The last layer is the waterproof layer and should be a waterproof coat and, if needed, snow pants as well as a hat and mittens.

Checking children’s hands are key to keeping them safe during winter outside play, says Colonie.

“Mittens are better than gloves to keep the hands warm, but whichever will stay on a child’s hands is the best.”

She believes caregivers should also know the signs and basic treatment for injuries caused by cold like frostbite and

hypothermia. “Signs of frostbite include feelings of pain and then numbness and skin that is whiter than the surrounding area,” Colonie said. Being observant and diligent with the warning signs can prevent injury.

“Being too hot, usually from over-layering, can become a safety concern, too,” she said. “To determine if a child is too hot, feel your child’s upper back; if that spot is hot and sweaty, they should shed a layer.”

Keeping children active and moving is another safeguard for keeping them safe during outdoor play. Colonie recommends activities like relays, creating ice sculptures or snow forts, and searching for animal tracks in the mud or snow. They keep children moving their large muscle groups, which will keep them warmer.

The study of birds also lends itself well to outdoor play for young children, Colonie said.

“Birds provide unique visual experiences while searching for them, watching them fly [using…] simple binoculars.”

She offers ideas for extending learning beyond observation. “Creating bird houses and feeders, using household items such as tweezers to simulate different bird beaks, searching for signs of birds [like] nests/feathers, and keeping a birding journal are examples of the many birding activities one can complete with children.”

Colonie’s last Tinkergarten sessions ended in the fall. One of her favorite lessons they explored involved investigating whether small hollowed pumpkins would sink or float. She and the children, or explorers as she calls them, also enjoyed an imaginative obstacle course and treasure hunt as well as creating artwork by smashing found flowers and berries into bandanas.

For those looking for some more wintertime outdoor play ideas, is holding the winter Tinkergarten session Friday mornings from 10:30am to 11:45 am, starting February 8th and running through March 15th at Muncy Heritage Park. For more information and to register, go to https://www.tinkergarten.com/leaders/alicia.

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