Updated winter Care of Children. Writen by Mazz Brown with many thanks to Claire McGarrie, Karen McLean and the Secret Garden team for their input and contributions.
We reach that time of year again when our staff meetings, training, and discussions with parents in the park (headtorch-illuminated or lit by a sun set to a low wick) turn to how best to care for the children and ourselves as we move through winter in the woods.
From a staffing perspective, winter is a season of high strategy, in which we rely on and revel in our culture of consistent, warm and respectful communication to ensure safe spaces can be held and maintained.
This is a season to value attention to small details; as much as possible giving ourselves space and time to prepare, checking the forecast, keeping it simple in our duty to provide attentive care, and never, ever, packing ourselves a mediocre lunch.
The children always have and always will be involved in decision-making at the Secret Garden, and winter is a time when this can really flourish. Circle times, intrinsic to our daily structure, can multiply to pre-empt or press pause on play if the elements renegotiate the terms.
‘It’s stopped/raining/stopped/hailing/snowing/stopped/the sun is out/gone/the wind has gone/picked up! What will we need today? What do you think we should do?’
Unfailingly gifted in noticing changes in weather patterns and what this could entail, the nursery community may need to decamp or regroup, pack or unpack, reassess their clothing needs, change a game from static to mobile or help a friend to find a glove.
This ‘supervised survival’ reads to the children as adventure of the purest kind, and develops skills in problem-solving, adaptability, flexibility and confidence.
No two winters are ever the same, and we are continually bemused, delighted, buffeted and humbled by a meteorological backdrop of endless change. Although collectively we do have many years of experience, and have found that paying particular attention to the following has had a great impact on our enjoyment of these wintry days outside.
· Every type of weather offers up play opportunities that other types cannot, and we put a great emphasis on role modelling positive attitudes to whatever is shone, showered, whistled, iced, misted or flurried our way.
· Weather apps or websites such as the Met Office are a useful resource for giving hour-by-hour information on how the weather may change as the day progresses, and deciding how much and what sort of kit may be needed.
· Wet or windy days will typically call for more layers, and it can be useful to have some of these be quick-drying such as fleece.
· Warm and comfortable layers are key. The Secret Garden day has periods of high and low exertion, activity and stillness. A warm/waterproof hat or a cosy hood and a buff/snood are ideal for keeping the wind at bay.
· Thermal, fleece, or woollen materials are far superior to cotton, which likes to soak up water and is a trickster, acquiring the shape of warmer garments like hoodies or jumpers while providing minimal heat. This is especially important for socks too.
· Staff are predictably well padded up themselves at this time of year so happy to discuss good clothing/layering options if there is any uncertainty around what is best.
· Waterproof mittens with a strap or zip* are a good choice as they are ideal for all weathers and enable uninterrupted access to messy play, though the child’s individual preference should be taken into account, as they are then more likely to be worn. Please choose gloves that fit your child well.
· Insulated wellies keep toes toasty and dry.
· Arriving in the park fully dressed ensures a speedy entrance into play and a smooth exit up the hill. If your child has a waterproof with braces, its best if this is the last layer, to help with easy toileting. Our journey involves some reliably wonderful puddles. Waterproofs over wellies please!
· Charity shops and second hand clothing apps such as Vinted have some great finds and we can loan out clothing and boots to our Secret Gardeners. Members of our Secret Gardeners Facebook group often offer outgrown clothing as well (ask us for the link as it`s private).
· The side pockets are best used for accessible gloves and a water bottle*
· A ziplock or dry waterproof bag for spare clothing/nappies is always a good idea. Even if your child is toilet trained, winter in the woods can throw up some surprises and it is entirely normal for this to sometimes take a step back.
· Lunch at the top of the bag is optimal. (Generally this is the first thing your child will need to access once we are in the woods.)
· A clean pair of ‘lunch gloves’ (not waterproof mittens) inside the lunch box* is a good idea too, for keeping fingers cosy while sitting.
· A hat with a torch built in or headtorch* for going down the hill in the dark.
· If possible, a warm breakfast before arrival in the park is ideal.
· A warm lunch in a thermos is also highly recommended. If your child really resists warm foods, having a thermos of whatever warm drink they like (chocolate, milk, juice etc.) alongside a cold lunch will be a great help in keeping cosy at lunchtime.
· Appealing, energy dense-foods that are likely to be enjoyed by your child are the best choice for woods days. Pasta, beans, leftovers from dinner, dried fruit and nuts, home baking, porridge and soup are all good options.
* These ideas we feel are especially helpful for promoting independence and building confidence in children’s self-care skills.
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