By CELA on 13 Aug, 2018

‘Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!’

(Norwegian saying: There is no bad weather only bad clothes)


Baby, it’s cold outside, so we’re playing indoors until spring is sprung, right? Why would you risk colds and flus, grizzly children, wet clothing, and perhaps anxious educators and unhappy parents?

We might love those images of rugged-up children knee-deep in Scandinavian snow, but it’s not part of Australia’s culture to accept anything less than blue skies and mild weather for outdoor play – or so many of us believe.

CELA writer Margaret Paton spoke to three services in chilly areas of Australia for their tips on making the most of winter play.

But they’ll get sick!

Before anything else, let’s share this excellent advice from the Montessori Academy (and from pretty much every credible medical source you care to name):

Most adults associate winter with getting colds and illnesses such as the flu. However, it is not exposure to the cold that cause these viruses. In fact, it’s likely to be increased exposure to poorly ventilated indoor environments, where bacteria and viruses live. By encouraging outdoor play in winter, children gain much needed exposure to fresh air and Vitamin D, while avoiding bacteria.

That’s right.  You can’t catch a cold just by being cold, but you can certainly catch one from huddling indoors breathing in more and more potential germs with no fresh air to dilute them.

Are we ready now we’ve got that myth behind us? Let’s find out how the experts in chilly early learning services manage their charges on minus celsius days.

Literacy in the snow
Literacy in the snow. Image credit: Snowy Mountains Care and Early Learning Centre

Just do it

‘Get out there,’ says Lisa Lawless director of Stepping Stones Children’s Services – Margate Children’s Centre, south of Mount Wellington in Tasmania.

‘As long as the children are rugged up, it’s fine.

‘If it’s cold, I encourage my educators to have the children play running games to warm them up or we go on a community walk.

‘We’ll do this if our sand pit and pine bark mulch is too wet, for example.

‘Some parents say, “I don’t want them out there”, but I tell them the children can be inside with the heater going having germs spread or be rugged up and outside having a lot of fun.’

It’s about inclusion. They need to experience the elements.

Gear up for the outdoors

Each family is advised to bring a spare set of clothes for children and to have the right gear for outdoor play: jumper, jacket, beanie, gumboot, gloves. The 35-place service has some families who live above the snowline on Mt Wellington.

‘They’ll bring buckets of snow that we put into really big tubs for kids to have a play with cups, and we hide toy animals in the snow for them to find,’ says Lisa.

‘We’ll have the tubs indoor or outdoor. The only risk is snow melting and the water going on the floor, but we always have a staff member present.

‘We did let one child go into the tub and he sat there, but wanted to get out straight away as his bottom was getting wet and cold!’

Parents are encouraged to leave their child’s raincoat and gumboots at the service, which also supplies waterproof pants and tops so that crawling babies may join in.

Below zero territory

Meanwhile at Jindabyne, in the NSW Snowy Mountains, they don’t have to go far to stock up on snow.

This time of year it’s -8C to -10C most mornings, but can dip to -17C without the wind chill factored in, says Jackie Jackson, director, Snowy Mountains Care and Early Learning Centre.

Parents are encouraged to leave their child’s raincoat and gumboots at the service, which also supplies waterproof pants and tops so that crawling babies may join in.

‘We still go out and do our normal daily activities as long as there’s no lightning. The front of our building has clear plastic blinds so the children can still be out in the fresh air with most of the wind blocked out,’ Jackie says.

‘We play in the snow and have a little toboggan to pull the children around on.

‘We’ve made snowmen, brought snow inside in a tub to play with and when it snowed on our green soft fall area, the children wrote their names in the snow.’

Jackie suggests educators to take an ‘open-minded approach’.

‘It’s about inclusion. They need to experience the elements.’

On-boarding parents

Letting parents know up front at enrolment that your program supports outdoor and mud play year round is important, says Nicole Buckland, the director of Mountain View Children’s Centre in Myrtleford, in the foothills of the Victorian Alps.

‘The majority of parents are understanding, but a few aren’t so we’re quite happy to wash and dry their children’s clothes and send them home in clean clothes,’ Nicole says.

‘It’s super important children get to play in the mud and don’t miss out.’

Nicole said she’d worked in another service where a parent complained about their child playing outside in drizzling rain, even though they were wearing a raincoat.

‘That’s fine for a parent to say no, but it makes it hard when a child wants to go out and you can’t let them out – the child becomes upset.’

Children’s chances to play outdoors are shrinking. Some studies have found parents may be relying on their child’s early learning service to ‘provide an opportunity for outdoor free play’ – putting even more pressure on services to fulfil children’s need for outdoor time all year round.

So don’t wait for a warm day before you head back outside.  Ask parents to send in woolly hats and mittens, or hit the op shop to get a good supply for your service kit, and keep breathing that fresh (anti-cold-germ) air!

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About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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