Teaching Outdoors in Winter

A visual gear list to give families
A visual that shows how to dress in chilly, cold and extremely cold weather
An example of a boot drying rack. It is a rectangular box structure that is made out of wood. The Each side has 3 horizontal pieces of wood with PVC pipe sticking out of them. The boots go onto the PVC pipe.

Winter Clothing Resources

Gear List for Families

Example Gear List with some recommended brands

Visual gear/clothing list for families (pictured on left)


How to get gear?

Collect donations for extra clothing (Rotary clubs, community drive, donated gear students grew out of...).

Donors Choose is a great way to fundraise for gear!

Check with individual gear companies for school discounts.


Extra Gear in Backpack:

ALWAYS have extra socks, mittens and neck warmers in your teacher backpack to swap out as needed.


How to dress for winter (Video Examples):

Article: How to dress your kids for the outdoors (REI)

How to Dress for Cold Weather (Video + Gear List) Rain or Shine Mamma

Video - Getting Dressed for Winter: Active Kids


Drying & Storing Winter Gear in the Classroom

If you have floor vents, these are great for drying mittens & gloves: https://theecodryer.com/

Use a clothesline to clip mittens and gloves to air dry. Clip so the opening is hanging down

Put hooks on the outside of lockers or on the wall for jackets and snow pants to air dry.

Boot racks that put the boots upside down but allow airflow to help with drying.

Face Masks Outdoors

Monitor facemasks closely to ensure they are dry. Swap regularly if they get wet. Wet face masks on cold skin will increase the risk of frost bite.

Hand Warmers

HotSnapZ - Reusable hand warmers

DIY Hand Warmers: Baby socks filled with rice

*Store in thermos until needed to keep them warm longer

Safety

NOAA Wind Chill Chart: Based on the wind chill, how long can I stay outside before risk of frostbite on exposed skin?

Hypothermia & Frostbite: Warning Signs & Prevention (CDC)

  • Always make sure students pull up their sleeves when washing hands, or wet sleeves against skin = frostbite!

  • Bread bags can protect feet if boots get wet - Make sure to change into dry socks as soon as they are wet.

  • Old socks can serve as an extra barrier to protect the skin between the coat and the mitten if snow is going up the coat sleeve. (See example)

Ice Safety: There is no such thing as 100% safe ice. Learn about ice thickness and survival strategies in the event of breaking through ice.

NOAA Wind Chill Chart
A lean-to style shelter created using a tarp
An ice fishing sled

Shelter, Outdoor Seating, & Transporting Materials Resources

  • Shelter with Fire for warmth: Whelen Lean-to style. Purchase a whelen lean-to tent or construct with tarp (see picture on left)

    • NOTE about fires: Make sure you have a safety plan & connect with someone experienced in using a fire with children before attempting to do this on your own!

  • Other shelter ideas: Picnic shelters with temporary walls, Carports, greenhouses, yurts

  • Seating: Straw bales, stumps, sit-upons (great for extra barrier between students and snow), Tarp with picnic blanket on top, 5 gallon buckets with lid. This material is great for sitting on (and can also be used for portable fort walls and sledding too!)

  • Transporting Materials: Heavy-duty wagons work great (here one that is loved by teachers in Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools) until there is deep snow. Switch to using sleds (ice fishing sleds work great & have deeper sides).

Tips for Teaching & Assessment

Writing Outdoors

  • Wear mittens AND a glove (keep glove on when writing) - Older students can do this too!

  • Rite in the Rain paper works great in all types of weather

  • Keep pens warm (ie put in an inside pocket of your coat) when not using them. Felt tip pens work great in the cold.

  • Have reusuable hand warmers to use during and after writing process

Be flexible!

  • Know your learning goals/objectives. Be ready to use the materials and opportunities that nature provides.

  • Adjust your plans/focus based on the weather.

Students looking at animal tracks

Assessment

  • Remember, photos and videos are great forms of documentation!

    • Keep technology (iPads, cell phones, etc) warm when not in use or the battery will drain quickly.

    • Voice to text option is great for the winter months!

Screenshot image of the Outdoor Learning in Cold Weather publication
Screenshot image of the Outdoor Learning in Cold Weather publication

Outdoor Learning in Winter Webinars

Winter Tips & Tricks, Winter Friendly Snack & Beverage Ideas, Winter Activities (for those working with with Infants-PreK students)

Hosted by Inside-Outside Nature-based Educators of New England and the Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association (NINPA): Our four dynamic panelists come from a range of programs that spend time outdoors in all seasons - a forest Kindergarten teacher, a nature-based preschool teacher, a forest preschool teacher, and a Waldorf Nursery teacher. Each one of these ECE experts will provide several ideas of tried-and-true outdoor activities that will inspire new educators as well as seasoned pros. (For those working with Infant-Kindergarten aged children)

Hosted by Inside-Outside - Teaching and learning outdoors in colder climate winters requires resilience, good humor, grit, training, and the right clothing. In this webinar, Amy Butler and Anne Stires, will lead participants through preparation, routines, schedules, and activities to help educators continue to teach and learn with students outdoors this winter and beyond. For those working with elementary age students

This webinar was hosted by the Toronto District School Board and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Highlights several examples of inquiries that can be done during winter months including Art - Andy Goldsworth (@20:00) How can we make ice less slippery? (@27:09), Can we design more environmentally friendly alternatives to salt to keep people safe when its icy? (@29:02), Windy Days & Schoolyard Design (@30:30), What can investigating tracks tell us about our local environment? (@32:41), How can you build the tallest, free standing structure (@33:57) How can we support nature and create art on cold days? (@35:34) How can winter inspire artistic photography? (@37:13) Energy experiments (@37:28)

Secondary Ideas start at 38:52

Outdoor Winter Activities for Young Children

Jenny Hanlon is a Parent Educator at Stillwater Public Schools. She is also a Nature Preschool Teacher. This video is a great resource for early childhood educators AND parents/caregivers.

Outdoor Learning Tips & Tricks from a Nature Preschool

Bathroom Tips:

Empty bladders are better for staying warm, so make sure your students use the bathroom before heading outside!

For early childhood programs, this portable potty is helpful for outdoor toileting. These compostable liners can be used with it.

Winter Lesson Resources

Animal Track Resources:

A collection of animal tracks through the snow. Tracks go around a tree stump and shrubs.  Tracks include deer, rabbit, fox and birds.

Val_Iva/Shutterstock

Resources:

Three Rivers Park District: Animal Tracking

Three Rivers Park District: Tracking Tunnel Activity

Animal Tracking (Beetles Focus Lesson)

What Lives Here? (Beetles Lesson)

Tracks & Signs Lesson by Wargo Nature Center

Mysterious Animal Signs by Wolf Ridge

Students looking at animal tracks and using an animal track identification sheet to identify them

More Lesson/Activity Plans:

Wildlife Scene Investigation (2nd-3rd grade) Curriculum, Journal page, Leader Guidelines

Students will learn techniques biologists use to better understand the wildlife found in the refuge. Using wildlife tracks, students will gather and interpret wildlife data through observation and measuring.

Wildlife Walkers (Kindergarten) Curriculum, Journal Page, Leader Guidelines

Students learn and then practice walking the 4 most common wildlife walking patterns. They discover how an animal’s body shape relates to its walking pattern. A trail hike will challenge students to locate and follow animals tracks and learn to recognize other common wildlife signs.

Jeffers Foundation Eco Time Cards

Jeffers Foundation ECO Time

Greeting: Whose Track is That?

Activity: Walk This Way (Prints)

News and Announcement: Tracks are Everywhere

Literacy Connection:

The Greatest of Feet (MN DNR Young Naturalist): Story and Teachers Guide

Books about animal tracks
Examples of math specific activities you can do with animal tracks
examples of literacy specific activities you can do with animal tracks

Animal Adaptations for Surviving Winter

Rodent animal tracks going across the snow and disappearing into a hole in the snow

Resources for Teachers

Animals that adapt picture cards

Animals that hibernate picture cards

Step Outside Guide: Getting Ready for Winter (lesson plans and activities)

Survivor: Minnesota Winter (K-2nd Grade): Curriculum, Journal Page, Leader Guidelines

Students will explore a variety of techniques Minnesota animals use to cope with harsh winter conditions. Students will participate in an outdoor hike to search for signs of these winter survival techniques.

Migration Matters (4th – 5th Grade) Curriculum, Journal page, A Bird's Solution Data sheet, A Bird's Solution Data sheet with answers, Group Leader Guidelines

Students will learn how and why scientists collect data about individual bird species and bird migration patterns by participating in a bird migration game, a bird banding demonstration, and a bird hike with binoculars.

A tree laying in the snow that has been chewed down by a beaver but is still attached at the base.

Resources for Students

Winter Wildlife Signs Checklist - from Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Winter Wildlife Signs Checklist (a variation of the checklist above)

How Minnesota Animals Prepare for Winter - Video featuring Carly, an Interpretive Naturalist at Jay Cooke State Park

Literacy Connection:

Wild Things in Winter (MN DNR Young Naturalist Article): Story, Teachers Guide, Study Questions

Splendid Fliers (MN DNR Young Naturalist Article): Story, Teachers Guide, Study Questions

Jeffers Foundation EcoTime Cards

Jeffers Foundation ECO Time:

Children's books about animal adaptations in winter
Children's books about hibernation
Children's books about migration

Snow & Snowflakes

Snowflake ID card that has a black rectangle for catching the snowflake and 8 common snowflake shapes

Snowflake Study Resources

The following resources are from the snow crystals website

Snowflake ID Chart

Snowflake Type - Formation by Temperature chart

Use black construction paper, felt or winter clothing (mittens, jacket) to catch the snowflakes. View using a magnifying glass.

Use I Notice, I wonder, It Reminds me of Exploration Routine (from Beetles)

A bunny created out of snow with a carrot nose.

Snow Activity Ideas

Andy Goldworthy: Snow and Ice Art

Build a Quinzee - Here's how

Snow Sculpting Tips - How to build with snow

Jeffers Foundation's EcoTime Cards

Jeffers Foundation ECO Time

Greeting: Snowflake Match (Activity Cards)

Activity: Snowball Fight

News and Announcement: Snow Poems

Children's books about snow
Children's books about snowmen
A rainbow painted in the snow using spray bottles

Painting Ice/Snow Tips

Use liquid water color paint in spray bottles. Food coloring will stain clothes and hands.

Keep the bottles in a cooler to keep them from freezing. Put a warm glass jar in the cooler to keep it warmer inside.

Water color paint trays or tempera paint cakes/water color discs work well to paint ice.

Children painting the ice with watercolor paints
Colored blocks of ice stacked on top of each other to create a wall

Ice for Building & Exploring

A student carrying a block of ice

Plants in Winter

A teacher and students are checking the Maple Tree sap buckets. The buckets are milk jugs.

Literacy Connection:

How Big is that Tree (Mn DNR Young Naturalist: Story, Teachers Guide, Study Questions

Sugar from Trees (MN DNR Young Naturalist): Story, Teachers Guide


Winter Tree Math (2nd-3rd Grade) Curriculum, Journal page, Leader Guidelines

Students will use a variety of methods to measure the size of trees. The activities will help them to understand why scientists have established standardized measuring techniques for data collection. Through a hands-on activity, students will use forestry equipment and techniques used to collect tree data.


A collection of tree-themed storybooks
A collection of tree-themed storybooks

Winter Birds


Winter Birds (The Old Naturalist)


Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Lessons

Birding Basics (3rd-6th Grade)

Curriculum, Journal page , & Group Leader Guidelines

Students will learn about birds and some techniques for bird watching and identification. Students will learn the proper way to use binoculars and will practice their birding skills on a hike at the Refuge.

Video links for Birding Basics:

Birds, Beaks, & Adaptations (2nd-6th Grade)

Curriculum, Journal page, & Group Leader Guidelines

Students will investigate bird adaptations first-hand by rotating through a series of feeding stations. Using a tool that simulates one style of bird beak, they will learn how adaptations connect birds to certain habitats and behaviors. Students will then take binoculars on a hike to observe other bird adaptations.




Winter Recreation

A group of students snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

Let's Go Snowshoeing (MN DNR Young Naturalist): Story and Teachers Guide

Check out the Snowshoeing Curriculum from Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It includes journal pages to go along with your adventure.

A student cross country skiing

Skiing


Ice Fishing

A student kneeling on the ice while ice fishing.

Let's Go Ice Fishing (MN DNR Young Naturalist): Story and Teachers Guide

Additional Reading & Resources for Teachers

Cover of the book Winter World by Bernd Heinrich