Wonders of Winter Master Class Series

Begins January 2, 2023, Monday evenings 6-8pm EST

Ready to feel confident and excited to teach in the outdoor classroom this winter? This 20 hour professional development series is designed to equip early childhood educators with the tools and resources to keep children engaged in learning throughout the entire winter. Each session we will dive into practical and actionable steps that educators can take to bring outdoor learning to life!

In this master class series  you will have:

  • Ten live Zoom sessions with interactive group work that will allow you to connect with classmates working with similar aged children 
  • Downloadable resources that can be printed and implemented right away
  • Q & A session for students to ask questions, work through challenges, and get support overcoming obstacles
  • Student dashboard with all the materials you need including sample parent letters, information to share in your newsletter, and curriculum activities to keep your children engaged all winter
  • Private “Wonders of Winter” facebook group to continue to share ideas all winter long. (This short term “pop up” group will open Jan 1st and will stay open until  April 2023.) Students can show what’s working in their program, share photographs, ask questions, and continue to build their confidence!
  • Lifetime access to the student dashboard, so you can rewatch the recordings and access the materials all in one spot. 
  • An uplifting and unique opportunity to engage with like-minded educators who want to embrace winter and expand learning opportunities outdoors! The friendships in this professional learning community will give you something to look forward to during darker and shorter days of winter.
  • Earn up to 20 hours of Professional Development (based on the number of sessions you attend live)

Investment: $197 (payment not due until January)

Date/Times: Begins January 2, 2023, Monday evenings 6-8pm EST

There will be TEN Zoom sessions and the topics include:

1 ~ Winter Woes to Winter Glows ~ Shifting our Mindset & Gearing Up for Winter 

2 ~ Policy Development & How to Address Parental Concerns & Worries 

3 ~ Winter STEAM Kits ~ Developing grab & go resources for your classroom

4 ~ Children’s Literature, Poems & Songs for Winter

5 ~ Math Outdoors in Winter 

6 ~ Science Explorations in Winter (outdoors & indoors)

7 ~ Gross Motor Games (outdoors & indoors)

8 ~ Winter Inspired Process Art 

9 ~ Maple Sugaring 

10 ~ Wrapping Up Wonders of Winter Series!

Animal Tracking with Children

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Animal Tracks- after a fresh snowfall, it’s so much fun to find and follow a set of animal tracks in your backyard (even cat tracks are fun to find and follow). See how far you can follow the animal tracks and try to figure out who left those tracks.Older children might enjoy drawing the tracks they find into a journal and identifying them. If you carry a digital device you could also use an app like “SEEK” to help you identify the tracks in the moment. 

Fiction Book to get your tracking started – Read the book “Tracks in the Snow” by Wong Herbert Yee about a little girl who sees tracks out of her window. A refrain in the book is wonderful to share when you go outside on your tracking adventure…. “Tracks in the snow. Tracks in the snow. Who made the tracks? Where do they go?”

Snowshoe Stomping Paths- who made this heart? As a big kid, I love to put on my own snowshoes and stomp out special messages or create paths for my preschoolers. I think it’s important to show children how much we ourselves enjoy playing outdoors all year round!

Mini World Animal Play – adding cotton batting to the indoor science area, providing small play animals, and books is a great way to extend their learning.

Photograph Tracks & Research –  Take a photograph on tracks on your hike, then print out the pictures, and look in a tracking book to find a match. One of my favorite books to have on hand in my classroom is called Tracks, Scats, and Signs by L. Dendy. Helping children to learn how to use books as a tool is wonderful life skill and children love to feel ‘grown up’. 

Follow the Footprints activity: Make animal footprints that are to scale of the actual size of the animal. (I am using Deer & Moose this year.) Before the students arrive, put the footprints out in the outdoor space. Then have the children track the prints down and follow the animal.

Flip Flop Tracks – there are lots of pins on Pinterest showing how people transform flip flops into various animal tracks. It would be fun to make these so they could be tied onto a pair of boots, then kids could stomp out their own versions of animal tracks. 

Animal Signs in Winter – Look for other signs of animal activity – nibbled twigs, chewed acorn shells, pinecones that have been shredded, scat, or scratches in bark – as we go on our winter walks we look for signs that animals have been there. There is a great one page handout in the Cultivating Joy and Wonder curriculum (on page 228) to use as a reference. 

  • Look for the ends of twigs that have been gnawed, nibbled, or snapped off
  • Look for bark that’s been gnawed or stripped off, or the the remains of nibbled nuts
  • Look for poop! Animal poop (scat) can help us identify the naimale and what it’s been eating
  • Look for animal homes (squirrel leaf nests, holes in trees, dead logs) 

https://shelburnefarms.org/our-work/resources/cultivatingjoyandwonder

Winter Track Walk Data Collection: Taking a winter walk in the forest looking for animal tracks can be quite the adventure for young children. Explain that in addition to tracks people also look for tree scarring and scat (animal droppings). Look for real animal tracks and other signs that animals have been there. Help the children learn how to approach the tracks slowly without disturbing the tracks so all their friends can see before we make our own tracks over top of them. Over time continue to take photographs of the tracks so that you can print and make a classbook of your discoveries. Who are the frequent animal visitors in your area? Make tally marks or some other data collection so you can see who are the most frequent visitors. 


Animal Track Pattern Cards – give each child their own ‘Animal Track Pattern Cards’ to wear as a necklace. Help children learn the four categories of animal movement (straight walker, hopper, waddler, bounder) and test it out with your own body. I like to start with teaching about the “hoppers” and pretend we are snowshoe hares. When children feel this movement in their body it is easier to understand how different animals move. This makes for a great gross motor game to play! You can get a free printable “Track Patterns” from the Shelburne Farms Cultivating Joy and Wonder book on page 221 – https://shelburnefarms.org/our-work/resources/cultivatingjoyandwonder

Looking for a few more curriculum ideas? Check out these three elated lessons from the Cultivating Joy and Wonder book from Shelburne Farms: 

“Active in Winter! Animals on the Move” p.102-103 (115-116)

“Signs in the Snow” p.106-107 (119-120)

“Owl Eyes” p.131-132 (144-145)

Make a cast of a track in MUD – directions at this youtube video with plaster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_ksi4Ih_wU&t=54s

Small Scale Track Making : Bring a few plastic toy animals outdoors. Show the kids how they can make the animals walk through the snow leaving behind mini tracks. Tracks can also be made with toy vehicles. Play a version of hide and seek where children make tracks with toys and another child goes to look for where they end & find the toy. Tracking Basket: in the outdoor classroom, display an animal track identification poster on the fence or wall. Keep a small tracking manual or plastic tracking cards available for the kids to explore. Animal Tracks matching cards could be laminated and kept on a ring. One set that is very preschool age appropriate (though the tracks are not to scaled) is at PreKinders. This link takes you to a  *FREE*  printable animal track book with predictable text “This is a raccoon track.” with color pictures and clip art of the track. There is also a set of animal photos and track cards that can be printed out and made into a matching game. https://www.prekinders.com/animal-tracks-book/

Children’s Booklist for Animal Tracks:

Arnosky, Jim. Wild Tracks!  (This is a wonderful book with amazing fold out pages of life sized tracks)
Arnosky, Jim. I See Animals Hiding.
Benjamin, Cynthia and Jacqueline Rogers. Footprints in the Snow. (This is an easy reader book that is often found as a $1 book through Scholastic Book Club.)

Dendy, L. Tracks, Scats, and Signs. (Favorite reference book to keep in my backpack to use to identify animal tracks and scat.)
Dodd, Anne Wescott. Footprints and Shadows.
Dorros, Arthur. Animal Tracks.
George, Lindsay Barret. In the Snow: Who’s Been Here?
George, Lindsay Barret. In the Woods: Who’s Been Here?
Hulbert, Laura. Who Has These Feet?

Hodgkins, F. Who’s Been Here? A Tale in Tracks. (includes tracks from: cat, turkey, moose, skunk)
Jones, Jennifer. Who Lives in the Snow?
Judge, Lita. Red Sled

Levine, Lynn and Martha Mitchell. Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Tracking Guide (Another great reference book with actual size tracks that make it easier for children to identify.)

Miller, Dorcas. Track Finder: A Guide to Mammal Tracks of Eastern North America.
Selsam, Millicent E. Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints
Sams, Laura. Stranger in the Woods – Photographic Fantasy.
Lawlor, Elizabeth P. Discover Nature in Winter (Discover Nature Series)
Stall, Chris and Steve Whitney. New England Animal Tracks.
Wilson, Karma & Jack E. Davis. Moose Tracks!

Yee, Wong Herbert. Tracks in the Snow. (A great story to introduce young children to tracking. A girl follows tracks around her home and discovers that they are her own tracks from the previous day.)

Ice Lanterns ~ Arctic Temperature Fun!

One of the realities of life in northern Vermont that winter brings us extreme low temperatures. Rather than deny it or bemoan it, I suggest that we embrace it!

When I know that we are going to have a Arctic like temperatures I like to seize the opportunity to make: ice lanterns, ice balls, and other icy explorations for my preschoolers. This post is a round up of pictures to inspire you to try your own hand at making the most of the frigid temperatures!

ICE LANTERNS – gather up large plastic containers and fill with water to freeze, add some natural materials like pine boughs. When frozen solid, put on eye protections chip a little indent with a screwdriver and insert tea lights or small candles. Some sources suggest using two different containers one inside the other, but my method makes a really solid lantern that will last a LONG time! I use mine outdoors and love the glow amongst the dark night!

Create a whole display with multiple ice lanterns and adorn them with icicles. After dark the icicles glow as the shadows of the candles dance!
Ice Balls ~ these are great fun to make with children. If you want more perfect spheres, fill the balloon with water and then set inside a similar sized plastic bowl. If you lie them flat like here they don’t roll as well…and you definitely want to try rolling these for a bowling game or with ramps!

As the lanterns are used the crevice becomes deeper. You can try adding more water on another frigid night so that it will last longer. The ice lanterns I made in 2021 lasted for almost 2 months!

Ice Sun Catchers – using small shallow pans try creating sun catchers with natural materials. Children love to create these and then once frozen…deconstruct them. Just remember eye protection when chipping or smashing ice.
Ice Sculpture – go big or go home! Grab all the buckets and containers you can find and make a entire palace out of ice. I saw took this photo years ago as I was driving home from southern Vermont. The family had created an ice rink and also had this inspiring colorful ice sculpture display!
Ice Hunting – I have an ongoing project to find the largest icicle that I can. While hiking the Rail Trail in December we found some beauties but these are tiny compared to last years 5 footers!
Bundle up ~ invest in a Balaclava!

No exposed skin is the way to survive (and even thrive) in the frigid temperatures. It turns out that with layering and getting out of the wind, you can still get outside even when an Arctic blast rolls through! I shared this rather unflattering photo on Instagram recently with the caption: “Question: What would you do to spend some quality time with your teenage son? Answer: Travel to the planet Hoth for some ice fishing while hoping that a Tauntaun might come offer a warm spot to defrost! “

Unlike Elsa who said, “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.”…many of us just are NOT comfortable being outdoors in the cold. In one of my recent trainings, “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Wellness” I shared some of my tips for staying warm outdoors.

Staying Warm Strategies:

  • Get the right gear & wear layers. Not sure what to buy ~ borrow gear from friends to test out & talk to others. Outdoor stores are happy to talk about options to keep you warm. You don’t have to break the bank when you learn how to layer. (which is a post for another day)
  • Try going outdoors for shorter lengths of time
  • Be active while outdoors – keep moving and PLAY!
  • Go out at the warmest part of the day
  • Avoid windy areas 
  • No exposed skin — get yourself a Balaclava type mask which is made of stretchy, breathable fabric that protects your face while wicking away moisture. Function before fashion!
  • HYDRATED before going out
  • Consider using toe or hand warmers 
  • If the cold really bothers you…invest in heated gloves, socks, vest, or jacket! It’s not a sign of weakness but rather a strategy that might motivate you to go outdoors more often this winter!  

Additional blog posts for winter ideas:

Winter Science for Preschool – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/18/winter-science-for-preschool/

Winter Inspired Math Activities – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/21/winter-inspired-math-activities/

Children’s Books for a Winter Study Unit – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/11/15/childrens-books-for-winter-studies/

Snowflake Catching Necklaces – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/01/19/snowflake-catching-necklaces/

Upcoming Training ~ “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Self Care”

Sponsor: Northern Lights at CCV

Instructor: April Zajko

With shorter daylight hours and frigid weather you might find yourself ready to hibernate. This two-hour training will give you a toolkit of simple wellness and gentle self-care strategies to integrate into your daily routines. You will learn ways that nature can gently nurture you and help you feel invigorated throughout the winter months!

Winter Inspired Math Activities

Counting Practice Counting how many steps to get outside, counting how many sleds, counting the number snow trucks, …counting just about anything that we see!

Counting Tracks Notice tracks in the snow and see if you can count how many steps the animal took to get from one place to the other. Compare the steps for children and the adult. 

Magic Number = Counting Sets “Today our ‘magic number is ___. Help me count everyone in line before we go outside to make sure we have our magic number!” (The magic number is the number of children who are here today and is an embedded counting routine we do several times a day. Try writing the numeral down to work on number recognition as well.  

Sled Count “1-2-3 blast off”- count up to three before the sled riders get their push down the hill. Practice counting higher up to 10 if they are patient enough! Or try counting backwards 3-2-1!

Snowman Features – Practice counting groups by counting the number of buttons, eyes, mouth pieces, etc. 

Snowball Fractions- Create several large snowballs and practice cutting them into ‘fair shares’ – talk about halves, quarters, and fourths! Make a ‘snow cake’ by using a large plastic tote as a mold and cut it into enough pieces to serve to every child! Count how many kids there are and then count to make sure there is enough for each child!

Snowball Groups – Create two different groups of snowballs – compare which looks like there is more. Count and discuss 

Painting Numerals in the Snow

Tracking & Position Words – Even if the only ‘tracks’ on your playground are the neighbor’s cat or squirrels children will love to follow them and describe what the animal was doing. Ask leading questions that get the children to use spatial words. 

Sledding Conversation  Make sure the rope is inside the sled or it will slow your ride down. Both friends need their hands on top of the sled so our fingers don’t get pinched. Put your legs around the person in front. When you get down the hill move to the side of where we sled so no one bumps into you. Pull the sled up to the top of the hill. 

Stick Shapes – explore building 2D shapes by offering a collection of sticks of various sizes. Squares, rectangles, triangles…as well as coming up with creative designs. Read the book, “Not a Stick”!

Shape Stamps – explore making 2D shapes by bringing out different shapes that you cut out of cardboard. Children can push the cut out into the snow to make designs or pictures. 

3D Snow Shapes & Sculptures- explore making 3D shapes by making snowballs (spheres) and using plastic molds in different shapes. Orange juice container cut into smaller square (cubes); snow brick makers (rectangular prism), and 5 gallon food buckets (cylinder).

Measuring Snow – Set up a “Snow Measurement Board” by getting a 24×24 inch of exterior grade plywood. Have the children help you paint the plywood on both sides and edges with exterior white paint. Purchase a Measuring Stick that has easy to read numbers. Take a reading each day for total snow, and if you clear one half of the board each day you can measure ‘new snow’. Read more at this link for specific directions or just have fun exploring measurement when you think about it. 

https://www.weather.gov/dvn/snowmeasure

Measuring Snowmen – Create a snow family of different heights then compare and contrast the different sizes. Try measuring them using a tape measure or non-standard unit such as Yarn. Read the book, Snowballs by Lois Ehlert. 

Measuring Snow Angels 

Have several children lie down near each other to make Snow Angels. Afterwards talk about the different sizes and compare sizes of each child’s snow angel. 

Walking Stick – Measuring – A walking stick can be a great non-standard unit of measurement. Create several different length walking sticks and use them to measure things in the outdoor classroom. 

Measuring Icicles – children love to examine and investigate icicles. Talk about whether the icicles are short or long; narrow or wide; heavy or light. Make predictions about which one will take the shortest amount of time to melt and which one will take the longest time to melt. Photograph the icicles next to a ruler and compare every hour with a new photo. How does it change over time outside vs. inside?

Recipes in Snow Kitchen – children can explore measurement by adding plastic measuring cups and measuring spoons to the ‘snow kitchen’. Add various sized bowls or containers for scooping and pouring and packing…all great ways to explore volume with snow!

Snow Volume – have children fill up a variety of containers with snow. Pack the snow in tightly and look how full it is. When you go indoors take the filled containers with you and watch the snow melt. Compare how much water is left once fully melted. 

Patterns in the Snow – Use two different types of natural materials and create an AB pattern (such as pinecone, stick, pinecone, stick…). Have children help figure out what comes next and practice extending the pattern. 

Pattern Making with Snowballs & Snow Molds – Use two or more different containers that can be used as a molds – create a pattern such as Snowball, Yogurt container, Snowball, Yogurt container…