Teaching Outdoors in Winter
Winter Clothing Resources
Gear List for Families
How to get gear?
Collect donations for extra clothing (Rotary clubs, community drive, donated gear students grew out of...). Check your school Lost & Found items before they get donated!
Donors Choose is a great way to fundraise for gear!
Check with individual gear manufacturing companies & stores 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):
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.
HotSnapZ - Reusable hand warmers
DIY Hand Warmers: Baby socks filled with rice
*Store in thermos until needed to keep them warm longer
Have trouble with students keeping their mittens on or snow getting between the mitten and coat sleeves? Old socks with a hole in it work great to keep the snow out and mittens on!
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 their old socks get wet. Then put the bread bags over the dry socks/feet to keep them dry while wearing the boot.
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.
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
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
Know your learning goals/objectives. Be ready to use the materials and opportunities that nature provides.
Adjust your plans/focus based on the weather.
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!
Additional Articles for Support
Why Teach Outside in Winter (Project Learning Tree Article)
Yes, Your Kids Can Play Outside All Winter (New York Times Article)
So You Want to Eat Snow, Is it safe? We Asked Scientists (NPR Article)
Is it safe to play outdoors in winter? (California Childcare Health Program)
Why Being Outdoors in Winter is So Very Good for Kids (Tinkergarten Blog Post)
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.
Animals in Winter
Presenter: Mona Davis, Fergus Falls Public Schools and Molly Stoddard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Prairie Wetlands Learning Center
Target Grade/Age of Students: Upper elementary but adaptable to all
Details: Search for evidence of 3 strategies animals use to survive winter right outside your door. You will need a notebook or journal, pencil, and outdoor clothing. MN science standards alignment will be provided.
Additional Resources Shared:
Presenter: Larry Wade and Cindy Eyden
Target Grade/Age of Students: 2nd – 6th grade
Details: How to bring the outdoors into your classroom by creating live / virtual field trips, in which students observe animal signs and tracks, are able to ask questions and learn the joy of pondering nature's mysteries. Handouts included. Modifications to integrate to language arts, science, math will be discussed.
Find more animal tracking ideas on our Winter Resources Page
Presenter: Travis Zimmerman, Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
Target Grade/Age of Students: Elementary & Middle School
Travis Zimmerman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Books Suggestions from Attendees: The Gift of Sugar; Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back, Ininatig's Gift of Sugar : Traditional Native Sugarmaking by Laura Waterman Wittstock, Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children by Joseph Bruchac and Michael J. Caduto
Outdoor Learning Tips & Tricks from a Nature Preschool
Not only are mid-lesson bathroom breaks tricky when outdoors, but empty bladders are better for staying warm! So make sure your students use the bathroom before heading outside!
Winter Lesson Resources
Animal Track Resources:
Animal Track Identification Sheet (can be used to create a track ID card on a lanyard)
Animal Tracks for Lanyard (example 2)
More Lesson/Activity Plans:
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.
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.
Animal Adaptations for Surviving Winter
Resources for Teachers
Step Outside Guide: Getting Ready for Winter (lesson plans and activities)
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.
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.
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
Snow & Snowflakes
Snowflake Study Resources
The following resources are from the snow crystals website
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)
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.
Ice for Building & Exploring
Freeze water in rinsed out milk cartons to create ice bricks
Freeze water in cupcake trays or cookie molds for loose parts play
Freeze objects in ice. Students have to figure out how to get the objects out
Plants in Winter
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.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Lessons
Birding Basics (3rd-6th Grade)
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.
Birds, Beaks, & Adaptations (2nd-6th Grade)
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.
Check out the Snowshoeing Curriculum from Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It includes journal pages to go along with your adventure.