Winter in the Forest

Now that spring is, well, “springing” I spoke to Carly Lynn, one of the lead teachers of the Forest Kindergarten about what it’s like to teach students outside everyday in the winter in upstate New York.

It’s been really cold this winter. Do you all still go outside?
There has never been a day we have not gone outside. Of course, if it was dangerous to the children we would not go out, but part of what we value in the kindergarten is readying ourselves for outdoor play, and braving the elements, no matter what they are, and even if for just a short amount of time. So, yes, we go outside every day, and we are grateful now for the more spring like weather when we can be out longer!

What kind of weather keeps you from going outside or makes you bring the kids in?
Thunder/lightening storm would send us in, and when it is bitterly cold we abbreviate our time outside. Hurricanes, tornadoes…

How do the children stay warm? How do the teachers stay warm?
The teachers dress in many layers, and so do the children. The parents are great in being sure that the children always have an underlay (wool is best) and usually a couple of layers over that, with a nice heavy sweater is wonderful. We can always take off layers if we get too hot. Our first parent evening this year, we shrunk cashmere and wool sweaters and made little vests for the children. The ones whose parents finished them keep them at school and put them on when they come inside. It is a nice warm, and cute extra layer to keep their core warm.

Why do we make the kids stay outside when it’s cold?
We don’t “make” them stay out, if they were very miserable we would make accommodations, but we highly encourage it because we feel that in order to nurture the child’s connection with our world, with nature, they must have an experience of it daily, so to see, feel, smell, touch, the changes that occur every day, even within hours of a morning it can change dramatically – like today – rain this a.m., then sun, then lots of wind and even some snowflakes. Each element and change brings a new experience and different opportunity for play.

What do the kids do outside during the winter? What do they learn?
The children do many things at the Forest Kindergarten in the winter – they help build fires, we are now boiling sap, we feed and care for our chickens, and see that they lay far fewer eggs in the darker months, and now they are laying so much again, we sled and pull each other in the sleds, we eat snow, we find animal tracks, we build tee-pees, climb trees, make snowmen, dig in the snow, make all kinds of soups, cakes, in our buckets with snow and ice, we skate on the ice at “Icy Bear”, we build forts, we snowshoe, we tire ourselves out and have a lot of fun!!

What’s the best thing about being at a forest kindergarten in the winter?
The best thing is witnessing all the changes. It is invigorating to be out in the cold, it is empowering to trudge through the deep snow and get to our place of play, and it is beautiful to see the light change, and now it is magical to see the return of all the animals, to taste the sweet water from our maple tree, and play in the mud!! It was a long and wonderful winter!