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Providing Outdoor Play Experiences During Winter Weather

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By Lisa Mulliken

During the snowy weather and cold winter months, do you find it more challenging to get the children in your classroom outside? Here in Pennsylvania, wintertime may feel like a difficult time of the year for children to engage in daily outdoor play. From the additional time it takes to put on extra layers of clothing to parents who do not send in appropriate winter clothing, it may seem like there are too many challenges to overcome. How do you determine if it is appropriate and worthwhile for children to engage in outdoor play?

In the Environment Rating Scales, “weather permitting” means that children should go outside every day, unless there is active precipitation or public announcements that advise people to remain indoors. In Pennsylvania, the PA Position Statements provide further guidance and expect outdoor play to occur during colder weather when the temperature/wind chill is above 25 degrees and there is no current air quality alert. Although this guidance is a good baseline when considering outdoor play, it can sometimes be appropriate and beneficial to take children outdoors when temperatures fall below 25 degrees and/or even when there is snow falling! The winter weather provides opportunities for play experiences that are not possible during warmer weather, provides access to fresh air and vitamin D, and provides much needed exercise when indoor gross motor space is limited or not available.

Here are some things to consider when planning outdoor play experiences for children during cold weather:

  • Explain to parents and staff the benefits of outdoor play to children’s physical, cognitive and social development and the foundation it builds for literacy, math and science concepts.
  • Develop a strong outdoor play policy for your program and encourage parents to provide appropriate outdoor clothing as well as a change of clothes in case children get wet or dirty. Start a clothing donation box so your program has extra clothing on hand.
  • Encourage teachers to bring appropriate outdoor clothing that will allow them to engage in outdoor play with children. Teacher participation can stimulate and enrich outdoor play and maximize learning opportunities for children.
  • Plan for outdoor play to occur during the warmest part of the day and assure that children are dressed appropriately for the weather. Provide extra time in the daily schedule for the transition to and from outdoor play.
  • Have a plan in place to consistently remove snow from outdoor play areas and inspect the area for ice and slippery spots.
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