By Heidi Widmer, Heather Stark, Dave Verhulst
Squinting optimistically between a pulled-down toque and thick balaclava, the Forest Play Alpenglow Kindergarten class waddle their way through the forest. Despite their warm breath instantly crystallizing onto eyelashes, thick snowsuits impeding mobility notto mention lack of dexterity with gloved hands, the children paid no mind; there was playing to do! The recent -33C
overnight lows in Canmore followed by daytime highs of -25C transformed the forest and play. Branches that swayed now snapped. The forest floor snow squeaked underfoot. Life moved a littleslower, a little more calculated.
The cold days at Forest Play reminded us of what winter can mean. It inspired stories of survival, resilience and teamwork. Heather, Dave, Marlou and Siobhan told stories of how the winter elves, Snowflake and Icicle, worked together to help the local wildlife adapt, find food, and have fun in the frigid weather. The children learned about animals closely calculating their movements to conserve energy. There were plenty of giggles, when the elves foundrelief from the cold in the thick winter coat of an elk.
The cold snap did more than frost our noses and inspire stories. At Forest Play, the cold instigated play that required a new type of communication, self-awareness and adaptability. On a particularly cold afternoon, the children worked together to move fallen logs from a nearby cut onto a toboggan and then coordinated themselves in order to haul the toboggan a fair distance across the resistant snow. They built the logs up to construct their imagined train station. Persistently hauling logs back-and-forth from the cut tree to the “construction site” required communication and teamwork not to mention physical strength! Snow shovelling, path building and digging were also popular outdoor activities that generated warmth and took on a new life in the cold.
When the cold seeped past buffs and scarves, mitts and boots, the wood stove in our canvas tent welcomed us. Forest Play staff noticed considerable growth in the children’s self-awareness as they learned to check in with their fingers, toes, and cheeks and seek a warm-up before reaching the point of discomfort. Many were keen to go back outside once they were warm while the tent hummed with others participating in finger knitting, eagle eye crafting,carving, crayon sketching, impromptu tea parties.
We feel grateful for the contrast in weather and persistent optimism of the Kindergarten class. The play in the forest we observed during the deep-freeze demonstrated unique progress in the children’s resiliency, self-awareness, teamwork, physical strength, adaptability and communication skills. Although we are happy to greet the warmth of the sun again, there is nothing quite like a view framed by crystallized eyelashes.
Stories from the Forest
Alpenglow School's Kindergarten afternoon programming works in partnership with Nature's Tracks Forest Play. Nature experiences should be fun, magical and facilitated in a way so that children feel safe and supported as they explore the edges of their world. The program is built around cycles in nature and the life stages children naturally move through. When children are connected to the natural world, they are more connected to themselves, they are happier and more hopeful.