Monday morning, we went to school in the first blizzard of the year. It was bitterly cold, and the wind howled around, blowing the 20 centimetres of snow into small drifts. Was there ever a question that our outdoor learning block at the beginning of the day would be cancelled? I am not comfortable just automatically calling for an indoor morning during inclement weather, and usually tend to have a Big Think if I do. So, making sure that all my students had the requisite cold weather clothing, we set out in the morning as usual.
In a previous post, I mentioned how baking hot the kindergarten playground is during the warm and sunny months, but I had no idea how miserable it could be in the cold. With the cold weather, it turns into a wind tunnel, creating a crusty surface of snow and ice. WIth the climbing structure now closed, there is little to do when the conditions are so unfavourable. The only shelter is a small plastic playhouse in a corner, and the rest of the area is open to the elements as the wind whips up the hill from the river and blasts the yard. If a student drops a mitten, it creates mayhem as they run squealing after it before it gets pinned by the wind to the chain link fence at the other side of the yard. Hilarious.
So, I admit that while I was hollering the students’ names into the wind in order to be heard while I took attendance, I began to have second thoughts about the idea of staying outside for the morning block. I am glad to say that we decided to stay outdoors, but not in the kindergarten yard which was so inhospitable. We decided, instead, to go on a walk in the snow around the school where we could at least get out of the wind and allow the students to have some fresh air and fun. Having taught in an Inuit community at the top of Hudson’s Bay, I remember recess time on the tundra where it was often cold and blustery and staying indoors was not an option. You dress for it, and without making a point of whatever opinion you may have of winter, you get out into it and enjoy yourself.
As we trudged through the drifts, I was so impressed with the children’s resilience in spite of the cold. There are some students who have never been through an Ottawa winter and who have to borrow warm clothing each day for our outdoor block, and yet, there they were, laughing as they would try to walk in the deep snow and fall into their friends, or as they made snow angels for the first time. We climbed the mountains of snow the plow had pushed to one end of the junior yard, then rolled down the hill at the back of the school into a field of fresh drifts.
It took us over half an hour to navigate the complete school yard and make it back to the fenced-in kindergarten yard. The wind was still howling and a couple of mittens had fallen off during the climbing adventures, so, looking at the rosy cheeks and running noses, my ECE partner and I started a slow filter indoors for any students who were ready for a change of environment. While most children filed into the classroom, a handful wanted to stay outside and asked me for the toboggans. Since we were all well-dressed and well-prepared to continue staying outdoors for a little while longer, the tobogganing was a bonus activity that saw the students continue to independently explore a host of different ways to slide down the hill. Reflecting on what the students were learning, I easily made anecdotal notes for all for the Four Frames, excepting LIteracy and Mathematics Behaviours. What’s more, the students looked out for one another before heading down the hill, patiently took turns, and helped each other up the hill if they struggled with their sled. They were a very happy crew, and when we made our way back to the classroom, although many of them would have preferred to stay outside a while longer, everyone brought their sled back to the shed and stacked it properly without a complaint.
When we got inside and they were peeling off crusty mittens and snowy boots, you could hear sighs of, “That was so much fun!” from the cubby room. It’s only the first snowfall, but I am really happy that it was a positive experience for all the students. I will remember that the next time we get walloped by winter weather.