Standards in the Snow

The world is blanketed in pristine white this week at Wildwood Nature Center. At first, the toddlers stand frozen and stare in wonder. Then they cautiously begin to explore and react with surprise when the cold snow crunches beneath their feet.  The preschool students are a bit older and they have seen this phenomenon before. They eagerly shovel the snow, pushing it to and from, gathering it up into mounds and snowballs. The kindergarteners are old pros at making snowmen and digging forts, at identifying tracks and balancing on their knees as they ride sleds down the hill.  The white landscape is a hive of activity for all ages. There is a rich tapestry of play – and of learning.

Children eagerly decorate the white canvas of snow with paint brushes dipped in colored water (water colors or food dye work equally well) to create their temporary masterpieces.  The color doesn’t make a straight line, even when you use the same brushstroke you would use on paper, and they wonder about that. One student changes the way she paints – small dots like a pointillism artist allow her to make the smiling outline she desires.  Bulky gloves are an additional challenge for this particular child- and while painting outdoors she’s retraining her body to do a familiar task, in a challenging setting, building on self-efficacy and resilience. Some children prefer to paint with the brushes, while others are drawn toward the streams of color that come from squeeze bottles, syringes, droppers, or spray bottles.  Each brings its own set of challenges to overcome. The ground is stained with different colors, a vibrant picture of learning in action.

Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards
25.A.ECd Visual Arts: Investigate and participate in activities using visual arts materials
26.B.ECa Use creative arts as an avenue for self-expression.
30.C.ECa Exhibit eagerness and curiosity as a learner.
30.C.ECb Demonstrate persistence and creativity in seeking solutions to problems.
30.C.ECc Show some initiative, self-direction, and independence in actions.
30.C.ECd Demonstrate engagement and sustained attention in activities

The snowflakes drift down onto frozen pieces of black paper, foam or felt, or even coats and gloves.  We observe their shapes. Some older students choose to consult a chart to “match” the snowflakes to their different types.  All wonder at the swift disappearance of the tiny crystals under our hot breaths. What happens to the snow when we breathe on it?  When we take it inside? When we put it in little baggies? Scientific thoughts are spinning.

The watertable has frozen, filled with leaves and woodchips, water and old toys that should have been put away last class but didn’t quite make it back into the building.  Little hands chip away using sticks, rocks, and other woodchips. A discussion begins on the best way to release the debris from its icy prison. The cup of colored water some friends have been painting with makes its way over to the excavation site.  A request for warm water and squirters is granted. And when the toys are rescued, students fill bowls with pinecones, rocks and sticks. We cover these treasures with water and leave them outside to freeze again – tomorrow’s excavations.

Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards
10.A.ECa With teacher assistance, come up with meaningful questions that can be answered through gathering information.
10.B.ECb Make predictions about the outcome prior to collecting information, with teacher support and multiple experiences over time.
11.A.ECa Express wonder and curiosity about their world by asking questions, solving problems, and designing things.
11.A.ECc Plan and carry out simple investigations.
11.A.ECd Collect, describe, compare, and record information from observations and investigations.

Rulers accompany the kindergarteners on their hike.  They measure the height of the snow in different areas, and wonder, “Why is there more snow over here right off the walking path?  Why is the walking path clear?” Someone equates it to the snow plow they watched clearing their street yesterday. Indeed, the maintenance crew has come through with their own mini-plow.  But did they plow the area under the big spruce tree? Why is there such a thin layer of snow here? The ruler shows the difference – the numbers are much smaller here than they were right next to the path.  

Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards
6.D.ECb Describe comparisons with appropriate vocabulary, such as “more”, “less”, “greater than”, “fewer”, “equal to”, or “same as”.
7.A.ECc Use vocabulary that describes and compares length, height, weight, capacity, and size.
7.C.ECa With teacher assistance, explore use of measuring tools that use standard units to measure objects and quantities that are meaningful to the child.

We take out the sleds each day.  The older students race through the deep snow to get to the top of the hill where they will share their sleds, two or three to a group.  A pair try lying on top of each other, “Do you feel safe?” a teacher asks. “Yup!” both reply and they prepare to take their run down this steep mountain. They wait for the perfect moment – when no kids are crossing their path – to take off.  They need a little push which a passing friend provides!

One younger student asks a teacher to join her.  She’s feeling a little scared. One friend student waits impatiently for another friend to join him on the sled.  Downhill is easy, but – as he discovers as he walks up the hill holding one end of the sled as his friend supports the other side – teamwork makes the uphill job much easier.  As the kindergarten class joins the younger group, there is excitement in the air. The boisterous kindergarteners calm down just a little around the much smaller two year olds.  They patiently agree to go down the hill more slowly, and wait to practice their more daring tricks until the twos have returned to their classroom, piling onto a sled or two to be pulled back the daunting distance to their classroom door.  Soon the lift will be unnecessary, as their little legs gain the strength and stamina of their older peers.

The snow is no longer pristine, trodden down by stomping boots and snow angels, dotted here and there with painted colors and the mounds of attempted snowmen.  What looks like easy fun is hard work for these developing young bodies. That work will grow their coordination, their motor skills, their cooperation and communication, and their appreciation of the world around them.  Everyone is immersed in play. And everyone is learning.

Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards
19.A.ECa Engage in active play using gross- and fine-motor skills.
19.A.ECb Move with balance and control in a range of physical activities.
19.A.ECc Use strength and control to accomplish tasks.
19.B.ECa Coordinate movements to perform complex tasks.
19.B.ECb Demonstrate body awareness when moving in different spaces.
19.B.ECc Combine large motor movements with and without the use of equipment
19.C.ECa Follow simple safety rules while participating in activities.
20.A.ECb Exhibit increased levels of physical activity
21.B.ECa Demonstrate ability to cooperate with others during group physical activities.
22.A.ECc Identify and follow basic safety rules.
31.A.ECe Develop positive relationships with peers.
31.B.ECa Interact verbally and nonverbally with other children.
31.B.ECb Engage in cooperative group play.
31.B.ECc Use socially appropriate behavior with peers and adults, such as helping, sharing, and taking turns.

Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards can be found at the Illinois State Board of Education website

About the Author

Cara Ruffo is a Program Naturalist at the Park Ridge Park District’s Wildwood Nature Center, and Media Manager for NINPA

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